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Jun 16, 2008
Cover Story: Stand Up Guy - Forbes

Paddle Surfing Could be the Biggest Thing to Come Out of Hawaii Since "Tiny Bubbles."

I am at a stage in life where an absence of time and stamina advises against taking up certain activities with any hope for proficiency. Space camp? Tuba playing? Russian lessons? Nyet, spasibo. Too late for that.

Until recently, surfing would have made the "too late" list as well. But then I got a call from surfboard designer, kite-boarder, kayaker and all-around Hawaiian dude Jeremy Fry. He and his wife, Stephenie, were planning a day of stand-up paddle-surfing. Did I want to give it a try?

Stand-up paddle-surfing, a sport long popular in Hawaii, seems only lately to have hit the mainland U.S. like a, uh, wave. From Montauk to Malibu, landlubbers, surfers looking for The Next Thing and fellow "too laters" are seen standing on surfboards, paddling long oars like gondoliers as they float up and down gentle waves that would otherwise be unnoticed by the hang-ten crowd. Apart from the paddle, this new kind of surfing looks like the real thing except for one notable difference: Though pros ride big waves with paddle in hand, the sport generally occurs at such a languorous pace that one could do it in a tuxedo.

And so a week later, I am pushing a surfboard to sea for the first time along the Malibu Pier behind Stephenie, Jeremy and a superbuff surfer named Rob.

The 20-pound, ten-foot board I'm paddling is a special one Jeremy designed for stand-up paddle-surfing and had manufactured in China. It's slightly different from most surfboards as it's got more high-density foam to keep it buoyant, while its double-barreled bottom gives it extra stability. The carbon-fiber oar has a paddle that is twisted into a backward scoop like a perpetual high-five. It's been cut to just over six feet long, but its rounded T-grip makes it feel more like a canoe paddle.

"Stand-up surfing goes back to the ancient Polynesians, who brought it with them to Hawaii," says Jeremy. "Laird Hamilton [who, in case you have been underwater for the past few years, is a Hawaii surfer/model well known to the workout crowd] started doing it over here, and it's becoming quite popular. We're getting orders all over the country." Indeed, seemingly every surf shop along the California coast has begun renting out or selling stand-up boards and paddles.

Clambering on the back of the 20-pound board as elegantly as a trout flapping on a dock, I kneel uneasily on its pitching surface and then quickly scoot up on both feet. It's tricky at first. And unexpectedly rigorous; once up, I'm getting a marathon workout just constantly shifting leg muscles to micro-adjust my balance. But paddling the giant oar helps keep me stabilized. After a couple of plunges into the cold Pacific, my balance becomes second nature and suddenly I'm standing easily above the waves. I'm paddling! I'm surfing (okay, drifting aggressively)! Soon I'll be calling strangers "dude"!

"Keep looking at the horizon," Jeremy yells. "It'll help you keep your balance."

Not to mention peace of mind. Soon I'm grooving along the beach beyond the break line. A giant pelican examines me quizzically, startled that an apparition stranger-looking than itself has appeared out of the sea. Farther up, a woman in a bikini stops in her tracks to stare, no doubt entranced by my instant elegance on this thing. Another fellow swims out to have a closer look. "That's pretty cool." I'm standing very tall. Conqueror of the surf!

In the languor that envelops me on this gently rocking sea cradle I find my mind drifting…to Kamehameha, Hawaii's great warrior king. After several battles he celebrated his ascension by reportedly cutting out the beating heart of his last rival on a special basalt altar he'd constructed above the waves on this very ocean. Betcha he stood this tall that day. Wish I could have gone stand-up paddle-surfing with that guy.

Rob, floating nearby, interrupts my revelry. "This is very meditative, isn't it?" Leaning his board and doing a quick back-paddle, he adeptly maneuvers a deft turn through the waves as smoothly as a lawyer cutting through a prenup--did I mention that Rob is a New York attorney? He probably knows a thing or two about cutting out live hearts, but right now his face is so blissful he could be selling kittens to truckers. "I only started doing this yesterday," he says. "I'm pretty hooked." Wow, he's this good after a day? I'm going to be a samurai on this thing.

That night, lying in bed, I still feel the waves rocking beneath my tired feet as I sway off to sleep. Tuba lessons. Space camp. Russian. All, like the Beach Boys refrain (now I've got the sea-cred to quote them), within reach.

For more information on the Frys' gear, see www.waverod.com or call (760) 220-0242.

 


   
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