They do it all around the islands, at Baldwin Beach Park, at Ho’okipa, at Thousand Peaks and even at Peahi. At first glance it’s a new trend, but really it’s just reviving the ancient Hawaiians’ practice of combining canoe paddling with surfing. Big wave surfers Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama were among the first, along with Paia resident Loch Eggers.
“We think the ancient Hawaiians were stand-up-paddling in their double hull Hawaiian sailing or paddling canoes,” Eggers told me. “The hulls were very deep, we think that even during wartime they stood up and paddled and they were protected from the side. Look at old pictures. On the Big Island, the have found super long paddle shafts.”
I saw Eggers recently on a big day out at Ho’okipa, standing and paddling out while everyone else lay on his or her boards. He caught big waves with elegance and power.
“I first thought about trying it two years ago when Laird [Hamilton] was stand-up paddling at Ho’okipa,” said Eggers, an avid waterman since early childhood. “I brushed it off at first but then started thinking again: canoe-paddling to catch waves is cool. I canoe-paddled for 25 years or so, ever since I was 12.
“About a year after I had seen Laird at Ho’okipa, he was down at Baldwin Beach in front of Dave Kalama’s father’s house and I gave it a try. It was the most challenging thing I have done in the water, to learn a new ocean sport in a super long time. I have always been connected to the ocean, growing up here, but it took all my ocean ability to just stand up and get going and I fell down on my face about seven or eight times within the first 15 minutes. You know, in some ways it was funny and I kept trying. It took me about a week to be able to start surfing and having a fun time, but by then I was hooked.”
You can see Eggers out there on any good day. Every time I see him, I wonder how difficult it is for him to balance on the board while paddling.
“Stand-up-paddling really is a physical cross training for other sports,” Eggers said. “It’s one of the best cross training physical workouts. Let’s say you are a world champion windsurfer and you want to cross train, you just jump up on board and do stand up paddling. It takes it all down to basics and it’s just like learning to surf all over again.”
Sounds great. I told him I’ve thought about giving it a try. I’ve windsurfed and kiteboarded for a while, but I’ve never really learned how to surf.
“I found that females and kids pick it up a lot quicker than us males,” he said. “Females have better balance. Males have a tendency to muscle it, females approach it more at tech and will go out and out-performance the males. We have to find our female side first and not to muscle it. Males are stubborn—maybe they have to be more ballerinas than full-on muscle head jocks when first trying it. It also teaches you a greater stand of balance in the ocean and to be a lot more sensitive to what’s going on. After so many years in the ocean it’s just a great training tool.
“A lot of heavy duty water men and women are incorporating the stand-up paddling in their training,” said Eggers. “A lot of people over here now do recreational like what Laird and I do in the big waves. There are already about a hundred plus people, it’s growing, it’s a really fun thing to do. It’s challenging. I see a lot more females wanting to get in it to do it, at Launiupoko and Thousand Peaks.”
Now paddle surfing isn’t cheap. After all, regular canoe paddles are too short for this kind of use. Right now, a board will run $1,000 to $1,400 and a paddle goes for $250 to $300.
“Right now the sport is in a little funk due to the high price for equipment,” he said. “A very small group of us are trying to get the price down. What I would like to see is, that you can get a board and a paddle for $700 like a package deal. Unfortunately it takes more people who do it fork down the big bucks in the beginning, then the big companies will see the popularity and react, they are looking at it already. I thought it’s a novelty but it’s turning into a sport.”
The big advantage to paddle surfing is obvious: you’re not level with the water surface but far above it, so you have a better view of the swell’s direction as well as the marine life.
“I have gone out several times with a group and we see turtles, all sort of fish and dolphins,” Eggers said. “The last whale season was just spectacular, we saw adult waves right in front of us, stuff you don’t regularly see, in a canoe or kayak because you have, like, five-foot-six elevation to look down and around. It’s like the Charles Darwin theory of the evolution of men in paddling sports: finally you stand up!” MTW