With or Without Waves

By Pete Williams

Casey at the board

With stand-up paddle boarding breaking through in the last two years as a popular endurance sport, it’s fascinating to look at Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama, two guys who have popularized it in recent years.

Hamilton and Kalama are best known as big-wave surfers and they’re central figures in Susan Casey‘s best-selling book The Wave. Though SUP is not mentioned in the book – it’s about surfers who pursue 100-foot waves and the scientists who study what causes them – it left me wondering what Hamilton and Kalama must get out of cruising around on paddle boards. Clearly these guys live for this adrenaline-generating, life-threatening, all-out moment that only massive waves of 50-plus feet can provide.

SUP is pretty exciting for some of us, to say nothing of a killer workout and a great way to spend the day. I know weekend warrior surfers who scoff at paddle boarding, so I’m guessing for Hamilton and Kalama it must be a different kind of experience.

It would be, I suppose, like asking Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart to compare the Daytona 500 to driving around town in a sports car.

Then again, Hamilton and Kalama have paddled lonnnng distances on boards. After all, it’s not possible to surf year round. In October of 2006, they paddled and biked the entire Hawaii island chain. Here in Florida, where we have lots of water but few waves, SUP is the perfect sport.

It’s a different experience, to be sure. Those of us who have discovered it recently can thank Hamilton and Kalama for bringing it to the forefront. Hamilton does not seem to get to Florida – his wife Gabrielle Reece went to high school in St. Petersburg and played volleyball at Florida State – but Kalama is involved with St. Pete SUP guru Brody Welte on several ventures.

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