In the world of stand up paddle racing, the athletes who paved the way during the birth of the sport and beyond are inspirational. Seeing the levels of sport and sportsmanship available is one way a sport continues to progress, change and evolve.  Upcoming SUP racers and water athletes are all indebted - on some level - to those who first shaped their sport of choice by demonstrating, teaching, sharing the skills to improve, and who acted as the frontrunners in competitions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sport of stand up paddling.  

Tommy Buday, Jr. from Canada began by following in his father’s Olympic medal winning footsteps in the discipline of Sprint Canoe. He carved a name for himself training with his storied father and brother Attila, and later went on to become a world champion medalist and represented Canada in three consecutive Olympic Games. 

But his story doesn’t end there…

As with some other legendary competitive canoe racers like Jimmy Terrell and Larry Cain, Buday made the crossover to stand up paddling in 2014 by bringing his technical prowess and competitive drive with him.  To understand his spectacular rise in the field of stand up paddling is to know that Tommy’s paddle wisdom is rooted in a lifetime of competition at the highest levels of Sprint Canoe racing. 

Buday’s recent successes in stand up paddle racing include a 2nd place finish in the 180 meter Sprint Masters and a 3rd place takedown in the Men’s Long Distance Masters at the ICF SUP World Championships in Gdynia, Poland in 2022. And who can forget his historic fight to claim a triumphant 3rd place finish at the 2021 Carolina Cup in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina under some of the gnarliest conditions the event has ever seen?  That year, in spite of the Coast Guard shutting down the open ocean segment of the Graveyard’s 13-mile course due to extremely high winds and tumultuous seas, racers still battled 30+ mph winds along the intercoastal waterway with temps hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It was due to Tommy’s intimate knowledge of the Wrightsville Beach channels and intercoastal currents that carried him through to a photo finish with 2nd place finisher and former world champion Titouan Puyo of New Caledonia along with fourth place runner up Shuri “Shrimpy” Araki from Japan.  That was quite a show.

Some of the SUP races Tommy dominates, like The Classique Internationale de Canots (aka “Classique”), aren’t even known outside of Canada. The Classique is actually the 3rd leg of the Canadian Canoe marathon on the Maurice River in Quebec for which it is named. In addition to the harrowing distance course, competitive stand up paddle racers have to complete two “portages”where they run overland,  carrying their boards around massive hydroelectric dams to face fearsome currents and whitewater outflows on the downstream side. Tommy has won the Classique every year since they first introduced the stand up paddle division. 

Today, Tamas Buday, Jr.  is not only an elite SUP racer, but he is also one of the most active coaches in the sport of stand up paddle racing. When he’s not standing on the podium at national or international SUP races, he’s dedicated to coaching the next generation of podium finishers both north and south of the Canadian border. 

In  February of this year I joined Tommy and his crew (known as the Lake SUP Gliders) for a week-long SUP racing clinic at one of  his annual Florida training camps in Melbourne, where his athletes train in preparation  for the upcoming summer race season.  Here I was fortunate to get a behind the scenes look at his commitment to his sport and his trainees, and thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie the camp fostered. This dedicated group of SUP racers travel all over the east coast in season, storming SUP races and racking up podium positions along the way.  Tommy also draws his tribe from his “South of the Border” crew - as they are known - when he hosts SUP race clinics every Wednesday at the Burlington Surf Club In Burlington, Vermont.

Arriving at the camp mid-week, I found Tommy and the LSG crew at Coco Beach preparing for some SUP surfing. After a long winter in the northeast, there were hugs and high fives among friends as we finned up our race boards and headed down to the surf.  That first afternoon of riding bumps and cheering one other on was the perfect way to dust off the winter cobwebs. 

Back at the house that evening, Tommy laid out the week’s training routine for the group. We would start with intervals in the morning, followed by technique drills and video analysis in the afternoon. Then, we would wrap up each day with SUP surfing or downwind runs. Tommy’s deep experience and coaching skills were apparent every morning when we paddled out for a dawn interval training on the intertidal zone off Melbourne Beach. As our group took rests between heart rate raising intervals, Tommy pulled up alongside paddlers to offer individual critique and encouragement. Incredibly, pods of dolphins and shrieking ospreys seemed to follow us as we made our way through the Grant-Valkaria Islands and lagoons of the intertidal zone. There was definitely a feeling of camaraderie and magic on the water.

Tommy’s week of SUP racing training was anchored by a stand up paddle race in Jupiter, Florida sponsored by Flying Fish Boards. The night before the race, as a group we stopped by the Flying Fish Board factory in Stuart, Florida and met up with  the brand’s founder and stoke-master, John Meskauskas. Always humble, John has been quietly building a dynamic stand up paddle scene in Florida, holding ‘anything-goes’ impromptu races in Jupiter that attract 50-100 paddlers weekly. With local pro talent like Stephanie Shideler, Eri Tenorio, Stevie Miller, John Batson, and many others, these paddle nights look more like a major race with SUP icon Jeremy Vaine on hand to emcee the event. 

Wrapping up our training together in Florida, we said our goodbyes, and everyone was already looking forward to seeing one other at various races along the national SUP racing calendar throughout the summer. From the Carolina Cup to the Classique, the Hood River Gorge Challenge and many races in between, friendships built over our week together were eagerly rekindled at the next event. 

Tommy Buday has a special gift when it comes to uniting paddlers as a coach, mentor and athlete. For most SUP racers, it’s not about the big names on the start line or the prize money - it never will be. What it’s about is community, friendships and knowing that we’ll all reconnect to compete again at the next event.  Wherever Tommy goes, not only does he compete, but he brings along with him his crew of friends, family and paddle athletes as a true ambassador to the sport. Tommy Buday loves paddling and the paddling community... and we love him back.