“Get off your knees, kook! It’s called stand up paddling!”
I was getting bombarded from both sides now. An hour earlier I was heckled for just being out in the lineup.These new barbs were not from prone surfers, but from my friends on stand up boards.
My offense? Knee paddling. Caught inside with lines of whitewater to negotiate, I was down on my knees looking for an easy way back out. I guess I didn’t read the no knee-paddling memo. Quite a paradox really. On the one hand, we stand up paddlers want to be accepted just like anyone else out in the surf. Our mantra: “Don’t hate us just because we’re different”. On the other hand, apparently there are those among my own tribe with the same narrow mindset as the SUP haters.
To all these self-appointed rule makers on both sides, I quote the 19th-century poet, Sarah T. Bolten: “Voyage upon life’s sea, to yourself be true, and whatever your lot may be, PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE.” As in, paddle your own freaking canoe anyway you damn well please. Popeye, a more contemporary philosopher, summed it up even better with, “I yam what I yam.”
Way before Gidget and The Beach Boys rocketed surfing into America’s living room, Greg Noll was surfing some of the biggest waves in the known world. A big and burly guy with a fearless attitude, Greg earned himself the nickname Da Bull from his peers. With an 11-foot big wave gun, a pair of black and white striped trunks and a set of extra large balls, Greg paddled into waves considered unrideable by many. He did this a full thirty years before the addition of wave runners and jet skis. Today, for added safety, rescue skis with the addition of flotation vests are a mainstream staple in the realm of big wave surfing.
On December 4, 1969, Greg Noll rode a wave outside Makaha thought to be the largest wave ever ridden at the time. Da Bull scratched himself over the ledge and into Surfing's Hall of Fame, barely surviving to tell the tale. Years later and no longer surfing, Greg was asked his opinion about the tow-in controversy that exists today.
The line of questioning went something like this, “Some surfers disdain the addition of anything besides their own arm strength to paddle into big waves. If it were available, would you have approved of using a jet ski to assist your paddling power in the pursuit of giant surf?” Noll didn’t hesitate with his reply; “I don’t care if I had to get shot out of an elephant’s ass if it would help me get into bigger waves.” This is something the self-appointed rule makers need to hear. What about Da Bull out on a SUP? I say, and I quote Popeye once again, “Well blow me down.”
Years ago, Greg Noll blatantly cut me off. The backstory is that I was at Randy Rarick’s semi-annual vintage surfboard auction held in Waikiki. Lots of big names in the surfing world were in attendance. Gerry Lopez’s Lightning Bolt board from the movie “Big Wednesday” was going on the auction block. Famous shapers from all over the world were sprinkled throughout the audience. Dick Brewer was arming the event with more guns than a Clint Eastwood film festival.
Before the bidding began, I found myself occupying a spot in the buffet line right behind the legendary Greg Noll himself. Greg was distracted, “talking story” to friends at a nearby table as the rest of us continued to move forward. As the line reached the buffet without him, "Da Bull” suddenly made a beeline for the Teriyaki chicken. Plate in hand, he realized he had barged right in front of me. Greg excused himself very sincerely. No worries, I said. It was an honor to be dropped in on by such a living legend. His smile lasted longer than the Mac salad and Lomi-Lomi salmon.
The moral of my two stories? If you gotta surf laying down, kneeling, standing up or sitting, be my guest. Arms, paddles, swim fins or an elephant's ass, it’s all good. Do whatever it takes to get you out there. You yam what you yam. There will always be enough Teri-chicken to go around.