The Ox Files II: Laird, High Priest of Paddle. - Surfer's Path

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The Ox Files II: Laird, High Priest of Paddle.

Laird I:

The Vision

Laird by Vogue photographer Stéphane Gautronneau

As well as Nat, Laird was in town, too. Actually he’d hauled off to Northern Spain for the first couple of days to show the Basques how to stand-up paddle. Every journalist on the junket was there to interview Laird. He’s another Oxbow ambassador.

Really, Laird doesn’t have anything to sell, but Oxbow fund a decent portion of his lifestyle, so every now and then he has to go and do something for them. Fair trade, especially if you’re Laird and you’re gripped with a zeal to spread the word on your latest take on surfing – stand-up paddle-surfing. He’s on a mission to convert the world, in the style of Duke Kahanamoku taking surfing to Australia and parts of the USA. And Laird’s big enough to follow in the Duke’s footsteps. Witness all the mainstream media who’ve come from all over Europe to watch and interview him.

So Laird’s actually in Spain until the day I leave. Most of the journalist who’d been at the Oxbow party are interviewing him today and all of them have serious hangovers to go with the nerves and reservations they expressed the night before. “What’s he like? Dumb? Macho? Egotistical?” etc.

I get to the beach to see Laird talking earnestly into a German TV camera about stand-up paddle-surfing. A minder stands by with a clip board, co-ordinating, making sure the TV crew don’t over-run their allotted time with the big fella, and passers by gather to watch the interview go down.

But the thing about Laird is that he’s good at this stuff, mainly because he doesn’t do it if he doesn’t believe in it. If they want to talk for hours about stand-up paddle-surfing, or Jaws or tow-surfing, he’s fine with that. And he treats everyone really well in these situations. In my experience he is absolutely an amazing guy. An incredible sportsman, obviously, but he grew up around some pretty damn wise influences, and when you actually meet him his own humble wisdom is the main impression.

By the time I left, all the hung-over journos were reporting that Laird was “a really good guy”, “really smart”, “tres, tres sympa” etc etc. Oui, oui. Surfing’s lucky. Inland, shi-shi media people think we’re all brainless beach bums, but most of our top ‘ambassadors’ are actually really smart, really clued up folk. It’s fair to say Laird blew France away, bigtime.


I had to leave before even the quarter-finals of the World Championships. I can report, however, that Ben Skinner went down in Round 3 to an in-form Brazilian named Carlos Bahia, and Bryce Young got nailed in the same round by fellow Aussie Harley Ingleby. The event was won by one of the fantastically stylish Brazilian crew whose mixture of old-school and shortboard-type power moves made them obvious stand-outs, even in the early rounds. Phil Rajzman, the guy who won it, took down his compatriot Danilo Rodrigo in the final, held in smaller, sweet longboarding waves. Those Brazilians make a fine crew. All smiles, and none bigger than when one of their own takes the crown.

Phil Rajman of Brazil, Oxbow World Longboard Champion 2007. Photo by Sylvain Cazenave

Laird II: The Conversion

Hilarious! Somehow Laird’s tour schedule includes the strange and wonderful little town in North Cornwall where TSP’s offices have been for the last 7 years. Bude doesn’t get that many surf legends. It’s not like a kind of San Clemente or even Newquay, where the great and the good drop in every week. This is Bude, see.

But days after the French adventure, there we were having lunch in close proximity to the star himself, and slotted into the interview rota …

Now the reason I wasn’t desperate to interview Laird was that I’d done a huge Q&A with him over about three days when accompanying the man on a previous European tour in 2001. We’d eaten meals together, driven alot and recorded most of the conversations for a big profile.

So I wasn’t that keen to revisit him unless there was something new. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s fantastic and fascinating, but there’s only so much you can get from someone in a 15 minute interview slot.
Nonetheless, after taking so much free love off Oxbow in the last few days, and bearing in mind that I wouldn’t even be able to say ‘Aloha’ to him unless I was conducting an interview, I and several other media types did share a quick chat with Laird about his new mission in life, stand-up paddle-surfing:

Laird is on a tour not dissimilar to one of Duke Kahanamoku’s surf tours –
only Laird’s mission is to turn the world onto stand-up paddle-boarding. Zarautz display, N. Spain. Photo by Marcelo Diaz

TSP and others: So is paddle surfing actually an ancient Hawaiian sport? Did you revive it, invent it, or what?

LH: No, I wouldn’t claim to have invented it. There’s no real record of it from old times but the early beachboys used to ride all kinds of craft. There used to be a guy in Waikiki, called Mr Achoy, who did it all the time. He’d use tandem boards and do exactly what I do.
I would say it’s certainly a Hawaiian sport, and that what I’m doing is re-kindling an old spirit.

So when did you first start getting into it?
I started playing around with paddles on tandem boards a long while ago but I first got boards and paddles made specifically for it about 8 years ago and I found that it really helped me in all sorts of ways.

Such as?
It helps with the transition to big surf – body positioning, delaying your turns, manipulating the board. It’s really physical.
The fitness element is huge. Standing up, for a start, is really good training for your legs. Normally when you surf you only stand up for a total of a few seconds in a whole session, so this works your legs in a way that’s totally new to most surfers. And of course it’s great for your abdominal muscles, and it got rid of the lower back problems I used to have, and so on.
But these days we’re just taking it further and further. It’s fun, it’s great for fitness but it can be taken all the way. I’ve been riding a stand-up paddleboard at Jaws this winter.

Gulp. What kind of board do you ride at Jaws?
A 14ft gun that weighs 25kg.

With a big fin?
No, actually quite a small fin because the paddle helps you into turns and offers whole other options.
I actually break a lot of paddles from leaning on them in turns, but you can use them to get you out of trouble. I’ve used it to save my ass in really big surf, like Teahupoo, where you have to straighten out and paddle like hell to get far enough out into the flats.

So what’s your normal board size?
I usually ride a twelve-footer. But I’m 6’3” and 215lbs, and I’ve been doing it for a while. Most people would start on, say, a 10ft board. You can get all sorts of boards these days. Surf Tech do models and shapers everywhere are starting to make them.

So what makes stand-up paddle-surfing worth touring the world for?
Well, if I had only one work out only in my life, I’d do this. Plus, it adds a whole other angle on surfing. You have this mobility that you don’t get normally. In normal surfing you sit out in the lineup waiting, but with this you’re standing up, you can see the sets, you can get to them fast and easily. You can be all over the lineup.
And there’s other ways it’s fun too. I mean, getting out back. These days I have a great time just getting out to the lineup. You see these walls of whitewater coming at you and have to somehow get this big board on top of them to get over ‘em. It’s a challenge, but a whole lot of fun.

Woah! Time’s up! Thanks a lot, Laird. I’m a convert.
Laird heads off to sign autographs at Bude’s new Wavehouse shop. It’s pouring with rain but there are queues all the way down the high street. Some people, it’s said, have been there since 5 in the morning…..

The queue to meet Laird outside Wavehouse in Bude. Terrible weather made no difference. Photo by Oxbow

Huge thanks to the all Oxbow crew, who truly looked after me on this rare adventure.

As proof of how fast the SUP is spreading, check out Olaus McLeod’s feature about learning how and attempting marathon paddle crossings in Cornwall, UK by clicking here.


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