Grom Talk: Bernd Roediger
From windsurfing to standup paddling, Maui’s Bernd Roediger charges. After recovering from a broken back, this passionate grom is ready to take on the 2014 World Tour and World Series. Stay tuned as the 17-year-old goes big into SUP. —SC
You have a cool name. Is there a story behind that?
My name comes from the German side of my family. My great uncle was named Bernd and he was the rock star of the family. Bernd served as a motorcycle cop in Berlin and died chasing bank robbers, colliding head on with a truck. When he passed, he left a huge hole in everyone’s lives, and holes like that don’t get filled with nice things. So when I was born, it was like I was bringing a little bit of Bernd back into our family. In German, Bernd means “brave as a bear.”
Tell us about your background as a multi-sport water athlete.
Like most kids on Maui, I grew up doing a variety of watersports. The conditions here vary so much, you never really know what tomorrow will bring – all you know is that you need to get on the water somehow, so you end up gathering a collection of windsurf gear, shortboards, longboards, standups, body boards, swim fins, etc. We don’t have much money so we can never really invest in a lot of equipment for one specific sport, making it even more critical to utilize all the different sets of gear we can get our hands on. But now, I have sponsorship that's allowed me to start taking my riding seriously.
Why do you SUP?
I’m just about getting on the water as much as possible. I feel like just “stepping into liquid” is the healthiest thing you can ever do. Whether that’s a workout or not, I seem to be in pretty good shape.
Does windsurfing give you any advantages in SUP?
Shifting between sports is just a matter of changing boards, which is just basically using different tools, different extensions of your body. There’s no better tool for getting tight in the pocket and riding critically than a shortboard, and a windsurfer is basically a motorcross-surfboard, giving you the ability to get unimaginable down-the-line speed, or air over sections like they’re ramps. Standup is kind of like a cross between the two, giving you the more traditional feel of a shortboard, but with the extension of the paddle to manipulate your line.
The way I see it, real surfing is like Duke Kahanamoku on a wood plank, and each surfboard ever made after that wood plank is a manipulation of the original surfing line. When you start to understand how each board manipulates that line, you get a really good idea of where your surfing is, where you want your surfing to go, and how to get there.
We heard you broke your back. What happened?
I broke my back paddling in the Marshall Islands last winter. I spent six weeks there learning a lot about waves and what to do when inside of them. It was awesome to be able to surf the best waves I'd ever seen, by myself, with Martin Daly motoring the Indies Trader around and occasionally sharing some epic rides.
Of course, in the end, I paid a pretty high price. Going over the falls on one extremely large eight-foot barreling sea monster, I impacted with the reef and crunched my T12 vertebrae, brushing up with paralysis for a good 45 seconds. That was the scariest moment of my life – not being able to feel my legs, thinking maybe I’d never surf or walk again or have a normal life – it really changed everything for me. I got lucky and recovered without any lasting damage. The only thing that stays with me is that feeling of my fate being completely out of my hands. It really puts everything into perspective.
Lots of talented paddlers come from Maui. Why do you think your island produces such dominant SUP athletes?
Hawaii in general is a breeding ground for talent when it comes to surfing. This place is so consistent for good surf, so naturally surfing is something lots of people do consistently, which means there’s a huge surf culture and that’s key for making super surfer groms. But, there’s really only so much that location can do – it doesn't do all the work for you. At some point you have to get out on the water and rip – that’s what guys like Kai [Lenny], Connor [Baxter], Kody [Kerbox], and Zane [Schweitzer] have been doing since I was a tiny grom. Paddling out with them everyday, feeding off the level of energy they have for the ocean – I think more than anything, it’s that passion that’s carried them so far in the sport. I love this sport, I love riding waves, and ultimately, I think that puts me in my own world, far beyond the advantages Maui has to offer.
Do you have any role models?
Is the sport old enough to have role models? When I was younger I paddled out at Ho'okipa with Laird and we shared some waves. That was a pretty crazy “wide-eyed little kid” moment for me, but Laird had pretty much just invented standup at that point.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that SUP is so new that it lacks the years and generations for that kind of history to exist. Our generation and the generations after that will be the role models for the future of our sport. I think that idea is my role model – the idea that I’m a part of a small community of riders just trying to figure out where to take the sport for future generations to enjoy.
Where’s your focus in SUP?
I’m a fan of all of standup because I think it’s so ingenious. I love racing because everyone can do it – my mom can do it and I’m still not sure if she can swim. I also love the racing scene because of how much you can nerd out on the details, all in the effort to be faster than your friends. I’m constantly working with my shaper, Keith Teboul, at Quatro to make my race boards just that little bit faster, and then training everyday to continue that speed. But, with that said, I’m a surfer and I got to ride waves in order to remain sane. So, if I had to pick, it'd be an easy decision in favor of surfing.
Where do you hope to go with the sport?
I just want surf to the best I can, in the best waves I can find. It’s what I dream about when I go to sleep at night: finding new places, scoring epic sessions, sharing experiences with friends. Ultimately, that’s where surfing started; it’s how you start surfing, so why not start paddling off the same way?
Do you have any upcoming plans with SUP?
Well, I’ve avoided competing with my friends long enough. It’s time to hit up more competitions in the Standup World Tour and World Series. Sunset Beach is my next big event, so I’m getting all my shortboards, step up guns, and guns nailed down and ready for competition. I’m really excited for this event, as I was unable to compete last year – broken backs are a drag – but this year, I’m ready for a fun year on tour!