Grom Talk: Riggs Napoleon

Photo by Ocean Minded

Photo by Ocean Minded

With the immense progress standup paddling has made in the past few years, it’s easy to forget that our sport is still young. Unlike surfing, whitewater or outrigger paddling, there isn’t a generation of athletes that have known SUP since birth, or lived an entire life around our sport. But, as SUP continues to flourish, the first generation of groms to grow up with paddle and board are maturing and writing their own history- becoming the legends that future generations of paddlers will look up to and strive to emulate. In SUP magazine’s ongoing series, Grom Talk, we get to know the first generation of paddlers lucky enough to grow up in the SUP lifestyle.

Riggs Napoleon, of the famed Napoleon clan, was born into an ocean family. The youngest to cross the Ka’iwi Channel and a killer paddlesurfer, Riggs is continuing the tradition his family began while also leaving his own mark on the sport of SUP. — SC

What led you to SUP?
What really got me into SUP was honestly how easy it was for me to transition to it. I grew up surfing and outrigger paddling, so I figured, ‘how hard could it be standing up.’ My dad was definitely another main reason why I got into standup. Who doesn’t want to do a sport their dad does?

Photo by Standup World Tour

Photo by Standup World Tour


You come from one of the most well known waterman families in the islands. Do you feel pressure to continue the tradition or to perform well in ocean sports?
I don’t feel pressured at all to have to continue the legacy. I do strive to do my best in my races and right now I’m doing the sport of SUP for myself, not because my parents tell me I have to do it. I’m into standup because I love to do it.
Photo by Katie Stephens

Photo by Katie Stephens

What kind of advice do you get from your dad and grandfather?
My dad and grandpa always tell me to just have fun and enjoy myself. They also tell me to always be humble and show respect to everyone wherever I am in the world.

Your first M2O crossing at 12 years old. What prompted you to compete in that event at such a young age?
To be honest, I was at the finish line the year Connor Baxter became the youngest person to cross the Kaiwi Channel. My dad was right next to me and I told him, ‘I’m gonna cross that channel next year and become the youngest person.’ He looked at me with a face of disbelief and said, “Whatever, I guess so.”
I don’t think he took me that serious at the time. It was something I wanted to accomplish for myself. All in all it was a great experience paddling across the channel- it was such a different experience from always driving the boat across and escorting my dad.

What’s the scene like on Oahu for kids your age?
On the island of Oahu there aren’t very many kids who standup paddle and also compete in the races and surf contests- probably only a small handful. It would be great to see more kids getting into standup paddling on Oahu. The competition on Maui is probably just as gnarly as it is on Oahu and most of the kids that are competing compete in both sides of the field in racing and surfing.

At the age of 14 you’re already creating a legacy for yourself. What do you hope to accomplish with SUP in the next year?
At 14 I’ve been doing all right for a kid who doesn’t train or surf as much as he would like to. Next year I’m planning on paddling the Kaiwi Channel solo again, and hopefully I’ll be able to get up in the top 10, or even better would be sick. I definitely want to train hard for the Molokai and Battle of the Paddle next year– it would be great to hopefully win the Molokai to Oahu race at least once in my life, or even the Battle. I haven’t been training at all, besides paddling in the races on Oahu. I’m not 100 percent in shape. I really want to start going to the gym and working out to build up my strength. I also really want to plan another surf trip to Tahiti or Bali with my friends and family to surf some sick waves and get perfect barrels.

Photo by Jim Walsh

Photo by Jim Walsh


For more Grom Talk, click here.

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