Buzzy Kerbox has been a household name in surfing since the ’70’s. Growing up in Hawaii Kerbox, the “Kailua Kid,” was one of the sport’s first bona-fide celebrities. After competing as one of the first athletes on the surfing world tour, Kerbox continued to push limits for decades as one of the original pioneers of tow-in surfing at Jaws on Maui. As stand up paddling broke onto the scene, Kerbox was in the right place at the right time and—alongside Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama—was an early ambassador for the sport.
We had a chance to chat with Kerbox about SUP’s exponential growth, his first paddle with Laird and what it’s like to see his son perform at the sport’s elite level.—Steve Andrews
How did you first get into stand up paddling?
I don’t know what year it was but I was down at Maliko (on Maui) and Laird said, “Here’s the board, here’s the paddle, we’re going to do a downwinder.” We both had a big background in lay-down paddling some big distances, having done the English Channel and a lot of other stuff. It didn’t take long to realize how fun it was. After all those years of prone paddling, standing upright with a paddle to assist you was a blessing. I started getting glides and linking my strokes, and after one session I was like “Oh man, this is happening!” I maybe went on my prone paddleboard a couple more times and then I was like “Forget paddleboarding, stand up is where it’s at.”
Have you noticed any parallels to the current explosion in popularity with SUP compared to surfing’s blast onto the mainstream in the ’70’s?
When standup came along I didn’t see it going global. It seemed like a fun thing that was really suited for here on Maui. But it has just taken off gangbusters around the world. It allows people who don’t have these idyllic Hawaii surf conditions, but have water, to get out and enjoy themselves. They feel like “I’m not just watching, I’m actually out there doing it and really enjoying it.” And the boom in popularity has just gone on and on. I don’t think the growth of the sport is going to slow down for a while.
What are you up to now that you’re out of the limelight as an athlete?
I take guests around Maui and Oahu for both surfing and stand up. I take them to the best places at the right time based on the conditions, as well as the best equipment, to get them to excel. Whether it’s wave riding or downwind racing, I help them work on their technique, while having a great time doing it.
How does it feel having your son Kody follow his father’s footsteps as an elite athlete?
It’s really exciting. It’s not something I’ve forced on him. I showed him a lot of things, and that’s what he chose to do. I love it. Kody is right at the same point in standup where I was in the sport of surfing as it got going. The surfing tour started in 1976 there were a bunch of events around the world that they connected and made the world tour. That’s happening with standup and Kody has been involved pretty much since the beginning.
I see a lot of what I went through and there’s a lot of things I passed on to him as far as training. I think that I helped set him in the right direction and right now he’s training harder than I ever did, especially in racing. It’s gotten so competitive that if you’re not putting in as much time as you can, then you’re not going to keep up with that elite pack.
Speaking of elite packs—Kody and his friends from Maui are usually the guys on the podium.
If you look at the guys who have come out of Maui—Kai Lenny, Connor Baxter, Zane Schweitzer, and Kody—these guys are pretty much the top in the world in both wave riding and racing. It’s amazing that they have been able to be at the forefront of this sport as the racing gets faster and the wave riding gets more incredible. They are really pushing it.
I talked to a guy in Brazil yesterday and he said, “Everyone’s gunning for those Maui guys.” They have a reputation for being the best in the world and wherever they travel there’s a target on their back. They’ve got their work cut out for them. It’s going to be an exciting year.