The Pioneers of Style

Kalama, McPhillips and Boehne Talk Flair, Grace and the Future of SUP

This spring, Dave Boehne, Dave Kalama and Colin McPhillips rendezvoused in Costa Rica with American expat, Erik Antonson. Antonson, founder of Blue Zone SUP and the PaddleWoo Podcast, is a man in constant paddle mode. He’s working on two movie developments: “The Progression Project,” which will feature the best young SUP surfing talent on the planet, including Sean Poynter, Mo Freitas, Zane Schweitzer, Caio Vaz and many more. The other, “Progression Project: Origins” was the subject of this trip. In between sessions of world-class waves and one of the first healthy south swells of the season, McPhillips, Kalama and Boehne talked board development, on-water style and what the future of SUP surfing might hold. Go ahead, eavesdrop.

ON SURF STYLE

Dave Boehne: I hear the question all the time. “What is SUP style?” But it’s really no different than any other type of surfing—style is style. And to me that means surfing smooth, not forcing it, not looking like you’re trying too hard. Stylish SUP surfers are the ones who don’t overuse their paddles. They use the paddle to enhance the turn or for a quick stroke to accelerate over a flat spot without hop-hop-hopping or paddling the whole time.

Dave Kalama: To me, style means smoothness and power. Not surfing in a constant state of recovery, but in a constant state of speed and power, blending maneuvers with a flow. It’s what separates the good surfers from the really good surfers. It’s always noticeable. Considering two surfers of the same ability, I think that style is the separation point.

Colin McPhillips: To me the definition of style is to make radical stuff look easy. Flowing with the wave, not stabbing the water with your paddle. The youthful approach seems to be more about flatter turns, slidey turns. I like to use my rail more. If your rail isn’t getting wet then you’re not surfing properly, as far as I’m concerned.

ON EMBRACING SUP

DK: It’s been a few years now and I’m really surprised that more surfers, especially longboarders haven’t transitioned to standup paddle.

CM: It’s just such a natural, easy transition. I mean, if you thought you could slingshot around a nine-foot performance longboard, with a paddle the speed and power you get on a 9’0” is ridiculous.

ON WHAT THEY RIDE

DK: My style is more conducive to a longer board. When I get on a shorter board sometimes it works and sometimes I look spastic, because I’m trying to do too much. It’s too loose, and I wiggle too much. I lose the drive and power.

CM: When I get on a shorter board it feels slidey. And I don’t like to slide. I prefer that long, arcing turn. That’s the feeling that got me hooked in the first place. This past year I went back up to nine feet and tacked on ten more liters of volume, and I’m having 100 percent more fun.

DB: It all depends on what size board you want to ride. Boards were getting smaller and smaller for awhile there, and that’s what led to the performance levels you see today. But riding all different sized boards—even much bigger boards—really helps your surfing, and rounds out your style. No reason not to ride both.

ON BOARD LENGTH

DB: It’s pretty funny, I was surfing the other day on my shortboard and this older guy I know paddles by and says, ‘Dave, you’re not standup paddling, you’re standup wave catching.’ And he was sort of right; I realized, on a board that short, I was sitting more than I was standing…I understand why board lengths are going up a bit.

CM: To me everything feels better on a bigger board.

ON THE FUTURE

DK: Part of me is super-impressed by where progressive standup is going. What the young guys are doing and how they’re surfing is phenomenal. From my perspective, it’s really inspiring. I want to do turns at Sunset like Zane and Kai.

DB: Giorgio Gomez is my favorite young guy to watch. Even though it might seem that he focuses on maneuvers, Giorgio never seems to be trying too hard. He’s got that great youthful thing, smooth but with flash.

CM: There are a few young guys who blend radical, youthful surfing on SUP and make it look pretty. Kai Lenny is one. Mo Freitas is another. And Fisher Grant from Florida—again, flowing through the maneuvers, making the hard stuff look pretty.

ON FEEL

DB: I’ve always been pushing it to go shorter, surfing and shaping. But what initially made me fall in love with standup was just being able to cruise. That will always be what standup is all about.

CM: Speed and power—that’s the way I like to surf. But you know the whole reason I started standup was to roam up and down the beach breaks at home, finding my own peak, surfing by myself, surfing in the winter with no wetsuit. And the feeling you get, even on a knee-high wave.

Photos by Erik Antonson, Esteban Delgado, PaddleWoo

Portions of this conversation were pulled from the PaddleWoo Podcast, recorded on site in Costa Rica. Listen to the full episode at PaddleWoo.com and be sure to tune in for new episodes on the cutting edge of SUP surfing. Look for updates on both “Progression Project” films on their website and on SUPthemag.com.

Feature originally ran in SUP magazine’s Summer 2016 “Style” Issue.