Grandmaster board shaper and legendary waterman Mickey Muñoz has been surfing and designing boards since the late 1940s. A Waimea Bay pioneer, his iconic Quasimodo surf stance has been branded on T-shirts and posters. Muñoz has reinvented himself as a standup paddler and designer. With crystal-clear, ocean-green eyes, and a smile brimming with young curiosity, Muñoz is pushing limits on design, technology and his own wave-riding abilities. “I think we’re gonna learn so much through standup, designing boards and what you can do with the paddles, that it’s going to revolutionize surfboard design and wave-riding in general.” – Shelby Stanger
I always say my first job in the surf industry was being a paperweight and sitting on these balsa blanks at Malibu Beach. They carved them with an adze so I provided the resistance when they pulled that knife through the board. My reward at the end of the day would be getting to drink beer with the older guys at Malibu. They’d buy me a beer at the Malibu Inn and then we’d make a fire out of the balsa shavings, hang out and talk story.
Back then being a waterman meant you were good at multiple water skills. You learned to paddle, you learned to swim, you learned to dive, you learned to fish, you learned about boats, you learned to sail—you did all these things because your life revolved around the water.
The first time I saw standup paddling, I was surfing Malibu on one of the biggest swells in years. I’m on my way out everyone kind of blows it on a medium-sized wave. I turn around and pick off this wave and suddenly hear, ‘Behind you!’ look behind me, and here’s Laird Hamilton on a 12-foot board. I have no idea where it came from. I never saw him and never figured he’d have a chance in hell making it from where he was. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say and I pull out.
I was so excited I got home and took a kayak paddle, cut the blade off and glued a crosspiece with a broomstick on the end and sealed it together with some epoxy and ‘glass so it would be ready the next morning.
And it’s a wonderful point of view because you’re standing and you can see stuff happening way sooner. You get closer to birds and animals—even closer than on a kayak because you see them sooner—and you slow down. I love the point of view on a standup and I love that it’s not limited to the ocean. You can re-explore older board designs.
Ultimately standup surfing is going to affect conventional surfing as snowboarding affected skiing. It’s going to change surfboard design. Ski design had been stagnant for years and snowboarders showed there were other ways of riding mountains and designing equipment.
What the standup community has to realize, and I think a lot of them do, is you can ride waves a lot of conventional surfers can’t, so it opens a lot more surfing, and you can ride waves in places where conventional surfers wouldn’t surf. There are plenty of waves out there and there’s no reason that standup surfers have to ride traditional surfing waves only.
On crowded days as a standup surfer, if you show that you know what you are doing and share waves rather than dominate, you’ll be accepted.
I’m relearning to surf again and relearning to design boards again, only knowing what I know now.
It turns out the great equalizer is the paddle. It’s not just your propeller. It’s a moveable, controllable foil that allows you to get more wave with less finning, and it’s balancing and it’s turning and it’s weighting and unweighting, so there’s a lot to learn from the paddle.
How that translates to conventional surfing? I’m not sure yet. But imagine foiled gloves, and using your hand as a moveable foil so you can create maneuvers that were almost impossible to do any other way.
Because I’m on the other side of the curve and not some young kid anymore, I’m having a lot of fun pushing myself. I’ve found that this standup thing has given me better balance. I actually think I can pass the drunk test sober my balance has gotten so good. So when you’re my age and you’re putting muscle on and your reflexes and balance is getting better that says a lot. That’s huge.
My best advice is there are no bad waves, only a poor choice of equipment and a lousy attitude. In other words, if you’re not having a good time in the water, it’s your fault not the waves’ fault. That applies pretty much to living and life and anything you do.