Travis Baptiste, now 19, used the six years since his first (terrifying) downwind experience to transform himself into a champion. Photo: 808photo, M2O 2014

Travis Baptiste, now 19, used the six years since his first (terrifying) downwind experience to transform himself into a champion. Photo: 808photo, M2O 2014

Epic | Travis Baptiste | Surviving My First Downwinder


The scariest moment in my standup paddling career was probably my first downwind run at 12 or 13 years old.

My dad and I were invited by a group of paddlers to do a downwind run from Kihei Canoe Club to Makena Landing, which is about a seven- to eight-mile paddle. My dad is an experienced paddler and waterman. He grew up paddling [outrigger] and had experience with downwind runs, so he knew what he was doing. I, on the other hand, had never done a downwind run before.

For those who know me, they know that growing up, I was a pretty big kid; I was fluffy, past the point of chubby. I was excited to go on this run, but a little scared. I had no idea what to expect.

So, we show up to Kihei Canoe Club and meet up with the group. I was amazed to see the type of gear all these people were using at the time: They had unlimited boards with rudders, the best paddles at that time, and so many other accessories.

And then, there was my dad and I. What did we have to paddle? I had a South Point Bonga Perkins board, and my dad—his old faithful Infinity 11-foot board. We had paddles, but they didn't really fit us. We were definitely the kooks of the group.

So, we're out there, about to start our run, and I'm nervous and intimated by all these people around me. The winds were definitely good that day, but the direction was bad—it was blowing offshore, which means the winds are blowing more out to sea than down the coast.

Immediately, the fast guys took off. My father and I were left in the dust. There were some people in the back with us, but [they were] still ahead.

At around the three-mile point, I started to get into big trouble. I was tired, fatigued, getting thirsty, and I gotta say, being a fluffy kid made it tough.

The wind got stronger and it was pushing me out to sea even harder. I was scared. I remember thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to get taken out to sea. I'm not going to make it to the end. My parents are going to have to call the Coast Guards.'

I freaked out to the point of almost crying. But, luckily, I had my dad there, right by my side to calm me. He told me to get on my stomach and paddle in.

I was trying to get in, and fighting hard, but I was barely moving anywhere with the wind. My dad was struggling a little bit too, but he could manage it. He had me hold onto his leash and he began to paddle me in. At this point, we were quite a ways offshore, maybe two miles out, or more.

My dad paddled me in all the way from the outside into shore. We didn't complete the run with everyone else, but at least we made it back to shore safely, thanks to dad.

After that run, I didn't think I would do a downwind run again, but I tried it more and more after that. Now, when I paddle on days like that, I consider it a good training day because it adds a challenge.

It's funny to think back to that time [only six or seven years later] now that I've paddled four different channels to go to different islands.
 —Travis Baptiste

In 2011, at the age of 14, Travis Baptiste was the youngest person to cross the Ka'iwi Channel in under five hours for the prestigious Molokai2Oahu World Championships (M2O)—one of the most competitive downwind events in the sport of SUP. By 2013, at 16 years old, Baptiste won the M2O's stock division and followed up the win by defending his title in 2014. Baptiste also holds the award for 2014 Male Breakout Performer from the 2014 SUP Awards presented by Tommy Bahama. Most recently, Baptiste won the 2015 Paddle Imua in the 14-foot No Rudder SUP class.