From The Mag | Style Is The Man Himself

"That's the problem with SUP," said my non-paddling surfer buddy, as we stood on the sands of Malibu amongst the good-natured pre-race chaos at LA Waterkeeper's 5th annual Standup for Clean Water event. "There's no standup paddling style. I mean, compare this to a surf contest, in or out of the water. You got style there. What is standup style?"

Good question, I thought, and took a critical look at my SUP brethren. Sure, I saw more than a few middle-aged beginners (this being primarily a fun race), all wearing their respective uniforms: men in short-sleeved, short-leg spring suits and ball caps, their neoprene booties filling with soft sand, women wearing too much rubber, colorful rash guards, sunglasses, sunscreen and funny hats. But this very recognizable subgenre was actually in the minority. For the most part, the teeming throng resembled something you'd see in old photos of 1960s surf competitions, where packs of super-fit guys in trunks and tans mingled freely with muscled-toned gals who wore their bikini's proudly. In fact, some of the ladies on the beach, carrying their race boards and paddles, all sun-bleached hair and rippling triceps, looked more like surfers than half the guys on the World Surfing League's pro tour. I told my friend as much.

"Well yeah, they might look like surfers," he said. "But once they get in the water, what does style have to do with SUP? You can't be stylish on a standup."

"And why not?" I asked.

"Because you have a paddle in your hand."

I thought about presenting my thesis, comparing the physical confirmation of a proper paddling stoke with classic Greek athletic sculpture, drawing on the similarities between Danny Ching in sprint mode and the Greek artist Myron's famous bronze figure of a discus thrower known as Discobolus (c. 425 BCE), but it was just too damn hot.

Instead I just said, "Have you ever seen Dave Kalama SUP surf? Keahi de Aboitiz? Candice Appleby? Or Annabel Anderson at speed? Jenny Kalmbach doing anything?"

"No," he said. "But check that guy. He makes my point for me."

I turned to see a large man, well past middle age, trudging toward us. He was assembled in a long john wetsuit with a rash guard underneath, the requisite booties, paddling gloves, a gigantic hydration pack the size of a dromedary's hump loaded with sunscreen and energy bars, festooned with a hanging waterproof instamatic camera and an emoji keychain, the entire kit topped off with what looked like a Foreign Legion kepi with neck flap.

"What a kook," said my buddy.

"Sam!" cried the approaching spectacle.

It was Tony Montero, actor, performance artist and fairly recent standup paddleboard convert; an old friend, who I hadn't seen in years. He wrapped me in an exuberant bear hug, almost lifting my feet off the ground.

"Isn't this great," he beamed through heavily zinc'd lips. "What a great day to be out here with everyone. Hey, try to guess which board is mine."

I looked over to a row of race boards in the sand, stiletto noses point seaward like spear points. Plopped down in the middle, a Clydesdale among thoroughbreds, was a huge board, with a GoPro mount on the nose, a thick deck pad (that I would later learn was where his dog sat) and mounted stereo speakers.

"Yeah, I know what you're probably thinking, but I don't care," Tony said, gazing affectionately at this Bismarck of a board. "It's all about getting out there and having a great time, right?"

I looked at my old friend Tony who was almost hopping up and down with excitement. He had the biggest smile on his face. All because of that paddle in his hand.

I turned to my surfer buddy.

"Now that's style," I said.

This article was originally published in our 2016 Summer “LifeSTYLE” Issue.

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