For as long as he can remember, Thomas "TJ" Holman has been a river rat.
Growing up in southern Missouri, his backyard was the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and some of his first memories are of canoeing and kayaking with his mother. But it wasn't until she passed away following a brain aneurism two years ago, that he realized exactly what watersports meant to him.
Along with his mother's passing, Holman and his wife both lost their jobs. One day he went into his local outfitter to get parts for his kayak and found out they were hiring. A few days later, he was on the other side of the counter. Thinking about his mom made Holman take a hard look at his own health and he became determined to lose weight.
Needing a new challenge, he reached out to endurance paddler Shane Perrin on Facebook. The two sent messages back and forth for a few months and then Perrin brought some boards down for a demo day. After just a few minutes, Holman was hooked. But he was worried that his weight, which had increased to 400 pounds, would be a barrier. Perrin refused to let his new friend be deterred.
"I told Shane that there was no production board that could hold me and he offered to make me a custom one," Holman said. "Once I got it my canoes and kayaks started gathering dust because I was so obsessed with SUP."
In July 2016, Holman repaid the favor by crewing for Perrin and three teammates who piloted another Perrin-crafted custom board - a giant, four-person craft - in the MR340 race, which Perrin was the first SUP athlete to complete back in 2011. Right after the race, Holman decided that the next time they took on the 340-miler from Kansas City, Kansas to St. Charles, Missouri, he wanted to join them. After scratching his head a bit to figure out the logistics of shaping a five-person board, Perrin was all in.
"TJ is an inspiration," Perrin said. "His passion for SUP and life is contagious and so when he had the idea to try the 340, it was a no-brainer."
In the run-up to the 2017 MR340, Holman paddled for at least an hour a day. When he showed up to meet Perrin and his other crewmates, his daily dedication was reflected in his bodyweight, which had dropped from 400 to 299 pounds. Holman's impressive 101 pound weight loss helped him regain his excitement for being out on the water, not to mention greater energy levels and a desire to introduce as many people as possible to the health benefits of SUP.
"My goal is to paddle through a little Missouri town and have people say, 'What the heck is that thing you're paddling?'” Holman said. "Then I'll tell them, 'It's a SUP board. Want to try it?'"
But before continuing his SUP evangelism back home, Holman needed to fulfill his commitment to Perrin and his other teammates and finish the 340-mile race they'd signed up for.
"A lot of people thought Shane was nuts the first time he showed up at a race like this on a paddleboard and we got some weird looks this year, too," Holman said. "But through it all we kept each other going by laughing a lot and ribbing each other - it was like the best float trip ever, minus the beer!"
Sure enough, the hearty crew-complete with Holman's trademark pirate flag-pulled into the finish in St. Louis on their unlikely craft early on August 11, silencing the doubters while staying as loud and rowdy as possible. In addition to planning more races, demos and as their Two Board Dudes website states, "shenanigans" with Perrin, Holman is determined to not only honor his mother's memory but also encourage others who struggle with their weight to try the sport.
"I hope my example shows the next 300 or 400 pound person that they can use SUP to improve their health, have fun and improve their quality of life," Holman said. "All you need is a board, a paddle and you."