Dave Kalama: The Grandfather of SUP
Published on 10/26/2012
By Mallory Ayres
The daylight is fading and the air is starting to chill, but we thought we’d escape the coming winter for a little while and catch up with Dave Kalama, a big wave surfing legend and one of the pioneers of stand up paddleboarding (SUP). He lives in a place where the air is always balmy and he can pop out his door to ride waves that tower up to 80 feet high: beautiful Maui, Hawaii. He comes from a long line of surfers and water sports enthusiasts, and helped popularize one of his family’s favorite pastimes, stand up paddleboarding. One way he did this was through Kalama Kamps, a program where people can spend a week or two learning to surf and SUP. He also co-invented the tow-in surfing method, a whole new approach to conquering massive waves. He is also passionate about making the boards he rides, and recently joined Imagine Surf, one of the premier SUP companies in the world, as the VP of Design and Innovation. He let us in on what it’s like to see his sport explode, the authentic waterman’s lifestyle and riding the biggest waves in the world.
Q: You are from a line of accomplished Hawaiian watermen. Can you tell us about your family?
A: My grandfather started the first Outrigger Canoe Club in California and was a very prominent personality in Hawaiian water sports in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. He was a world-class body surfer. My father was the 1962 U.S. Amateur Surfing Champion and has a long history in surf culture. I’ve got numerous uncles and family members that are anywhere from great to really good surfers and paddlers, and the list just goes on and on. In the Kalama family watersports play a very important role.
Q: You are considered one of the pioneers of SUP, and everywhere you look more people are becoming involved in the sport. How does it feel to see it become so popular?
A: It feels good. So many people try and enjoy it. It’s kind of funny actually, because at the time when something like this is happening you’re not in a laboratory mapping out how this is all going to go and forecasting the future, you’re really just trying to have fun. It’s funny how some things just catch on.
Q: Besides the obvious, how is SUP different from surfing?
A: It’s a lot more inclusive at this point, and it has got a very positive energy as a whole. It’s accessible to a much broader audience because you can do it on any body of water as opposed to just in the ocean where you have waves.
Q: In 2005, you launched Kalama Kamps, and you called it ‘a way for people to experience an authentic waterman’s lifestyle.’ Can you describe that lifestyle to me?
A: It’s centering your life on activities that involve the ocean, or just water; it doesn’t have to be the ocean. But it’s more than just activity based, it’s healthy, fun, inclusive and good for your soul. It gets your mind right, you know what I mean?
Q: You are also a big wave surfer and co-invented the tow-in surfing method. Can you tell us about this method and how you invented it?
A: The method is using a personal watercraft to tow you into a big wave using a Jet Ski rope to get you up to speed and positioning you so that when you let go of the rope, all you have to focus on is riding the wave. That means you can totally redesign the boards for riding and not just catching the wave. As far as what I did to help invent it, I just contributed to its evolutionary technique; I wasn’t actually there on the first day, that was Laird Hamilton, Darrick Doerner and Buzzy Kerbox. But what I did do to contribute to and develop it was the foot strap on the boards, which is one of the keys to being able to do it.
Q: One of your favorite places to surf is the reef at Pe’ahi (Maui, Hawaii). How big was the biggest wave you’ve ridden there? Can you pinpoint an actual wave?
A: Not really, because when it gets that big you really just feel the immensity of it, but you can’t put a number on it. You think, ‘Well that was at least 70 feet or probably 80 feet,’ but you can’t say, ‘That was 74 and that was 77.’ You just know that it was really big, I mean, talking up into the size of what anybody has ever ridden. I will never make the claim that I’ve ridden the biggest wave or anything like that, but I’ve ridden really big waves.
Q: You are a surf and SUP board shaper. What are the makings of a good board?
A: For me a good board is one that is forgiving, very maneuverable, stable for its volume size and fast.
Q: What is your favorite stand up paddleboard right now? Why?
A: My favorite stand up paddleboard is probably my 86 Imagine Snap. One of the main reasons is because it works so well, and I designed it.
Q: Can you tell us about your role at Imagine Surf?
A: My role is the VP of Design and Innovation. It’s really exciting for me because designing, testing and developing boards is what I absolutely love to do, and to be able to make that my job is just an ideal situation for me. It’s great to be involved in the industry I love, and maintain a lifestyle that represents the better part of my life. I have a tremendous amount of passion for it, so having this as one of my responsibilities keeps me really driven and motivated. All the boards I’ve done to this point I’ve gotten really good feedback on, so I’m very encouraged with where I’m heading and what I’m doing.