The ocean’s waves run deep for Dave Kalama. The Hawaiian native’s roots go back back two generations, as his grandfather introduced outrigger canoe paddling to the States. And his father, Ilima Kalama, was a longtime outrigger canoe paddler and a world champion surfer. And in the last two decades, Kalama has been one of surfing’s most renowned athletes, having made his name as a big wave surfer/tow-in surfer, stand-up paddle surfer and racer. With fellow American surfers Laird Hamilton, Darrick Doerner and Buzzy Kerbox, Kalama is hailed for popularizing tow-in surfing. Plus, he and Hamilton are credited for bringing back the ancient Hawaiian mode of water transportation and watersport of stand-up paddling a.k.a. SUP. Kalama is the Vice President of Design and Innovation for Imagine Surf.
How did you get your start in surfing and stand-up paddle boarding?
Kalama: I started out as a professional wind surfer in 1986 and competed professionally until 1995 at which point I evolved my career into being a big wave/tow-in surfer for about the next 10 years. That sort of morphed into stand-up paddling. So basically I’ve been able to festoon a career of being in the ocean almost over the span of three decades now. I’m extremely dedicated to it and very fortunate that I get to do what I love to do.
You and American big wave surfer Laird Hamilton re-introduced stand-up paddling in the mid-’90s. What made you want to get this sport back in the public eye?
Kalama: What made us want to do it is the fact that it’s fun. Laird (photo, with Dave on the left) and I have essentially made fun our lives, and when we find something fun, we share it with our friends because we want to have people to do it with. And they shared it with their friends and so on, and here we are making a show about it.
What is the most misunderstood part of your job?
Kalama: Some might think it’s perfect every single day, and that you hang out and drink beer at the beach. But in actuality, it’s almost one for one the time that I spend on my equipment and the time I spend using it–either designing and fixing paddles, working on fins, boards, and packing them for travel. It’s almost a full-time job in itself just designing and maintaining, plus managing all parts of what I need to do as a stand up paddle boarder.
What do you love most about your profession?
Kalama: It’s pretty hard to nail it down to one thing, but I love learning. I still feel I have so much to learn–either with getting better at the sport, technique-wise, or making my equipment better. I’m constantly learning and trying to evolve, and that in itself keeps you thinking and motivated to want to stay fit.
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