Check out this article that appeared in USA TODAY Friday Weekend Edition. This article appeared on the front page of the Money section and was 2 full pages in length. Below are the highlights of the article featuring legendary waterman Laird Hamilton and the booming sport of Standup Paddleboarding.
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Surfer Laird Hamilton rides a Business Wave
By Matt Krantz, USA TODAY
MALIBU, California — On a sunny weekday afternoon, a lone surfer skims across the water at one of America's most famous coastlines. But this is no normal surfer, nor is he riding a typical board. Armed with a long black paddle in his hand, Laird Hamilton, revered as a god among surfers, stands on a massive 12-foot board and glides effortlessly across the ocean. His 6-foot-3, 215-pound body casts a silhouette that, for a moment, makes him look like a Polynesian warrior traversing the ocean in Hawaii. Today, Hamilton is stand-up paddling, a sport he's embraced and for which he is the unofficial spokesman.
Stand-up paddling, a variation of surfing in which you stand on a board and propel with a paddle almost like a kayak, is taking beaches by storm, largely due to its endorsement by Hamilton.
The sport stands to change ocean recreation, much as snowboards changed the ski slopes. "This will be enormous," says Hamilton, acknowledging he's a bit of a reluctant entrepreneur. "I'm on for the ride. It'll be bigger than surfing."
Hamilton's championing of stand-up paddling is at the heart of his push to build a business around his name. Hamilton is tying his chiseled image to companies and products that produce the tools that make his oceanic escapades possible. With any luck, Hamilton's first success will be becoming the icon of stand-up paddling — what Jake Burton is to snowboards and Tom Morey is to body boards.
There's no question that what Hamilton does has pull. He sealed his reputation as arguably one of the best big-wave surfers ever, having taken on waves up to 80-feet high, or about the size of an eight-story building. His ride in 2000 on a massive wave in Tahiti's Teahupo'o break, a dangerous spot to surf because of large waves that break onto razor-sharp reefs, is still considered one of the most daring things ever done on a surfboard (see top picture left).
Hamilton's legendary status has been documented in surf movies including Riding Giants and Step Into Liquid, which feature some of his wildest rides that drop the jaws of even people who have never waded into water. His latest movie, Water Man, is due out in September and is the product of his production company, BamMan. Hamilton has also been a surfing body double for Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond movie Die Another Day and has been featured in an American Express ad.
That's not to mention his idyllic seaside life, split between Malibu and Hawaii, with his model wife and former volleyball sensation Gabby Reece and three daughters.
Despite Hamilton's picture-perfect life and mastery of the monster wave, there's one force he's yet to have reckoned with. While he's credited as one of the bravest surfers on the planet, he's now looking to parlay his love of the ocean and legendary status as a waterman into a business. And it's that big and unknown wave he's about to take on next.
"I need to pay for three weddings, maybe," he jokes.
Eight years ago....
That's where stand-up paddling comes in. He first actively revived stand-up paddling in Hawaii eight years ago. Hamilton says he loved the challenge and immediately saw it as a great way to work out muscles that regular surfing missed. But, as is often the case when he tries new things, he was frustrated trying to find the right equipment. He'd ask local shapers to make boards of the right size and would experiment with different paddles.
Four years ago, Hamilton turned his quest for gear into a business. He teamed with Surftech, one of the world's largest makers of surfboards, to design a stand-up board for him. At first, Hamilton simply wanted to get his hands on a board that met his exacting standards.
Now, the board is one of the company's hottest sellers, and it ships them to customers almost as fast as they're made, says Duke Brouwer, promotion manager at Surftech, a private company that doesn't disclose financial results.
Hamilton, for his part, declines to put numbers on the extent of his success.
Hamilton's business efforts extend further yet. He's done motivational speeches for companies and is releasing a fitness manual, Force of Nature: Laird Hamilton's Handbook for Peak Living, in November. He also buys, develops and sells real estate in Hawaii and is developing property on Maui and Kauai.
But paddling out into the business world is a new thing for Hamilton, who has been more concerned with mastering the waves than profiting from them.
To date, many of Hamilton's innovations have been too extreme to sell to the masses. For instance, using jet skis or helicopters to tow or lift into waves too big to paddle into is hardly something weekend athletes will emulate. Nor is his idea to add hydrofoils to surfboards, causing them to lift up several inches from the water to travel faster.
But stand-up paddling is a different opportunity. It is to surfing what cross-country skiing is to the downhill slalom. Rather than springing up on a board and being propelled at high speed behind a breaking wave, stand-up paddling is more akin to standing on a kayak. Because it can be enjoyed without mastering the hardest part of surfing — popping up from a prone position and actually catching the wave — Hamilton says it stands to be the biggest thing to hit his sport in years.
It's ideal for older recreational athletes whose knees don't have the same spring they used to. And because stand-up paddling doesn't require waves, it's available to people who may live near a lake but not an ocean. "This is revolutionizing the whole industry," says Hamilton.
But Hamilton has a difficult balance to strike as he expands from surfer to entrepreneur. If he goes too commercial, surfers will accuse him of selling out. At the same time, he doesn't want others to usurp the profit from his innovations.
Hamilton's supporters say his bravery in the water will serve him in business. Thomas Barrack, CEO of Colony Capital, a Los Angeles-based private-equity firm that hired Hamilton to speak to its investors last year, says, "Laird could be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a hedge fund manager. What he does in evaluating risk, dedication and pushing through comfort barriers is the same process needed in business."
Re-Visit the skiing/snowboarding conflict of 20 years ago....
But there are certain to be skeptics and critics, especially about Hamilton's bold predictions for stand-up paddling. Surfing Magazine published a scathing editorial that called it a fad designed to generate revenue. "Before the novelty of SUPing wears off, a lot of surfers will have been milked of their money (for extremely oversized baggage fees, if nothing else) and missed hundreds, maybe thousands, of waves trying to learn this fad," the editorial said. "I can't blame him for looking for a new way to ride waves," says Evan Slater of Surfing Magazine, who did not write the editorial. "It's the offshoot that causes the conflict."
Meanwhile, just as snowboarders were outcasts at ski resorts at first, stand-up paddlers are finding resistance on the water. Surftech's Brouwer says he's been told by officials at reservoirs and lakes several times to get out of the water, even when boats are coasting by.
Hamilton thinks that eventually surfers will get used to the newcomers, and stand-up paddling will be welcome. "I'll ride where I want. Write me up. Arrest me," he says. "It's part of sharing the ocean."
It's that break-through-the-barriers attitude that bodes well for Hamilton's business life. "If you don't believe in something, how can you sell it?" he says.
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