Interview with Rick Thomas

Rick Thomas

Rick Thomas was the first person to bring Stand Up Paddle Surfing to mainland America, and you could argue that from that his influence SUP has spread all over the world.  Bob Long (Mission Surf) told me that there are 6 degrees of speration between anyone in California who has learn’t to Stand Up Paddle and Rick Thomas.   I managed to get a couple of sessions with Rick and he has such a fantastic fluid style, a real joy to watch.  He is currently an ambassador for C4 Waterman, but he has a very interesting history before that.  He is a Naval Special Forces Vietnam veteran (hense no pictures of his face) who dedicated his professional career to helping other service men and women.  I caught with Rick at a C4 demo at Tourmaline Surf Park in San Diego.

SUPUK: Rick I understand that you were one of the first people around here to do stand up.
RICK : Yeah I started about eight years ago, when I came back from home (Hawaii), and you know its part of my heritage as a kid growing up, I was raise with the beach boys, my mum went to school with a lot of the old beach boys, so seeing back when I was a kid in the 1950’s it was just on of those images that was still in my brain and it was something that I always held that I really wanted to do, and after coming back in 2000 and seeing someone at Waikiki doing it I said “that’s it, I gotta go back and go back and get this childhood dream. And ever since its been on.

SUPUK: What did people think the first time they saw you out on this thing ?
RICK : ohhh, they were like “what are you doing?” and I would just tell them it was the old way and everybody was just amazed and interested and really stoked.

SUPUK: What was the first board that you had to do this ?
RICK: It was really difficult back then the only 11ft board around was the Muñoz, so I started with the Muñoz, the paddle was the difficult thing. I was just trying to get and use some small Kayak stuff, small aluminium stuff. I had the good fortune of knowing Leleo Kinimaka, Leleo of course is a world class out rigger paddler, he was making paddles, so I called Leleo up and told him I needed a paddle and he said “what are you doing?” and I told him and he said “no way” and he couldn’t believe it, so he made the first prototypes for stand up paddles. That’s why we have paddles and boards

Rick Thomas SUPing at Tourmaline.
Rick Thomas SUPing at Tourmaline.

SUPUK: So that was eight years ago, how have you seen the sport grow in California since then ?
RICK: I used to know everybody on the coast, basically the hardcore four of Scott Bass, Tom English, Ted Rutherford and myself, as people started wanted to join in on the fun, I used to know everybody and now I am always meeting new people and its been really fun and interesting to see everybody, see the stoke get passed on to everybody.

SUPUK: How did you get involved with the C4 Waterman Guys ?
RICK: Ted Rutherford went to school with Todd Bradley, and knew Mike Fox, went to school with those guys, so when Todd wanted to start up C4 and did the first ASR show in San Diego they needed a hand I said “I’ll be there”. So I met Brian Keaulana and the boys at the airport and that is how it all started.

SUPUK: I hear that they named a building after you !
RICK : Oh my God, thats supposed to be confidential ! No, it isn’t (laughs), its been a great honour to have a counselling centre named after me, after my years of working with combat veterans with post traumatic stress. It was a big honor to have a treatment centre named after me. Its in honour of the men and women that I served with and men and women that I assisted. The courage to be on the battle front and the courage then to deal with the aftermath, it takes an awful lot you know.

Rick at Cardiff
Rick at Cardiff

SUPUK: You set up the whole counselling as I understand there was very little when you returned from Vietnam
RICK: Yeah I was part of the core group that lead the charge in the treatment of post traumatic stress. There were a cadre of guys that started early on and really helped to focus and deal with the treatment of combat veterans within the veterans administration and outside.

SUPUK: So now you are retired from the counselling ?
RICK: Yeah I am now a dedicated stand up guy, that’s it – a full time Nalu Noa.

SUPUK: Thanks a lot Rick, I guess we are off the have some fun in the surf now
RICK: Lets hope so, lets go get them, charge.