Interview with Dave Parmenter and Ted Rutherford

Dave Parmenter

In autumn 2008 Dave Parmenter (ex professional ASP surfer and SUP/surfboard shaper) and Ted Rutherford (C4 Waterman) came over to the UK to visit some old haunts and explore some new places on stand up paddle surfing boards.

They teamed up with Adam Zervas and Tim Mellors and started to explore the Cornish coast. We caught up with them after they had caught a nice session at Sennon Cove. Welcome to autumn in the UK. What are you guy’s making of it so far?

Ted: Absolutely spectacular, in fact I asked Dave what he thought about both places where we’d been in the water and he said "it’s beyond words". To say that being a wordsmith is pretty rare.

Dave: I’ve wanted to come back here, I used to come here twenty years ago for the surf meets; the ASP the Fosters, down at Fistral. So it was always one of my favourite stops on the tour. Both my wife and I, we would consider ourselves citizens of the nation of English Literature before we consider ourselves Americans or Californians or Hawaiians. It’s just where I set my stone, the English Literature and the history of it so it’s just unreal to come here. Good so you’ve enjoyed it. You picked a good time to get down there, I like Cornwall when it’s wild and I guess you’ve been checking out the coast line and you went down to Tintagel and those kind of places?

Ted: Yes we almost got blown off Tintagel. We’ve got pictures of us horizontal holding on to flagstones. We had real windy weather! So you’ve been out in the water as well, you got a bit of paddle surfing done?

Dave: Yes absolutely, a few all time surfs, two days in a row. Ted was telling me earlier you were out at this spot no one had ever paddle surfed before down at Sennen?

Ted: We tried to get Tim (Mellors) in there to get first blood but err, Tim waved off, Dave took that first blood on a beautiful, ledgey, wingey spot. Were there any of the other guys out there or was it just you guys?

Dave: No, Adam (Zervas) had said that local guys had surfed this reef. He said that nobody had probably been out on a beach boy board and I think we were just so close to Lands End I just thought we’d be the furthest south, furthest out. You know as they say in Hawaii, we were just Makai. I hope you got some pictures !

Ted: Yep we got some. I got some video too of Dave.. I think it was his fourth wave that he got, it gives you a feel. Unfortunately it wasn’t his largest but it was a beautiful wave.

And here is the video :

[youtube: 425 355] How has Stand Up Paddle Surfing been for you this summer, Has it been good? You said you’ve been out, you’ve been in California and I guess Dave you’ve been out in Hawaii. Is it getting popular, is it growing?

Ted: In Southern California it’s getting quite crowded with Stand Up Paddlers to the point it’s a little bit out of control as far as people not really adhering to the matter of good etiquette and good water behaviour.

Dave: I’ve been in California for over a month doing all the trade shows and shaping boards in my home town in California and then looking forward to coming here which was kind of the highlight of the summer for us. To finally get out here. It was really some of the best surf I’ve had all summer. It’s really hard to find uncrowded surf in Hawaii and California. We had it fairly good I guess when I was over in California in May, That was alot of fun out at Cardiff and down at Tourmaline. That was great. So you recon it’s grown, there are alot more paddlers out on the water even since then ?

Ted: It has absolutely grown and I think as the winter progresses and it gets a little bit colder I think people are going to jump on their Stand Up Boards a little bit more in order to not be all rubbered up in the wetsuits. Sure.

Ted: You got some good waves though down at Tourmaline the day of the C4 demo. Yeah that was great, that was a good demo. I cut my arm up on one of the waves. I got it all wrong and went over some rocks and I think Bob (Rief) was taking a picture from the top there and he’s sort of waving at me and I’m waving back and there is blood coming down one of my arms. Probably not the world’s best advert for Stand Up Paddle Surfing but it’s gone into my diary !

Dave: Just to answer your question form before. We’ve noticed that most of the interest in stand up paddle is coming from inland locations. In places where there’s kayaking and canoes in lakes and rivers. All that kind of inland thing is huge 80% of our boards are for that area. It’s really taking off in the US. That’s really interesting. I’ve just had a press release from the US Coast Guard. I don’t know if you guys have heard about this yet. About them saying that they are classifying Stand Up as vessels now. So they are going into all these rules and regulations about having to wear a PFD (personal floatation device) and all this. Have you guys heard about this yet, has is got down to you?

Dave: Well in California in alot of the state parks it’s banned from the beaches but you can still go out and get outside the surf zone but it varies from area to area. I haven’t heard anything about the actual PFD, but the thing is they don’t do that with kayaks. There will be alot of wiggle room in that, it’s still early days yet. Have you seen any national organisation yet over there for the stand up or is it still very much pockets of people in different parts of the country doing it?

Ted: It’s not as well organises as over here and there is certainly not the kind of media attention. There is one magazine that I know of which is a sail board SUP magazine, whereas here I’ve seen 2 different magazines plus your

Dave: And BSUPA, there is nothing like that anywhere else that I know of, maybe Australia but certainly not anywhere else. OK that’s interesting. I was just wondering with the US Coast Guard getting involved whether that was going to be the catalyst to set something up to try and work with these guys rather than have them lay down the law as it were.

Ted: That’s something that might be necessary, that’s a good point. I’d heard rumblings of it but never heard that that was a done deal.

Dave: I don’t think that has much legal standing. It’s going to be really hard to get a surf board classified when there are kayaks and canoes and all those other things. I think it’s going to be really varied form area to area. Like in the east coast of the United states, places like New Jersey where they have always been fairly draconian regulating surfing there might be trouble but it’s fair to say in California you are not going to see it.

Ted: Maybe in some of the inland waters like when we had windsurfing on the Great Lakes. They are big about putting registrations on windsurfers so they may try and do something there. So where do you guys see some of the boards shapes going? I’ve noticed everything seems to get going shorter and thinner and fish shapes are coming in. Do you see that kind of thing progressing?

Dave: I think that we are seeing alot of what in the financial markets they call rational exuberance. Enthusiasm for short boards and I think that in the original short boards revolution guys went too far, so knowing the history and knowing that I know I’m not going to chase it past 9 ft. I don’t think these guys with these shorter boards can cut it, it’s just ridiculous. They are welcome to do it but I’m not going to do it. 9ft to 10ft is going to be where it comes back to just like in late 60’s early 70’s when they were riding down to 5ft6 little mini machines where as other guys kept their butts on 7ft boards. There will be people who chase it down there and waste alot of valuable time where I’ll be spending more of my time in the low 9’s. 9’6” to 10’ refining the existing things and making them really fun to paddle. At the end of the day you still have to stand on these things and paddle them not having you all over the place, not having to do some really bazaar things when you are having to catch a wave late. I think most people who work with that are coming back to that 9 to 10 ft range. you guys seen many of the European style boards ?

Dave: Most of these guys are sort of copy cats so they have either taken on board what Brian and I developed 4/5 years ago as a base line and then they’ve just taken the existing blanks out there and they haven’t done much to deviate from the shape meaning the rocker and rails and alot of these guys are short board shapers and they’ve never worked in the long board realm and there are long board shapers who have never worked in the short board realm. The C4 boards that Brian and I have developed and are working on are the only real stand up boards. They are designed specifically for the stand up surfing just like our paddle, the other ones are just a longer canoe paddle and the boards are just elongated, they are not big short boards and they are not big long boards. Ours are Stand Up Boards. So we have a six year head start on everybody there, there are some ok boards out there but there is not really…most of the boards come out of the sail board market and the rockers are wrong. They are good for people to learn on but they are not going to give them value at the end because they are going to get to the surf point and they are not going to be able to go further along if they want to peruse it in the surf. So have you got some more shapes you are working on for 2009?

Dave: Actually alot of the boards, the team and prototypes are way too advanced for the market right now to put into production because people have to catch up to stand on them to see how loose they are. The stuff we are riding on ourselves is still…it’s another generation of boards and you won’t see mass production anytime soon. Right now everybody is quibbling about price points. When people start talking about shape and designs then we will start unloading that stuff.

Ted: It’s interesting, The price-point thing in the last few shows. As you know our economy is in kind of a shambly mess right now and the trade shows, at least the one in San Diego that I went to, it was pretty quiet there but we still had alot of activity in the stand up stuff as Boardworks has been selling alot of mostly their stand up boards. So there is still alot of demand even though they are expensive compared to regular surf boards. There is still demand and people are still purchasing even in the tough market. There is always this theory going round the UK that surfers have had it too good for too long. Because surf boards are really really cheap where as wind surfers and kayakers are used to paying a similar kind of amount of money for a board and a paddle.

Dave: Yeah, When people quibble about price, like in California or Hawaii, when people say boards are expensive we just tell them that in Hawaii the paddle boarders see it as way cheaper than a one man canoe which are $4 grand, where as a paddle board can be $2 grand for an open craft. And you get the same kind of mobility and way more fun. You can’t surf a one man in the surf too much and you certainly can’t stand up on a 14 or 17’ prone paddle board. You can’t take it in the surf so you get a lot for your money. Its limitless fun, you can do anything on them. Yeah, that’s what we think. From my point of view, I came from a surfing background, not that I want to pay more money for a surf board but I always figure for something that’s hand crafted these days it’s pretty cheap for the amount of money you are actually paying.

Dave: It’s an engineering quandary because when you start looking at making cheap enough boards for people to get into it on an entry level and you look at all the different ways to construct them you kind of end up coming back to the same thing, that it gets…it’s not that cheap to be worth having inferior structure. Really light inferior foam, inferior glass it’s not that much cheaper for what you are really going to get. For the wave, if you just want to go out and you are a house wife who just wants to paddle on a lake or something you could probably do it on anything, but one of the things that people like is that they like a light board, they like to paddle good and go straight and not yaw every time you take a stroke and they don’t want to feel the whole entire bottom of the board suck into the water. They want it to feel loose even for just straight ahead paddle. I think eventually the market is going to swing to people being more conversed about shape and design. Because our boards are the gold standard in construction so naturally they are more expensive.

Dave Parmenter Shaping a stand up paddle board I don’t know whether you’ve been finding this in the States and Hawaii but we’ve found in the UK probably partly through the BSUPA contests is that point to point racing and down winders has become real popular here, and we are really struggling to get the boards over here. Are you seeing that, is it a similar kind of thing, the point to point distance races becoming popular as well?

Dave: Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that Brian and Todd Bradley dreamed about and created, we’d mimic a T1 outrigger paddle go down and make it more fun than surf. I’d rather do that. I spend a lot of my time training for races, designing the board but it’s hard to get the board gear cheaply. I would encourage people that it’s not real hard to work for anyone with knowledge of these materials to get a great block foam, cut it with a hotwire, shape it and glass it and go…then they’ll have a board. A really good light paddle board. Maybe it won’t look as pretty as a finished board, but that’s what we do! We had a really crude board but had a hell of a lot of fun.

Ted: Your country is perfect for it too. The conditions we’ve seen.

Dave: The way the coast is broken up you can do point to point just about anywhere based on the wind. We had a paddle race two weekends ago and I had my first proper experience with decent wind and decent swell. I was out on a 12 ft board and normally if the conditions have been too windy we’d give up. I’d been paddling down wind and caught a couple of the open swells and it was just amazing. And I thought to myself, those boards they’re going to sell when they come in. The people are going to be loving it.

Dave: The Vortice it’s a really advanced board and it’s going to be very expensive. In the US they are retailing for around $2400. That’s cheap compared with prone paddle boards and one man canoes but only the real hard core enthusiast is going to lay out that kind of cash. So it’s going to have to be home grown stuff I think. I don’t think any of the other boards out there…I think people are going to be better making their own. You can get a good rocker off a hobycat. Well there’s a hobycat sitting out in my front yard so I’m going to go down there in a moment with a tape measure and check it !

Dave: That a good base line rocker for a board. Not a good flat water board but use your imagination and that’s going to be great. You’ll probably be making a board that’s 12 ft. It’s going to be interesting to see how that whole seen develops because it’s getting really competitive now over here so…

Dave: I’ll bet, the level of paddling and awareness of athletics over here is really, really high. Yes, I’ve seen it over the past 4 events we’ve run, it’s really come on. It’s really really good. In the first event the surf wasn’t that great and people were into it but the last event it was brilliant. Everybody was seriously competitive. It’s really good fun. So what plans do you guys have then for the next few days? You hanging around, going to do some more surfing and pretty much exploring around the UK I guess?

Dave: Yeah, I’ll be going next week, so I’m gonna just hang out. I have no real plans just going to explore, its a dream come true. A bit of a busman’s holiday. I saw about a year and a half ago a picture of Adam Zervas on one of our boards over here just killing this lip like going left and right off the top. He said it was the 10’6 and I thought he gets it, this guy is on. And then I decided that this was the place to come, I really wanted to come back here and it seems like following the BSUPA thing and all the other events and how everybody’s getting into it there but on a polite level and there seems to be as far as I can tell a lot of co operation. There is so much room to spread out. I think this is one of the friendliest places I’ve seen. This summer’s (2008) has been a little bit windy for us and there’s been a lot of windsurfing going on but not quite as much action as last year. But yeah it’s been good, from my point of view I’m seeing lots of guys exploring other breaks, we paddle out here and see all the surfers but we can go beyond out to the sand bars and all the rest of it, that’s opening up more options.

Dave: That’s the whole point of it, that’s why I emphasise to people that it’s not just going to the surf break, It’s about spreading people out. I just feel we’ve got some really good ambassadors here for it and I think that the sport is going to be huge based on the coast line and you can get through the winter without being hypothermic. Yeah, that would be great. They call us polar bears over here.

Ted: Your water is actually warmer here than it is in California right now. The water has been really warm here this summer. I don’t know if it’s global warming but it’s been board shorts, and that’s pretty unusual for the UK. Normally February time is when it gets really cold and then it starts warming up. What are you up to when you get back? Are you back to California or on to Hawaii or..

Dave: I’m back to California to shape some conventional surf boards for a good friend’s shop up in the California area and then it’s back to Hawaii to start the season. Then it will be really interesting over there to see what happens, how many people are going to surf and what sort of co operation and whether it’s going to be like sail boating back in the early 80’s and there was a lot of conflict, we just really hope people will go explore the coastline and get to surf places that have never been surfed and re-capture and rediscover that’s not about talking too much and having a big crowd like you are in a disco, this lets everybody get that again. I saw some footage of you guys surfing somewhere called ranches…

Dave: There are a lot of off shore reefs in Hawaii that no one could surf. A reef can be 3 miles away and you can still paddle for it. With all that range you really have to let your imagination to come up with all these different things, there are so many options. Well hopefully it will go the same way here as well. Conflict is always worrying, there has always been tensions between boogie boarders, surfers, long boarders..

Dave: But there is no use for it, these things give you the range to go away from everybody. There is no excuse for people to go out to an existing surf break with a history of conventional surfing except for under special circumstances. It doesn’t matter who you are, you should go find another place and do it. I think everyone would be happy and a lot of the surfers would support us. I’m sure. The thing we’ve found over here is there has been a lot of surfers giving us a hard time and we’ve kind of got this new thing now where if we find it in a line up anywhere we’ll say ‘hop on’ and you get some great comments back. It’s at good stage at the moment as I guess we are slightly an unusual thing to look at and people are interested as well as slightly apprehensive. It still seems pretty relaxed. We haven’t had any major incidences yet, so things are still ok. I think Hawaii is at crunch point with the amount of people in the line-ups .

Dave: It’s over crowded and there are people who were born there and raised there. Everybody surfs good and we’ve limited resources if you look at waves as a resource so naturally yes, there is going to be more conflict. I think California is more trouble with the whole social and political make up of the place it just lends itself to trouble. Hawaii there is more respect for the paddle board fraternity and there will be conflict but I think California is probably the tougher nut to crack right now.

Ted: I would definitely agree with that because so many people define themselves by what type of equipment they ride so what I would hope is that more people would use more types of craft, especially surfing.

Dave: In Hawaii you are not defined by equipment, you are defined by who you are and how you act. That’s the message that I’ve been trying to get across as well. It doesn’t matter… I’m not a surfer; I’m not a stand up paddle surfer. I’m just somebody who likes to go out in the water. It doesn’t matter what I’m using.

Ted: The folks I ran into were real gentle folk in the water. There was the usual British stoicism and cheerfulness in making, as Dave likes to say, hard things look easy, and the understatedness. It was wonderful in the water these last 2 days, some of the folks that were long boarders they gave it a whirl. It was really wonderful. Well listen guy’s I’m going to let you go to bed and get some sleep. Are you surfing tomorrow ? I know you are going back Ted…

Dave: Yep but I think Tim and I will surf somewhere locally hopefully based on the conditions. We had a pretty long day today. We were surfing for 4 hours and then had about 7 mile hike to see Lands End in full Cornish mist. I did manage to have the British steak pie and Guinness later though… and a Cornish pasty?

Dave: Na, we had beef…wonderful! Well I’m glad you’re having fun. Well listen guy’s thanks alot for that. That’s great. Stay in touch and hopefully catch up with you soon.

Dave Parmenter going off the top stand up paddle surfing in Cornwall Ted Rutherford stand up paddle surfing in Cornwall