HONOLULU - Gerry Lopez, the Pipeline master, was a kid in his 20s seeking out the next perfect wave and a decent pair of sandals to get him there when he met sandal maker Jay 'Sparky' Longley in the early '70s. Almost 40 years later, their Battle of the Paddle will bring them back to Hawaii where the friendship began.
Sparky, a surfer out of Southern California, started Rainbow Sandals in the '70s. Lopez, one of the top surfers at that time, wound up being the first person in Hawaii to wear them. Their friendship turned out to be as enduring as the rubber soles it was founded upon and they went on to charter perfect waves in Bali, Java and Sumbawa at the height of their surfing years.
With decades on the waves behind them, Gerry and Sparky turned their attention to stand-up paddle (SUP) surfing for the first time four years ago at San Onofre. They were immediately "sold" on the sport and soon found themselves plotting out a way to share the "stoke" that SUP had given them.
Above: Sparky & Gerry, plotting. Photo: Huber
"Our passion for SUP ignited at the same moment on that first day and has been burning red hot ever since," says Gerry.
The result was the Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle; a weekend of SUP races and fun held the last two summers at Doheny, in Southern California. The event's unprecedented success - attracting over 600 participants, inspired Gerry and Sparky to stage two Battle of the Paddles this year: one in Waikiki, June 12 & 13; the other in Doheny, October 2 & 3. The events will be produced by Rainbow Sandals and presented by Quiksilver Waterman Collection.
"Surfing is a frustrating thing at any time, and especially as you get older and you've had a lot of great waves like we did pioneering the surf in Bali and at G-Land," says Gerry of his Indonesian forays with Sparky. "Its hard to stay totally stoked when most of the waves you get are small, crowded and mediocre, but SUP has rekindled the stoke big time. It has made going out in the most meager conditions super fun.
"SUP is a challenging sport, so we are very motivated to evolve with it both in the waves and on the flatwater, especially downwind type of paddling. And it is a great way to sightsee on any kind of body of water. Sparky and I paddled across LakeYellowstone last year and it was spectacular. We plan to do more of that kind of thing. We also had a wonderful paddle across the Molokai Channel, a first for both of us, and we'll be doing it again this summer."
The Waikiki Battle of the Paddle will feature two main races: a 10-mile downwind distance race from Hawaii Kai to Fort DeRussy; and an elite surf circuit course in, out and around the waves off Fort DeRussy. The weekend event promises to be a lot of fun for both competitors and guests. With $25,000 on the line, the races are enticing top paddlers from around the world. For those new to the sport or simply visiting Hawaii around the time of the event, there will be a free SUP exposition on the beach, kids races, demonstrations and other activities to partake in.
"I kinda choked when I saw how big the Battle of the Paddle at Doheny was, but we both watched how everyone had such a great time," said Gerry.
"Last year when we got to run the elite race in and out through the surf, the spectators on the beach erupted, it was so exciting. Sparky and I were kind of cringing because there were so many crashes, lost boards and falls, but every one of the racers said they loved it, which really validated what we had created. Here was an event that everyone enjoyed - racers and spectators. That is really something special."
Ask Sparky why he wants to bring the event to Hawaii and you'll find out why so many treasure his friendship: "Because I loved all the Hawaiians who made the major effort to travel all the way to California to spread the aloha at our Doheny event. We need to send a little aloha back to Hawaii and make it easy for more Hawaiians to participate, don't you think?"
With that spirit behind it, there's no doubt that the Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle Hawaii will be an event long-remembered.
The Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle, presented by Quiksilver Waterman Collection, is supported by Patagonia, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, Kona Brewing Co., DaKine, Duke's Waikiki, and Surftech.