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Freerider is probably the best term to describe someone who exhibits a certain level of grace, power, and expertise as they ski, telemark, or snowboard down a mountain.
But what would you call someone who does all three—and even skate skis—with equal ease? Or who goes uphill with the same speed and time-honed knowledge with which they descend?
In Hawaii, there is a word for someone who surfs as well as they paddle, and dives with the same joy and natural sense of freedom with which they boogie board. That heroic seaborne spirit is known as a waterman, or waterwoman.
“It’s someone who lives and breathes the ocean,” said Todd Bradley, co-founder (along with Brian Keaulana) of C4 Waterman, the Hawaii-based standup paddleboard company. “It’s someone who wakes up every day, looks out the window to check the weather, and gets ready to go in the water, using whatever tool the environment dictates. We have a saying here that ‘no one tool defines us.’ What defines us is our love for being in the ocean.”
Bradley and Keaulana named their company after the four core values of the waterman: Balance, Endurance, Strength and Tradition. “Not just physical balance,” Bradley said. “It’s mental balance, spiritual balance and the roles we balance in life. Endurance is being able to outlast challenges. Strength and tradition go hand in hand.”
As someone who was born and raised in Hawaii, Bradley said, “Tradition is about respecting your family and the history here, and life on the ocean. I think it is very similar to how people feel about the mountains.”
Bradley should know, because he also loves being in the high snowy peaks. As he was finishing high school, he and a friend attended a college fair and decided to attend Western State in Gunnison, Colorado, where he saw snow for the first time.
“We ran outside to make snow angels in our bare feet. The Colorado kids thought we were crazy,” Bradley said. “We fell in love with kayaking, and snow skiing. Every morning we would wake up and say, ‘what can we do today?’ The mountains have so much to offer, that it quickly became my second love.”
While Bradley will always live in Hawaii, he could easily envision how he might have spent his life in Jackson Hole, Telluride or Bozeman. And each year he makes a trip back to his “second home” to go skiing.
Every year he trains his butt off, “So I can charge when I get there,” Bradley said. “I’m a good skier, and when I go on these trips I don’t want to waste any time.”
For many seasons, most of that training focused on bicycling. But for the past five years it’s been all about standup paddleboarding. Which, Bradley said, is the best offseason way to train for the alpine that he’s ever seen.
“It really exercises your core and your legs,” Bradley said. “It’s amazing how standup paddleboarding helps give you the catlike balance to pull out those quick recoveries without even thinking when you’re on the snow. That sense of staying in balance as you move across the water or down a mountain is very similar. It got me in such good shape for my last ski trip that I was able to rip from first to last chair.”
While Bradley realizes that not every skier has access to the glories of the Pacific Ocean, the beauty of SUP is how it has imported surf culture inland, especially to the high country’s mirror-blue lakes and fast-moving rivers and streams.
His childhood friend and C4 Team member Charlie MacArthur, who Bradley calls “the epitome of a true waterman,” has been proving that for more than a decade. MacArthur is such a well-rounded skier and instructor that he’s a former member of both the PSIA-AASI Alpine and Nordic Team. He’s also the owner of Aspen Kayak and SUP Academy, and in 2004 became known as the first person to SUP through rapids.
In an article for TheSnowPros.org, MacArthur said SUP is a natural crossover for skiers and snowboarders precisely because it is the grandfather of all board sports, adding, “I’ve never heard any human say surfing looks lame.”
Building on Bradley’s key tenants of balance and core strength, here are MacArthur’s three basic skills to focus on for skiers and snowboarders getting into the unfrozen water for the first time:
Take the plunge and enter to win the C4 Waterman iTrekker 12’6 Inflatable SUP + Hoe 3 Piece Adjustable Paddle below. And, check out MacArthur’s schedule for upcoming clinics and lessons at http://aspenkayakacademy.com.