Maui filmmaker Mike Waltze shows that the new sport of standup Paddle Surfing is ‘as Polynesian and Hawaiian as you can get’
By KEHAULANI CERIZO
PAIA - Canoe paddling dates back to origins of human life in the Hawaiian Islands. Surfing can be traced back centuries as the recreation of Hawaiian royalty.
But fuse these ancient activities and you get something on the cutting edge of the sport: Stand-up paddleboarding - or as it's known to its ever-increasing legions of fans - SUP.
Now the rest of the world will discover that this rapidly growing water sport had its origins in Hawaii, thanks to the efforts of Maui filmmaker Wike Waltze.
Over roughly 17 months, Waltze researched, interviewed and documented pioneers and pivotal figures in the stand-up paddleboarding community to create the 77-minute film "That First Glide," a homage to the activity and an exciting account of how it emerged in the Aloha State. As the versatile and accessible pastime skyrockets in popularity in lakes, oceans and other bodies of water around the world, Waltze's film brings it back home.
"Anyone connected to the sport can watch and learn a little bit," Waltze said. "They can feel that they have ties back to Hawaii and Hawaiians who made it all possible for people."
"That First Glide" moves seamlessly through interviews with SUP giants Laird Hamilton, Gerry Lopez, Dave Kalama, Robby Naish, Brian Keaulana and Kai Lenny, while showcasing the power, elegance and ease of the sport. From open-ocean swells to the northern shores of Hawaii and outer reefs of Tahiti, Waltze illustrates the varied water bodies, conditions and skill levels that make the recreation accessible to everyone: from first timers to elite watermen and women. Breathtaking scenes glide through the narrative, leaving viewers with a floating, feel-good desire to pick up a paddle and board, find the nearest puddle and jump in.
Arguably the most compelling facet of Waltze's film is the historical component, which he admitted was challenging to compile because the sport is still considered new and its origins rely largely on oral histories.
But Waltze's collection of interviews, along with early photographs and footage, provide a sense of credibility that other documentation cannot.
"The history comes from the mouths of the athletes in the movie," Waltze said.
"Standup probably did have these hubs of a guy here and a random guy there getting around with a paddle, but it is truly a sport born and raised in Hawaii," he added. "Outrigger canoe paddling is as Polynesian and Hawaiian as you can get; stand-up paddleboarding is as Polynesian and Hawaiian as you can get."
Waltze links the ancient Polynesians, or "masters of the glide," with the early 1900s surfing resurgence led by legend Duke Kahanamoku. Footage shows Kahanamoku's hybrid of outrigger paddling and standup surfing, then charts its Waikiki Beach Boys progress in the '30s and '40s when the sport merged into what is seen today with pioneers John "Pops" Ah Choy and John Zapotocky. Highlights include talking with Zapotocky, who's now in his 90s, and the Ah Choy family.
The sport saw a lull in the latter part of the 20th century; it wasn't until Hamilton and Kalama playfully added a paddle to their surfing in the '90s that it launched into its current form. Expert waterman Hamilton, who continually pushes the limits of water sports, is credited with much of the activity's explosion. He helped design the type of paddle that's essential to today's stand-up paddle surfing.
Waltze acknowledged that California also plays a big part in the progression of the sport, and races there have increased its popularity, but he added that Hamilton's rediscovery of the paddle catapulted the standup paddleboarding's visibility.
"I wanted to keep the film about Hawaii," Waltze said. "And Laird was the one who gave stand-up paddleboarding the resurgence . . . he's one of the open-minded water people who are pioneers of these activities."
Waltze is no stranger to pushing the bounds of water sports. The Paia filmmaker has been documented for his own trailblazing feats in windsurfing, tow-in surfing, kiteboarding and stand-up paddle surfing, and has been featured in magazines and other media. Waltze's personal passion and knowledge of the water, along with his friendships with surfing experts, enhanced "That First Glide," the filmmaker's first feature-length documentary that his wife, Alyssa, calls "a labor of love."
"There are very few people who would embark on this project all alone," said Alyssa, the film's co-producer. "The camera skills, the research skills, everything was his and everything was out of pocket, other than friends helping with plane tickets, houses . . . . It's not like we went to Red Bull and Naish and asked for funds . . . he created this whole thing because he's so passionate about it. That's what separates this from other movies out there."
Warren Miller, acclaimed ski and snowboarding filmmaker with more than 750 sports films, also hailed Waltze's accomplishments in water sports and in filmmaking.
"Congratulations to Mike Waltze who first put a windsurfing sail on a small surfboard and revolutionized the sport," Miller said. "He has done something again with a well-crafted feature-length film to introduce standup paddling to the rest of the world. It is a must-see for anyone with access to water with or without surf to ride."
"THAT FIRST GLIDE"
SCREENINGS: An earlier draft of the film screened during the 2011 Maui Film Festival; the finalized version drew hundreds to a showing at Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater last month. It is slated for next month's annual Film Hoike at the Big Island's Palace Theater. Upcoming screenings on the Mainland will be announced via website, as will a fall screening set for Lahaina.
DISTRIBUTION: "That First Glide" has been released for sale on the website. It will also be available in local surf stores in DVD versions in the near future.