Surf Features » Pro Corner » Chuck Patterson – Water Man

Chuck Patterson – Water Man

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Chuck Patterson is a rad, renaissance guy. He’s a pro skier, kite-boarder, stand-up paddler, open ocean paddler, tow-in surfer and snowboarder. No kidding. Unlike most athletes who concentrate on one sport, Chuck has followed his passions and created a niche that allows him to pursue multiple sports as an all-around waterman. Inspired by his mom (a two sport pro in her own right), he’s figured out a way to replace the daily grind with a life spent pushing the limits. But he hasn’t done it without hard work and discipline. Chuck stands 6’2”, weighs 220lbs (all muscle-thank you very much) and lives in an air of humility, grateful for the life he leads and the things he’s seen and experienced. Throughout our conversation, he continually deflected credit for his accomplishments to his folks and those close friends who’ve inspired him along the way, including legendary watermen like Dave Kalama, Buzzy Kerbox, Laird Hamilton, Archie Kalepa and Robby Naish. In just the last year alone, he’s towed and skied Jaws, SUP’d Puerto Escondido, paddled long, sketchy stretches of Hawaii and swam with great whites. And as you’ll see, while he bleeds California, he was up to the challenge of paddling out into mid-winter NJ surf.  Check out below for the full interview and the accompanying videos and pics. They’ll blow your mind.

TSV:  Was skiing your first thing?

CP: Yeah, I grew up skiing and started when I was 2 ½ years old with my mom who was a professional ski  racer in Europe. That was the dominant sport in our family. My dad was not a huge athlete, but he pretty much did everything that my mom did and so sports was a big thing in our family. We spent a lot of time in Europe in my youth and then we moved back to California-Northern California-and that’s when I started blossoming in different sports. My mom was then a professional windsurfer, so I had a lot of great opportunities to do a bunch of things and that’s all I knew. That was the beginning for me.

TSV: So, when did you get into the tow-in surfing stuff?

CP: Around early fall/late summer [while he was professionally skiing] , I’d move over to Maui for about 3-5 months until the snow fell and in that time—early winter season—Hawaii would start to get it’s winter swells and stuff. So, around ‘93/’94, I was spending a lot of time out there. I was wave-sailing, windsurfing and surfing a ton and then got introduced to tow surfing in Maui and on the outer reefs of Oahu through some friends like Buzzy Kerbox and Archie Kalepa [both incredible, legendary Hawaiian waterman who’ve excelled in SUP, paddling and tow-in surfing. Kalepa is also a lifeguard Captain]. And then soon it was a lot of the windsurfing guys I was competing with going the tow surfing route. So, then after a couple of sessions and being involved with all the other sports, I caught onto it pretty quick and started surfing Jaws [THE big wave spot located on Maui] regularly. And once the snow fell, then I’d move back for the skiing. And I did that for several years.

TSV: Didn’t you have the record at one time for the highest vertical drop in skiing?

CP: Yeah, but it wasn’t really like we were going for the record. We were shooting this area of cliffs for an upcoming ski movie and we just kept hiking a little higher and the cinematographer guy said, ‘hey, if you go up another 40 ft, this could be a world record.’ But I didn’t really care about the world record. I just wanted to stick the landing and not get hurt. So, long story short, I ended up doing it the next day and was all stoked and then the cinematographer took it to the next level, throwing the ropes out to get a proper measurement and saying ‘Hey It’s a World Record!’. I was stoked, but at the same time it wasn’t my motivation. I was just stoked to keep skiing. That record held for a couple of years, but then I had several friends who just blew that apart (laughing). Now, guys are going 250 feet, so it’s pretty crazy.

TSV: At the time though, your record was 140ft.?

CP: Yeah, it was 142ft.

TSV: That’s ridiculous. So, you’re on the pro level with SUP, tow-in surfing, skiing, kite-surfing and snowboading. Is that right?

CP: Yeah.

TSV: What part of kitesurfing were you involved with… waves, speed?

CP: Well, with the kitesurfing stuff and really the majority of the sports besides skiing, I was very lucky to get in at an early period of the sport where it was just starting or it just had started and I got to know the top guys who’d just pioneered it and have them as mentors. Going out and doing the sport with them was a big deal. So, I was very lucky in 4 or 5 of the sports that I got to excel at…. And with kitesurfing that was the thing too. Living in Maui and spending a good 6 months there, I got to start with the top guys. I was wave-riding a ton and experienced the whole thing with the tricks and using a wakeboard in the waves and doing all these different things… Being that I really enjoyed the surf side of water sports, I pushed to do more of the kiteboarding events in the waves. Then I was fortunate to win the west coast championship in Santa Cruz, CA. I won their big wave event and established myself as one of the bigger wave guys… I competed a little bit racing, but most of it was wave events. And then I got to travel a bunch doing videos and photo stuff for the mags and was just pretty lucky.

TSV: You’re running in some pretty heavy circles with the kite-surfing and tow-in surfing guys in particular. So, which group would you want next to you in the foxhole?

CP: Well…the cool thing is that when you look at the ski and snowboard guys that I ran with, a lot of them have added a lot of water sports [to their repertoire]. Mostly SUP’ing, some surf. And then with the kite-boarding, windsurfing and tow-surfing stuff…I’d say ½ of those guys that are the most talented are big-time waterman [and do it all]. Guys like Buzzy Kerbox windsurf and tow. Robby Naish who was one of the top windsurfers and kite-boarders in the world loves to tow surf. Then you’ve got Laird. Just really waterman-style athletes. Dave Kalama who actually grew up as a ski racer, moved to Hawaii, and started his thing [tow-in surfing, windsurfing]. So, it’s kinda neat that I’m just right in the flow where it makes sense. Coming from skiing big cliffs and skiing big lines and being able to ski with some of the best skiers in the world and then take all that and then be able to hone my skills in Hawaii with big wave surfing, it was all so similar. You know, seeing big lines [on the mountain] and dropping into big waves. For me, guys that I look up to are guys like Dave Kalama, who in my mind, has been a big time hero. He comes from skiing and pretty much killed it in windsurfing and in every sport that I’ve done. Laird Hamilton is the guy who’s really paved the way in making a big name for himself in the big wave scene. Then you’ve got great skiers like Scott Schmidt, back in the day, who really helped push me…and a lot of the younger skiers. Then you’ve got kite-boarders. It’s just a really cool circle of great people who-no matter what time of year-, if I’m in the water doing whatever, I end up seeing the majority of them.

TSV: So, you’re 6’2, 220lbs and in great shape. But how do you keep it going? How do you take the abuse with the big waves and all?

CP: I grew up as a tall, wiry, swim-team kind of kid that was skinny…As I grew older and did different sports-especially skiing-I started to understand that training was a big part of staying out of the hospital and allowing me to push myself further. Once I got into it, it was a big thing. Then my body started to transform a bit and I started being able to take big hits and I walked away from a lot of situations where I could’ve easily gone to the hospital, yet I was strong enough to push through it. And that just evolved as I started doing more sports and stuff. The neat thing is that I was a little ahead of my time in being involved with so many different sports, but each one seemed to set me up for the next sport. For example, skiing gave me that great cardio and leg strength and mentally I knew how to pick lines and stay out of trouble. Then I used that in big wave surfing. And I kept it all well-balanced…And now with stand-up paddling, we’re having a blast, but we’re training. Having all these different sports and gym time and a really good routine with training, you kind of feel like a gladiator out there when you’re doing things….You know, I’m 42 years old and I still have the mentality of a 20 year old kid and I’ll get in these situations where I’m taking a major beating out at Jaws or kite-boarding or even stand-up paddling Puerto Escondido and I’ll come up laughing, super stoked and I think to myself, ‘that’s exactly why I train’.

TSV: So, do you and Kelly Slater trade longevity secrets?

CP: (Laughs) Well, that guy is a phenom! That’s the cool thing about it though—there’s so many athletes in the world that pretty much do similar walks of life, but it’s cool to see older guys like Slater who push it and are still dominating. That’s inspires me to do all the different things with all the different sports. We’re always going out with that competitive drive inside us, no matter how old we are ….It’s always going to be in your head, you’re always doing it.

TSV: So, you’ve done a bunch of heavy stuff-tow-surfing and skiing Jaws, SUP’ing big Puerto Escondido, kite-surfing big waves, but I’ve noticed that you still haven’t paddled out into overhead NJ in the middle of winter with snow on the beach. Is that on the radar or have you found your limit?

CP: (Hysterical laughter) Yeah, that might be on the radar. It would take a lot of training and a lot of exercising in the cold and all that good stuff though… I do want to say too [that] I’ve been very fortunate to make a living, to support my family, my wife, and to have a lifestyle like this where I’ve been able to go from one sport to another and compete at a healthy, competitive [level]. I always keep evolving myself with different things, because I’ve always enjoyed doing a lot of different sports and I think that separates me from a lot of the people out there that just do one thing. I probably could’ve just stuck with one thing and done very well, but I’ve gone with what’s made me happy…I just like doing different things and always having it changing, like you do in a workout. You know the minute you get used to something, I think you’re not as challenged, you lose your drive and you’re not as happy anymore. So, I think as long as you’re learning something new, I think your focus and drive will always be fresh. I’ll always be looking for something new and different and looking for that next thing to do. Of course, I’ll do it cautiously so it’s not dumb and death-defying…but I look at those people who work 9-5 and it’s kind of my job to give it all a shot and to give inspiration to people. It’s kind of fun to give back a little bit and that keeps me driven as well.

TSV: That’s awesome. Well, thanks for all your time, Chuck. I really appreciate it and am stoked.

Be sure to check out Chuck’s website, including his blog: His blog will give you incredible 1st person accounts of all of his adventures.

Also check out Chuck Patterson’s List of Accomplishments