Three months into his physical and emotional funk, Smith bumped into his buddy, Laird Hamilton, a world-renowned big-wave surfer. Hamilton had recently promoted stand-up paddleboarding, a practice with its roots in Polynesia and Hawaii that entails remaining upright on a surfboard while using a paddle to propel oneself on a calm body of water. He suggested the full-body, no-impact workout might alleviate Smith’s condition.
“Within five weeks, I was symptom free — and hooked,” Smith reports. “I would paddle from the pier at Hermosa Beach to the pier at Manhattan Beach and back. The ocean has a magical effect — the serenity of being on the water, the daily ritual of it. It’s a great activity to burn calories and jumpstart your metabolism. It changes your whole focus, but it’s not punishing like pounding on pavement running miles or lifting weights in the gym.”
Smith became such a big proponent of the pursuit that he decided to bring it to others in his community. He opened his one-stop shop Tarsan Stand-Up Paddleboarding in a 400-squarefoot space in Hermosa Beach in mid-2009. “The demand went through the roof,” he says, prompting him to expand to a much larger space in Redondo Beach in early 2013. “We have our own private dock and we’re right on the harbor where we can teach people in the safe confines of flat water without waves or swell.”
Smith is quick to point out that those interested in trying out stand-up paddleboarding shouldn’t just go to a sporting goods store, buy a board and go out on the ocean. “You need some instruction,” he says. “Most marinas and harbors have stand-up paddleboarding equipment rentals and lessons.” He adds that equipment specs are so customizable that he can fit anyone from a lightweight child to a 300-pound adult.
According to Smith, who still directs his sports and entertainment marketing company while operating Tarsan on the side, the versatility of stand-up paddleboarding is one of its chief advantages. “On a physical level, the sky’s the limit. You can go out for a very relaxing paddle — just like you would paddling a canoe or kayak — all the way up to a very intense workout that happens to be one of the best ways to circuit-train in the world. If you’re doing it right, you’ll use all of your core muscles. Whether you’re four or 84, you can do it*. The learning curve is quite simple. Basically, if you can walk down a sidewalk, you can stand up on a paddleboard.”