SAND KEY — Legendary Hawaiian waterman Dave Kalama is best known for sliding down the face of a 60-plus-foot wave called "Jaws."
The 45-year-old former high school football player is the son of a world champion surfer and the grandson of the man who brought outrigger canoeing to the mainland United States.
So when local surf shop owner Brody Welte wanted help in promoting what could be the largest and most competitive stand-up paddleboard race in Florida, he knew just who to call.
"You have got great water here in Florida," said Kalama, the lead instructor at a three-day "waterman's camp" in Clearwater this week. "There are lots of places to paddle, fish, dive. … It is just awesome."
Stand-up paddleboards look like extra-large surfboards but are paddled like canoes. Many believe another Hawaiian surfer, Leroy Achoy, developed the technique in the 1970s so he could take photos of his fellow wave riders in the break at Waikiki. Others believe stand-up paddleboards trace back to Duke Kahanamoku, the father of surfing and a 1920 Olympic gold medalist in swimming.
But regardless of its origins, many credit Kalama's friend, Laird Hamilton, with helping bring stand-up paddleboarding to the masses. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound big-wave pioneer has been featured on numerous television commercials and magazine covers, and is widely considered to be one of the world's best athletes.
Stand-up paddleboards first showed up on the west coast of Florida about four years ago.
"It was slow at first," said 45-year-old Jeff Archer of the Destin-based YOLO (You Only Live Once) Board. "We had a few rough years, but now we are doing great. The sport has just exploded. Florida is really coming into its own."
Welte got the idea for his Kalama Kamp from similar water sport camps he ran in Hawaii.
"If you are serious and really want to improve your technique, this is the way to do it," he said. "We live, eat and breathe stand-up paddleboarding for three days."
Nine paddlers from all over the United States and Central America paid $2,000 each for the chance to paddle and train with Kalama, Welte and YOLO Board's Archer.
"For a long time I was the only paddleboarder in my country," said Gustavo Chinchilla, a 46-year-old Red Bull salesman from Costa Rica who now lives in Panama. "But now it is finally starting to take off. You go to all the famous surf spots and you see people paddleboarding. The sport has really gone mainstream."
Welte's camp includes more than just paddleboarding.
"This is a lifestyle," he said. "We start every day with a beach workout. Overall fitness is an integral part of our overall program."
Welte, a 34-year-old Michigan native, is a frequent figure in the water off St. Petersburg's North Shore Park, where he leads other paddlers in exercise routines atop their boards.
"You have ever done pushups on a paddleboard?" he asked. "You have got to try it."
In addition to operating Stand Up Fitness, Welte also owns Kahuna Kai Paddle and Beach Shop on Madeira Beach, the headquarters for this weekend's Gulf Coast Stand-Up Paddleboard Championships. The action starts at 3 p.m. today at Kahuna with a race clinic featuring Kalama. (The cost is $75, preregistration is required, standupfitnessinc.com.)
Saturday's race is expected to attract more than 100 of the top paddlers from all over the United States. "We have people coming in from California, Texas, Hawaii and the Virgin Islands," Welte said. "This race will really put Florida on the stand-up paddleboard map."
The 9-mile "Elite" race around Treasure Island will have divisions for both men and women in 12-feet-6 and under, 14 feet and over or Unlimited. Beginners and casual racers can also enter a 3.5-mile open race to be held on a triangular course off the beach.
Kalama, who will stick around for Saturday's festivities, has often been described as an exemplification of the traditional Hawaiian waterman ethic, i.e. a person who surfs, paddles, swims, dives and fishes.
"Much has been said and written about the waterman ethic," Kalama laughed. "But I think that it's just an attempt to legitimize this life of playing too much. But with me, I guess it is true."