Interview: Rob Rojas
In recent years, StandUp Paddleboarding, a.k.a. SUP, has become quite popular when the surf goes flat. The sport has seemingly grown into its own subculture ushering in race and relay competitions and, of course, a new form of surfing to our oceans and breaks. Professional StandUp Paddleboarder and San Clemente resident Rob Rojas has taken this sport to a new level in the racing realm and does not hesitate to ride some waves, as well. However, when surfing on his ginormous board at his local break, his attitude remains old school and summed up into one word we can all take a page from: RESPECT.
His repertoire demands it and his actions show it at his local breaks. So turn up your Aretha and take some notes:
How did you get into StandUp Paddleboarding?
I’ve been around the ocean all of my life…the whole stand up thing came around some time in the early 2000’s. I saw people doing it in the harbor and remember trying to figure out how to get a board and the prices back then were just sky high. I ended up buying a board from a friend. It wasn’t even a SUP, it was just a big longboard. I bought my first board during the summer of 2006, when I first did SUP. That summer I did an event for lifeguards and we basically did a surf-ski paddle competition from Dana Point all the way down to La Jolla. SUP was the last leg of it.
How far is it from Dana Point to La Jolla?
It was about 50 miles.
Ever since then, you were hooked?
I thought ‘wow this is pretty cool’ and I was pretty much hooked after that 2006 competition. At first I just wanted it as a means of working out and having fun…that sort of turned into a racing career.
What drove you to race in competitions?
I’ve always been a competitive person. I really enjoy the whole racing thing with SUP and the whole idea of standing up and paddling. All of a sudden, I find myself in races and that competitive drive just kind of set in. You just want to be the first one to cross the line…you’re not always the first one, but it’s still that competitive drive to always go out there and do your best.
What kind of races do you participate in?
I’ve raced a lot of local California races. I’ll do long distance races. One of my main sponsors is O’Neil and they have a race series in Tahoe, for example, and it’s a three-race series. So I’ve raced anywhere from Lake Tahoe, the Cayman Islands, Peru, New York City to Manhattan Island…I definitely travel all over…even Utah..The race scene is pretty much all over the place.
What’s your favorite race?
I got to say the race I look forward to the most is the Island Waterman Relay. It’s a race from Santa Barbara Island to Catalina Island off the coast. It’s such a cool vibe and cool event. It has such a waterman vibe to it. And it’s always near the opening of lobster season, so this past year I woke up, dove, got a little lobster and jumped on the escort boat. We hauled butt out to Santa Barbara Island and raced back. You’re just out there in the middle of nature and in the middle of the ocean, it’s just incredible.
Do you have a favorite spot?
For paddling in general: hands down my favorite SUP spot would be Mammoth Lakes. There are no races up there, but you’re just up there by yourself and it’s extremely quiet. There have been times where we take family vacations and I just get some altitude training. It’s amazing.
Have you ever tried surfing on your SUP? What do you think?
Yea absolutely, I love it! I grew up surfing in San Clemente. I’ve always loved surfing, but a lot of the big breaks get crowded when the waves are good. Our society is getting more and more crowded, but the cool thing about stand up surfing is you can surf waves that are normally not populated by regular surfers.
You can explore a little bit more and look for a spot where there’s nobody out. For me personally, I want to get away from people when I’m surfing, I don’t want to surf in a pack. You have a gazillion really cool surf spots and that’s the cool thing about it. You don’t really have to be around a ton of people to SUP surf.
What’s your take on the tension between the SUP and surf crowd?
It’s definitely a free ocean…but I think it’s all about respect and there are certain rules you got to follow. When you’re surfing, you got to understand right-of-way.
I like to do things like sit down on my board…lower myself in the water… It looks less imposing. I let a few sets go by and I’ll call out sets for the guys. As a stand up surfer, you’re six feet above the water, so you can see sets coming.
If I’m with surfers, I want to be least imposing as possible. Nothing will anger me more than a guy that’s just out there doing laps…just paddles out, sits right on the peak, catches every set wave, comes in, just keeps doing laps and loses his board and basically kooks out and pisses everyone off and ruins it for the rest of the standup community.
When you get out there, you got to respect the people that were there before you. There’s room for everybody. Bottom line: it’s all about respect.
For more about Rob’s training and how he got into SUP, check out this cool video!