It wouldn't be inaccurate to call El Granada-based big wave charger Luca Padua a homebody. While the stocky goofy foot is a consistent standout in the lineups of Half Moon Bay, Padua's surf excursions don't often lead him to venture beyond the limits of San Mateo County–namely because, at just shy of 16 years old, Padua's not yet able to drive without the supervision of an adult.
Despite his lack of mobility, Padua's not complaining.
“I rarely ever leave town, which is fine, because we have a variety of waves around here, and I love surfing all kinds of waves," he says. "But I get a bigger kick out of surfing big waves. Big waves are my main focus right now."
That propensity toward larger surf makes Half Moon Bay an ideal locale for Padua, who has already earned a place in the lineup at one of the world’s hallowed big waves. While surfing Mavs requires years of experience just to build up the fortitude to stroke into one of the spot’s thick-lipped monsters, Padua made a quantum leap on his way to becoming a big-wave surfing wunderkind under the tutelage of hellmen like HMB's Tim West and Santa Cruz's Shawn Dollar.
With his fourth Mavs season on the horizon, we caught up with Padua and asked him about his first session at NorCal's famed big-wave spot (He was thirteen!), how his mother feels about his high-risk behavior, and what it's like to be the youngest guy in one of the heaviest lineups in all of surfdom.
So you were 13 the first time you surfed Mavs? Can you talk about that first session? Were you freaking out?
It was late December or early January--just a super sunny, beautiful day. I surfed the jetty in front of my house for a few hours. I really had no plans to surf Mavs that day. I was back at the house when Tim West called me, saying, "Hey dude, Mavs is looking pretty sick. It's 15-20 foot and super glassy." It was his first session of the season, so I just wanted to wish him good luck. I said, "Oh, sick dude. Have fun. I hope you score." But he was like, "No. Get down to my house. I have a board for you." I didn't even know what to say. I was definitely excited, but super nervous. I told my mom I was going surfing and left.
I think the scariest part of the whole session was the drive to the harbor. I remember feeling really anxious, with butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to puke. But I felt like once we got in the water, it calmed my nerves.
We paddled out and it was a perfect 15-foot day. I sat in the channel and watched for a couple of hours before slowly making my way into the lineup. The older guys were getting waves, so I was able to see how it's done. Eventually, I was sitting in the bowl. Tim had just gotten a wave and was paddling back out. This set was coming and I didn't really know what to do. I was in the perfect spot for the second wave of the set. Some of the older guys told me to go, and as I whipped around to paddle, Tim was coming up the face of the wave on his way back out. I remember he looked me straight in the eye and yelled, "Turn and burn, motherf–ker!" at the top of his lungs. I was so scared he was going to ream me or something if I didn't go. So I just put my head down and paddled as hard as I could. I remember going down the face of the wave and going so fast. I remember feeling that there was so much more water moving underneath me than I'd ever felt before. It was only about a 12-to-15-foot wave, but I kicked out and I remember just feeling so frothed out. I sprint paddled back out because I knew I needed another one. I knew that that was what I wanted to be doing.
So Tim West has served as kind of a mentor to you, then? Are there other guys who've helped to show you the ropes?
Yeah, Tim is really a legend around here. He surfed in the Mavs comp in 2010--the giant one. He took me under his wing when I was young. He taught me how to drive the jet-ski and took me out to the reefs when I was younger. He convinced me to start training a little bit, and we worked our way up to Mavs.
Then, right after that first Mavs session, I talked to Shawn Dollar. He hooked me up with a 9'1 Stu Kenson. I rode that board until last year. Then I started talking to Stu, and we designed a few boards. Now he shapes my shortboards and my guns. I feel super comfortable on his boards and I don't think I'd want to ride anything else out there.
How does your family feel about you being so young and riding such heavy waves? Do you get any flack?
At first, they were definitely really skeptical. The first season I was going out there consistently, they'd ask a lot of questions, like, "Who's going to be there?" and "Who are you going with?"
But the first time I surfed it [Mavs], I didn't even tell them. I just went for it. They weren't super happy, because they had no idea where I was for four hours. But over the years, they've gotten more used to it. They know I train hard for it and that it's something I love doing. They know I'm with the right people and having a good time, so now they are super supportive. Last year, my buddy took my mom out [to Mavs] on the jet-ski, where she got to see me get a wave.
As such a young guy out there, in the middle of such a heavy crew, do you feel intimidated at all? Do you feel like you are part of the crew?
I've felt really lucky to be allowed to be out there and get waves. There's a solid local crew that has taken me in. We all still feel like it's our wave. It's great because we have people from all over who come out there, but the local guys still get their waves. Being young doesn't really faze me, because I feel like we are all just out there doing the same thing. We're on the same page. We have the same goals.
Typically surfers work their way up over years and years of surfing bigger and bigger stuff just to get the confidence to charge a wave like Mavs. Do you feel like you might have had a leg up since you started so early? Maybe you haven't even had the chance to be scared or intimidated yet?
I feel really comfortable out there. I grew up here [in Half Moon Bay] and surfing Mavericks has been on my mind since I was, like, six years old. It's funny to say, but I feel like it's my safe place. I feel really comfortable and grounded out there. It's a place where I can be with all my friends and have a good time.
Have you set some goals for yourself? Are there other big wave spots where'd you'd like to go to push yourself?
I'd say, right now, my number-one goal is to get into the Mavs comp. Tim was the last guy from Half Moon Bay to surf in the contest. I'd love to represent my community and go big with a bunch of buddies. Beyond that, I really want to get to Hawaii--surf Jaws, surf the North Shore. I have a lot of places where I want to go, but not a lot of money [Laughs]. I've got plenty of time, I guess.