After much anticipation (Read all about it here), I trekked up to Malibu to engage in what would surely be a torturous day of training with Laird Hamilton and his Race Across America relay crew, Team Surfing USA. While I was apprehensive about training with Laird, a little research into his relay team revealed an impossibly more intimidating character in 76-year-old Don Wildman.
I know. How could a seventy-six year-old man possibly emanate the intimidation factor of the 6'3" 215 lb. superhuman that is Laird Hamilton? But as his surname suggests, Wildman isn't your average septuagenarian. Named "The World's Fittest 76-Year Old" by Esquire magazine (Read about Don Wildman) , Wildman is the founder of Bally Total Fitness and holds weekly workouts that as Esquire writes, "caus[e] some of these men to — there's really no subtle way to put it — projectile vomit."
With projectile vomit on the brain, I arrived to Don's place near Pt. Dume, and met the rest of the crew, which included Rage Against The Machine bassist, Tim Commerford, and former Texas Tech quarterback, Jason Winn. After meeting briefly, the six-foot battalion (plus one) shipped off on a short standup paddle to a pier about a quarter mile away.
"Try to keep your front elbow straight when you paddle," Laird advised me.
I adjusted my horrendous technique as the distance between us grew larger and the team grew smaller, but I managed to keep some sort of respectable pace. The fact is, they had little intention of taking a journalist (I use the term liberally) and throwing him straight into the fire; they were diplomatic, and gave me an "idea" of a typical day of training for Race Across America. So once we got back from the paddle, I asked about the bike ride.
Laird eyeballed me from the top of my mini-afro to my sandy toes, and said "We could put you on a bike right now and kill you, but I'm not sure if that would be the best use of our time right now."
Point taken. That said, he suggested we hop on road bikes and do a six-mile ride to get some lunch so "I could get a feel for things."
This is what I learned about road biking:
The hardest part is getting on the bike. Road bikers lock in to their pedals with a specially designed shoe, and this part proved embarrassingly problematic for me. I swear I peddled around Don Wildman's driveway like an idiot for 20-minutes struggling to "click in" as the troop of athletes glared at me with a generous degree of patience. For what it's worth, the clicking contraption seems to be located in an extremely awkward position on the bottom of your foot.
I finally got situated and we hit the road. Having never been on a road bike before, I was taken aback by the width (or lack thereof) of its tires. Gliding downhill on PCH, we probably topped off around 30 MPH on what seemed more like rubber bands than actual tires, and when it came time to hit the brakes, I felt myself skidding toward traffic like Tokyo Drift until we finally reached our destination: Coogie's Restaurant.
Polishing off two plates of fresh fruit covered in honey, ("We put honey on all our fruit," says Laird) the crew elaborated on their journey ahead and its inspirations.
"I've always liked the classic concept of the messenger where the guy would ride horses to deliver the mail."
"I've always liked the classic concept of the messenger where the guy would ride horses to deliver the mail." Laird says. "In Hawaii guys had to paddle across the channel and run across the islands to communicate; it's interesting to consider how you go about connecting a message to a place. I just thought, 'If you were in London and needed to get a message across to someone in Paris, physically how would you do it?'"
That's the literal frame of mind that sparks trans-American cycle races.
"And the message in this case, is to benefit Lou Gehrig's Disease and autism," Laird continues. "Someone said something about breaking records - I just want to get from my house in Malibu to the Statue of Liberty. That's my goal right now. Now if along the way we can pass a couple guys who are taking their biking really seriously, that's great. If we don't that's fine too, but at the end I want to get there. If we can help some people who aren't so fortunate while we do it - it's a no brainer."
So I ask him what he enjoys most about these seemingly superhuman feats: paddling the entire Hawaiian island chain, traversing the English channel, resurrecting Hermes' messenger spirit in the modern age.
"You know what the best part about it is?" Laird asks rhetorically.
I wait for his reply.
"When you're done; that's the best part. That's why we're doing it. We do it so we can be done. We can look back and go, "Man, that was good. Remember that?" And have a big old steak at Luger's Steak House. And really the journey of it, too: the camaraderie and the experience we're going to have together. We're going to look back on this thing forever and we're going to carry it with us."
"I don't know where we go when we leave here, but one thing's for sure," Laird continues, "If you can bring anything with you it's probably going to be your memories and your experiences and these are the kind you want to have."
Here's to being done.
Team Surfing USA begins their trek across America June 18 at 9 AM when they will standup paddle from Malibu to Oceanside. Check back to SurferMag.com for live updates from the road.