Talking surf (and Tourmaline) with Jimmy Buffett


Jimmy Buffett is a stand-up guy. Half the time, anyway.

The massively popular singer-songwriter and Parrothead-in-chief has been in and out of San Diego of late, helping shepherd the La Jolla Playhouse world premiere of “Escape to Margaritaville,” a Broadway-bound musical built around his songs.

And while he was here last month, Buffett posted a video clip that shows him dropping into a long right-hander on his stand-up paddleboard at Tourmaline Surfing Park in Pacific Beach:

Now, if you’re a longtime surfer (as the 70-year-old Buffett is) who’s looking to try riding waves on a stand-up board (as Buffett was a decade ago), you might think about getting a board designed by the world-class waterman Laird Hamilton, who essentially launched the modern SUP phenomenon.

If you’re the actual Jimmy Buffett, you go ahead and buy the Laird board - and then have Hamilton himself teach you how to use it.

That was among the things I learned over the course of a long phone interview with Buffett, which was mostly devoted to “Margaritaville” but also detoured (happily) into a chat about his surfing and SUP exploits.

(Look for my full preview piece on the musical here tomorrow and in this weekend’s U-T Sunday Arts section.)

Surfing on an SUP can seem at times like some kind of political act - there still tends to be something between grudging acceptance and full-on friction between SUP’ers and original-recipe surfers, depending on where one paddles out.

But if you’re Buffett, you just go with the flow and enjoy the advantages that the universe, the elements and Laird Hamilton have blessed you with.

Or, to borrow Buffett’s words: “Na na na na na na!”

Some excerpts from our chat:

Are you a full-time SUP guy now, or do you still do both?

I still do, because I think they both complement each other. I’ve probably been doing (SUP surfing) for 10 years, because it was the new new thing, and I surf mainly in the summer up in Montauk on the East Coast. There was like a Laird Hamilton 12-footer, so I bought one and I had no clue what to do with it.

You go out in the water and you watch the kids do it. And the first thing they told me was, get your balance on a lake and then go out. Long story short, I went out to a wedding in Malibu and ran into Laird, and so Laird actually taught me how to ride the board. And then I was hooked.

We just got back from Tavarua, which was amazing. I’m gonna have to scratch that off my bucket list. So I did regular surfing one day, and stand-up the other. We were doing two sessions a day. I think stand-up really helps your regular surfing, because you’re up (on your feet) so much - that’s the thing about it. I think your balance and your ability to be on the board and be comfortable on a regular board is accentuated by the amount of time you spend standing up on a stand-up board.

The thing of it is now, too, is that they have such great boards, Jim, that they didn’t have in the beginning. I’m riding a Naish, a 9-footer, but it’s 32 inches on the beam. And it’s a quad (fin). So you really can get into things so much faster. It’s not like before, where it was like having a tugboat on a leash.

I’ll tell you what, it keeps you in shape. But when we got to Tavarua down there, that was like a dream come true. I really caught a couple of great days out at Namotu. I know my limits now, but every now and then you’ve got that kid in you who wants to go. So it was amazing down there to get in overhead waves that just went and went and went. As fast as could be.

After a week of it, I went down to Australia to do some shows, and kept surfing down there, and then back to Hawaii. But I know that after that experience, to spend that much time on ‘em, I can do bigger waves more comfortably, and feel comfortable on ‘em. But I still get on my belly and paddle. I do both -- it’s great!

So how’d your surf session here go, and what was the vibe like at Tourmaline?

I have friends out there who I surf with, so I get the lowdown (from them). And Tourmaline seemed to be a pretty mellow break. But I’m just very respectful of it. I’m not a wave hog, and I’m gonna sit back and watch who’s on a stand-up board and where they are.

Do we get more waves quicker? Well, that is true, so na na na na na na! (Laughs). But I’m gonna watch the local break and make sure I’m in the (right) pack.

The more territorial place out there is Old Man’s in San Onofre. It’s like being put in the corner in school. “Stay down there, you f---in’ stand-up people. Don’t ever come up here by us!”

Well, that’s the other good thing - if you can do both (stand-up and regular surfing), then it’s OK, it’s not like you’re missin’ anything. I went out one day on my regular board, and one day on my stand-up. But I caught a great wave on that stand-up, all the way in. I didn’t even know anyone was shooting. If I had known it was on film, I would’ve gone all the way in to the beach, and I wouldn’t have fallen off right close to (the camera).

That was part of the reason for going out there. I figure, I’m there for five days. I’m looking at conditions, and if that comes together, they’ll go, ‘Where’ s Jimmy’? Well, guess.


As long as you don’t tell ‘em!
Twitter: @jimhebert;