Interview with the Paddle Master Danny Ching by his Phenom Student Erika Benitez
After their equally impressive wins earlier this year at the HanoHano Huki Challenge in San Diego, we invited Danny Ching and Erika Benitez for a quick sit down (and paddle) at the Redondo Beach breakwater. The ‘rising star’ athlete took the opportunity to fire off some questions towards her new coach – trying to learn the secrets behind one of the fastest paddlers on the planet.
Erika Benitez: When did you first start paddling?
Danny Ching: I actually started here in Redondo Beach. The first race I ever had I was ten. I raced a bunch of outrigger stuff – the standup didn’t come around until till 2008. Before then…outrigger, I did the Jr. Lifeguards, some of the prone stuff, some of the surfski… basically, I just grew up around here paddling.
EB: Did you have an immediate passion for SUP or was it a process?
DC: Kicking & screaming is how I like to put it. I paddled all the time & got to do all the fun things on the ocean. Playing, seeing the whales…stuff like that. But always on surf skis & canoes. A friend told me I had to try standup. So I did. It was harder & slower
EB: How did you begin training?
DC: I cheated. I joined a canoe club. My dad started the canoe club here in Redondo. He paddled, my mom paddled, my uncle paddled, my brother paddled… so I was like, I guess I’m paddling. Everyone else did little league & soccer. This is what we did in the summer.
EB: What’s your favorite race to compete in?
DC: I think as far as SUP… it’s the OluKai Race, ’cause it’s downwind… it’s short. It was more fun when I was much better at it. (he laughs) Now that Connor is super fast.. The other one… Whenever I do the outrigger, I do it every year – the Molokai. Between Outrigger, surfski and the Standup… I’ll do like 4 or 5 a year. It used to be..”yeah, you gotta do Molokai one day” – “whoa.. I did seven races this year… & two of them were just for practice…I’m over it! So now I’m back own to one or two a year… “It’s fun again!’ (he laughs)
EB: What’s the longest paddle you have done?
DC: In a Race? Usually around 40 or 50 miles. Mostly for the outrigger stuff. For Stand Up… the longest one I’ll do is about 30. It just beats you up.
EB: What other sports did you do before paddling?
DC: Paddling has always been in there, but… I did Little League & Soccer… I was really good at soccer when I was younger. In High School I played Water Polo, Volleyball… joined the surf team… was on the Swim Team. Basically everything except baseball, football & basketball in High School. I had three guys in my grade that made the NBA. All 7 foot in high school.. I was like”Maaan, I’m not playing against you guys!” (we both laugh) They’d come down to the pool every once in a while & talk smack to the guys on water polo wearing Speedos. I’d say, “Get in the pool, I dare you”
EB: Where would you like to paddle that you haven’t been yet?
DC: Realistically I’ve been all over the place. With all the races & stuff. Australia & New Zealand…
… I love those spots. There’s some places in Europe I’d love to go, but I’ll wait till their summer. I’ve heard their winters are horrendous.
EB: How did 404 come about?
DC: Let me see…… My first Battle Of The Paddle I met my partner Greg Jensen. He basically came up to me after the race – I had gotten third & was super annoyed… I was thinking, ”I don’t even do this sport, I should be way better than everyone”… I kept losing my board to the beach & I had to keep swimming in & getting it, then kept catching everybody… He came up to me & said, “You should have won that race by a mile… If only you knew how to surf!” That was the first time I met him. He said he wanted to sponsor me for sunglasses.. and we should start our own company. It was at a point in my life where I was thinking I should get a real job & do something with my life…. gotta pay some bills… still living at my mom’s house… yeah, I gotta do somethin’. So I called him back & said, “Hey, are you serious? Let’s figure this out.” Then it just kinda took off from the there. In January 2010 we made a single board. He funded it cause I didn’t have any money. And we sold it. Then we made another one. And we sold that…. and then we were able to make two! By the time we got to May, it was the Battle Of The Paddle & Hawaii. We could afford three boards & plane tickets out there. We stayed at a friends house. I won that race, I won the distance race & I won in California when we got back – then it just blew up from there. It was a risk, but I went to business school.
EB: Let’s talk about the new boards coming out.
DC: The V3 – The nice thing is… the design is super forgiving. The way Stand Up is all over the world, you can be in a freshwater lake doin a 200 meter sprint. You can go to Molokai & be surfing downwind. Between Greg & I we shaped something that’s super forgiving. It can be flat sometimes, It can be big & windy… everyone moves around a bunch, people stand in the wrongs spots… they’re looking for perfection. So, I just started thinking’ yeah know… It’s never perfect… in fact, it’s rarely good. You just gotta make it work. So, the V3 is the new board, we just did a bunch of different widths. The nice thing is… we have a lot of juniors on the team & we paddled with tons of different people. We told them, “Cut loose, figure it out” – they’d say, “when I stand here it doesn’t work” so I say “Great, then stand somewhere else!” – then they go “I found it!” When you weigh a buck ten dripping wet, that might be the spot… when you way 180… over here, please. The boards are really fun, you can take em anywhere. My favorite is straight out here at Redondo & check out the whales.
EB: How do you get prepared for a race?
DC: I think I’ve been racing for a little over 20 years now… from outrigger, surfski to swim competitions… If you don’t know what your doing, the biggest thing is just to have a basic routine. I know this works. You’re not going to win a race by being overly prepared but you can definitely lose it by not being prepared… you forget your water… you don’t have breakfast… Now, I’ve made enough mistakes to know I can wing it if I have to, but I always try to go with the basic plan. Make sure I get something to eat in the morning. Make sure I have something for the race. Another big thing is take a look going into race week. Be prepared. Even if that strategy is “Wow, I’m totally screwed.” I look at the race a week in advance. On Friday I gotta do this… When I wake up on Saturday I need be here by… oh, I gotta leave here by four to be in San Diego for the race… I better get to bed early. Instead of getting there… “Oh crap! WHAT DO I DO? It’s too late!” So, I just get a basic plan… & then always have a ‘Plan B’.. ’cause that’s usually your plan (we laugh) “This isn’t my paddle…uh oh!” (we laugh harder) I’ve done that at OluKai three years in a row! Another thing for me, is just being relaxed & being calm. Recognizing that there aren’t any races here that are all out, flat out speed. They’re all long enough where… you can make mistakes… & still be in contension. If I make a major mistake during a race, I own it… I think, “Ok, now I gotta live with it & I better make up for it somewhere else.”
EB: What do you like most in a race?
DC: When I was younger I liked the downwind stuff, just bcause it was more fun. But now I’ve noticed the thing I like the most is the harder the race gets, the more I enjoy it. Not because I actually enjoy the race… I like the strategy. I like watching the other competitors trying to deal with the suffering & I’m thinking, “Man this isnt even as hard as Saturday’s Practice”
Special thanks to the crew at Tarsan Stand Up Paddle in Redondo Beach for allowing us to take over their beautiful shop for the day. www.tarsanstandup.com