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This story was originally published on StandupJournal.com
Photos: Jake Caranto/Pau Hana

Pau Hana Surf Supply: Good Times with Good Friends

My iPhone vociferously vibrated, tickling my left hand as I gazed at the swarm of surfers catching the midmorning waves.

“We’re here, bunso!”

I had arrived a few minutes early and decided to pull into Gladstone’s parking lot while it was still empty to take in the scenic beauty that Malibu is known for. The sun was blazing, the palm trees danced with the cool breeze, and by the look of all the surfers in wetsuits, the water was frigid. It was how I imagined this well-known coastal city to be based on travel blogs and Insta posts I’ve seen, although I anticipated much warmer weather.

“Where are you?”

It was a text from Todd Caranto of Pau Hana Surf Supply & Co., or “Kuya Todd” as I like to call him.  It’s a Filipino thing, a form of respect. From a distance, I saw him standing next to a silver Benz Sprinter parked alongside the Pacific Coast Highway, motioning for me to walk over. I grabbed my things but left behind my expectations because, even though we had discussed it prior to my arrival to the West Coast, I wasn’t sure what we’d be getting into.

“I don’t care what we do, as long as we get to paddle,” I recalled saying to Kuya Todd in a phone conversation a few weeks back. He promised with certainty we would.

As I got closer to the van, the rest of the Caranto clan–his wife Michelle, their youngest daughter Haley, and their recently adopted half pit-half cattle dog Ozzie—emerged from the vehicle, greeting me as if I had been a long-lost member of their family. Their oldest Jake came a little later with camera gear. The only one missing was their middle child Ginger who had prior commitments. Instantly, I felt the love and bonded with the Carantos, realizing early on the answer to what I had come to Cali to find out: the inspiration behind the Pau Hana brand. However, I stuck around to see how the day would unfold.

Kuya Todd, A Self-Disciplined Surfer

Kuya Todd suggested we would start with a morning sup surf session at Sunset Beach, a popular surf spot for the “less-territorial” locals. The first thing I observed about him was his willingness to share freely his knowledge and expertise with a beginner like me. From him, I learned about the implicit social hierarchy on the surfing lineup, and Sunset Beach was more tolerating to surfing neophytes. He was totally looking out.

Because if anyone knows what it’s like when you’re just starting out in this sport as an adult, how isolating and intimidating it can be to be sharing the water with surfing and paddling veterans, it’s Kuya Todd.

“I didn’t learn how to surf until I was thirty, although [I’ve] always wanted to,” He reflected back to his first time on a surfboard. He had just returned from a business trip in Australia and hadn’t fully recovered from jet lag, although you wouldn’t realize it by the enthusiastic way he told his story. “It was kind of like a sink or swim experience. I didn’t have proper instructions, and worse, I didn’t have the right size board.”

“My friends took me surfing at El Porto where there are shorebreaks and super fast waves,” he continued, examining the swells from the dock where we stood. “I was getting smashed wave after wave, and my friends weren’t gonna teach me. I thought, ‘This sucks!’ But I was so motivated that I decided to just take my time with it, to struggle through it.”

“Then, I started riding the whitewater, then the smaller waves, and then a little bit bigger waves, and a little bit bigger,” he concluded. “Eventually, I learned to catch the waves at the right moment.. and I was surfing.”

The Beginning of Pau Hana

If you were to bundle a technology nerd and self-disciplined athlete into one person, you’d get Kuya Todd. With an entrepreneurial mindset, aptitude for innovative design, not to mention obsessive need to improve and perfect his creations (winning Outside Magazine’s “Gear of the Year Award” in 2012 for the Pau Hana Crossfit Sup), he would inevitably dip his toes in the business of standup paddling.

That’s how Pau Hana began.

“I was hired to shape boards for a local shop that didn’t end up paying for it,” Kuya Todd explained. “I had already been surfing for about 3-4 years, so I decided to take one of the boards out into the ocean to try and paddle it. It went horribly, I was missing all the waves, so I started thinking about how to make it better.”

“This was back in 2007 when not many people knew about this sport, so there were no industry standard or set guidelines,” he remembered. “I had to use trial and error; taking it out for a spin, then coming back to the shop and adjusting the design based on how it performed on the water. After many tweaks later, I finally got it and it became the Big EZ.”

Michelle, The Backbone & Kuya’s Muse

I turned to look at Michelle who I noticed just by first impression alone, had a sweet, whimsical vibe about her. She was listening attentively to Kuya Todd, as if she was hearing his stories for the first time, a smile never leaving her face.

“Ever since I met him, he’s always tinkered with gadgets and things,” Michelle finally chimed in to gush about her husband. “And his mind, you can tell, the wheels are always turning. He never ceases to amaze me!”

Even though they had 26 years of marriage under the belt, their interaction was like that of newlyweds. They complemented each other–he was kind of like the mad scientist/artist and she was his backbone/muse–a total match made in heaven! Fun fact: the tandem paddleboard was inspired by Michelle wishing to be able to paddle on the same board with Kuya Todd. And he delivered.

“When he decided to start Pau Hana, I supported him knowing that I didn’t want him to have any regrets,” she told me. “It was a risk and a gamble, but as long as we had each other, I knew [that] we would be fine.”

A little bit later, a close family-friend Cindy Tolhurst appeared from the beach carrying a board and paddle, drenched in cold ocean water from sup surfing all morning.

“There is talks about whale sighting at Point Dume!” She was contagiously enthusiastic. Her mere presence quickly took the energy level a few notches up which she maintained throughout the day.

Todd and Michelle Caranto: 26 Years Strong

We agreed to skip sup surfing to try and catch a glimpse of the whales.  We eagerly jumped in the Pau Hana van to head north on PCH, with Kuya Todd at the wheel. At this time, beach traffic was beginning to increase in volume. The rest of the city was finally starting to wake up.

As Kuya Todd maneuvered the van through traffic, we took turns sharing stories about our experiences with life, love and, of course, paddling. My favorite was the one that Michelle told, reminding me just how deep-rooted the love is in the sup community.

“I met Todd at the Post Office in Yosemite Valley at the age of 19, “ she recollected. “I was raised in Yosemite National Park and was working there for the summer. Todd and his college friends came out from New Mexico to work that year.”

“There was a letter sent to General Delivery to him and his best friend without their names on it,” she continued. “I taped it up on the wall hoping someone would see it. It was a mystery all summer long who it belonged to. We met the last day of summer when he walked in and saw his letter. All [of] our friends were leaving to go back home, and we soon started a friendship that has now lasted 26 years.”

We were all so engaged in the conversation that we began to lose track of time. As it was nearing past lunchtime, we decided sometime in between stories, laughter and Ozzie’s barks, to nix whale watching in order to catch the downwind from a nearby unnamed launch spot off PCH.

“It’ll be an easy, smooth ride,” Kuya Todd assured us. “We won’t even really have to paddle!”

The Sup Love Starts at Home

The view of the ‘Bu was even better from the water. We paddled about half-mile offshore where there were no other life form in sight–except for what could be swimming through the floating seaweed in the dark green waters below. The sun was now high above us and accentuated the earth-toned shades of the Santa Monica Mountains we saw from a distance. It made for a perfect backdrop to our leisure float on the Pacific Ocean.

Although the setting had changed, the stories continued. It was evident in the way that Michelle told her story that she has always been proud of her husband, “Todd was and still is funny, smart and athletic. I knew from a young age he would be a great husband, father and successful at whatever he set his mind to do.”

I understood how true this was after learning about how far Pau Hana has come and Kuya Todd’s future plans for this family-run business. Let’s just say an app, a hydrofoil and other nifty gadgets are in the works!

“Todd is the hardest working person I know, and he has always tried to include our family in our business,” Michelle added. “Pau Hana may mean “work is done”, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean much if you don’t have your family to share it with.”

As we neared the beach to end our leisure paddle, I realized that my original assumption about the brand was right: Pau Hana is a product of love within the Carantos, and an outlet to be able to share this love through “the spirit of play and good times with family and friends”. This whole day was a demonstration of that.

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