BOP Stoke: Riviera’s Mike Baker

Mike Baker

Mike Baker is happiest on the water

boprivieraLIFEI was fortunate to spot an e-mail from Riviera Paddlesurf a few weeks before the 2013 Battle of the Paddle – there were Ron House race boards to rent. It wasn’t 30 seconds later that I had downloaded the rental form and e-mailed the contact person. I’d been wanting to participate in BOP since I heard of it years ago – and suddenly all the pieces were falling into place.

The Riviera Paddlesurf stoke began with the first enthusiastic words of greeting from Mike Baker who had promptly contacted me . “Hey, ” he said with energy, “you’re number one on the rental list, what would you like?” And it only got better from there. Riviera is a key sponsor for BOP and they take that role seriously.

Riviera Paddlesurf was born in Southern California back in 2007 and grew from a family’s love of SUP surfing. Riviera Paddlesurf, still family owned and operated, inspires people to live adventure-filled, healthy lifestyles.  That type of lifestyle isn’t geared for just their customers.  After hanging around the Team in the series of Riviera vendor tents at Battle of the Paddle I noticed a true connection with the ocean, aloha and SUP.  Over the course of each day they’d take turns on short breaks, grabbing a board and a paddle and hitting the waves.

Not only that, when customers had a demo board out (particularly when it was “The Door“) every good ride or tricky move brought oohs, aaahs and a cheer from the team on land – hard at work.  I should say that they worked long and hard. They were at the beach setting up at 7 am. Then at 6 PM when most vendors had shut down for the evening, the Riviera team was still there being available for last minute demos, to talk-story and to share expertise. My entire BOP experience was stellar, but made even more so by connecting with the Riviera team.

Mike Baker2013-09-27 14.31.31I’d never surfed at Doheny Beach and I had never done a surf session with a 12’6″ race board.  Mike Baker was all smiles and confidence, “Don’t worry. You’re gonna love this Ron House 12’6″ race board.” He proceeded to give me pointers on the best place to head out past the breakers, growing bigger and glassier by the minute.  He explained the drop off right at the shoreline and impressed me with the need to stand on the back of the board and let the shore wave slip under the board, then move on up and ride right into shore. “Practice everything you’ll be doing in the OPEN course race tomorrow until you’re confident. The fewer unknowns, the more fun you’ll have.”

I carried the board down the beach and paddled out toward the ocean-yellow buoy to warm up. Smooth and stable came to mind. It glided effortlessly through the water seemingly oblivious to side chop and bumps – that was comforting! I started to be a bit more aggressive, doing some tail turns and then heading for the break.  The waves were waist to mid-chest high and came in predictable sets – nothing like the gnarly Oregon coast I’m used to. I turned to take my first wave – and that Ron House board caught it easily. I came back from a slight right to aim straight for the beach – gaining speed! Would I be able to get back on the tail in order to let the wave slide under me at the shore break?2013-09-27 15.49.23

Holy cow – YES! It was a terrific surf session with a few miles of paddling beyond the break. I was ready for the OPEN course – and eager.  Back on the beach Mike was there to check out how it went. Tough to hide how thrilled I was.

bopjudy9There were so many “bucket list” firsts on race day it’s hard to recount them here (see short video below). The start=awesome. The crowds, the chaos as we leaped from beach to board and the choppy turbulence as we headed out to the first buoy.  I haven’t been in a race where i got into my rhythm so easily. The upwind leg done three times was the hardest for me, although many people were challenged by the next leg with wind at the quarter and side chop.  It was incredible to hear the chatter, observe amazing sportsmanship at the buoy turns and the woohoos toward the final sprint to the beach as we caught waves for that last bit.

One of the Riviera team was right there at the beach to grab my board and point me in the right direction for the final little run.  He can’t know how much that care of both the board and simply being there for me meant at that stage. What a first class group providing customer service above and beyond.  By the time the day was out I had learned the technical details and specifications that designed the Ron House race board to be what was perfect for the conditions.

2013-09-27 14.33.07That is not the end of the story. Mike made it possible for me to demo the Nugg on Sunday during the distance race. I surf regular foot and generally unless I take off on a steep left direction, I have to hop into “goofy foot” in order to dip my paddle and execute a turn from right to left.  I was riding along on a nice swell that broke as I was going right. Looking over my shoulder I noticed it was building nicely to the left. Just that look left seemed to put a cut back in motion.  I reached across with my paddle and dug it lightly in the wave to the left, stepped back just a bit and did a sweet cutback to the left. It was about the coolest feeling. Again and again and again I paddled out through the surf and got back in the lineup. It wasn’t until my lips were blue and my legs like jelly that I came back to shore. That sessions was the icing on the BOP cake!

Thank you Riviera Paddlesurf and Mike Baker

PS – I came in first in my age group – a bit of “icing on the cake.”bopwin1