Chuck Patterson is one of the most versatile athletes on the planet today. Born the only son of father Henry, a nuclear physicist and mother Bitsy, a professional ski racer and windsurfer. Chucks calculated approach and gutsy athletic prowess literally began at birth.
Under the careful guidance of his mother Bitsy, Chuck began his career as a professional athlete early in childhood. His technical mastery of snow skiing and windsurfing as a child set the stage for a very disciplined growth into the world of what we now know as extreme sports. Snowboarding, surfing and kiteboarding soon became the logical extensions from his strong roots in skiing and windsurfing. Now at 35, Chuck has become one of a handful of athletes on the planet who can compete with the worlds best five different extreme sport disciplines.
Over the past 20 years Chuck has graced the covers of numerous sports magazines and has been featured in over 100 magazine and newspaper articles. His relentless pursuit of pushing the athletic limits of what most feel is impossible is the direct product of Chucks incredible motivation and drive to constantly evolve as an athlete. This past January, Chuck towsurfed into some of the biggest waves of the year at Jaws "Peahi" on Maui. He has also been seen pioneering a new crossover sport of snowboarding and kiteboarding in Lake Tahoe, California. Chuck was recently tapped to be one of the featured athletes in an upcoming IMAX movie Swell Chasers, which will take him from the sandy beaches of Hawaii to frigid waters of Northern California, all the way down to Cortez Banks off the coast of Mexico to towsurf some of the worlds biggest waves.
Chuck spends his days training for that next 30 foot wave that will hold him underwater for way too long or the incredible 80 foot high by 100 yard long boost on his kiteboard, and the massive 10 foot wide rock chute at 80% grade hell launch off of on his skis. He is known in the tight circle of extreme athletes as one of the most versatile professionals alive.
This past winter you towed Jaws on Maui for the first time since the 2002 Tow-In World Cup Event. In fact, you were there on December 15, 2004, one of the biggest swells in a few years. You were towing with Scott Channy Chandler who had never been to Jaws before but has many years of big tow-in experience. How did you guys get acclimated as a team on this day?
Chuck: Channy and I work really well together as a team and we always make the best out of any situation because we are always having fun. No matter how big or small it is we are always pushing each other to get the most waves in a session.
We got to Maui the afternoon before the big swell was to hit and we hustled to get our loaner ski all gassed up and all of our equipment dialed out before the next day. The next morning, we cracked it early and shot down to Moliko gulch. It was a full circus with everyone fighting for position to drop their skis in the water, so we zipped down to Kahului Harbor and dropped our ski there. The ski almost sank, we fixed it and barely made it back in the water after the civil defense closed all the ramps.
Were you surprised to see how the sport has progressed with popularity, media and spectators? After all, there are claims that it was one of the most crowded days ever, both in the water and in the air!
I always knew the sport was going to explode; it was just a matter of time. From the days of living there and towing Jaws with no more then five teams in the lineup on a solid 20-25 ft day to today with 40 teams, ten boats, five helicopters, 20 photographers and a cliff of well over 500 spectators, it's amazing that no one got seriously injured or killed for that matter.
There is so much stress and adrenaline that comes with getting all your gear ready, launching your ski safely, riding out there and then you have to pull it all together to go fight the crowds to charge 50 ft++ thundering walls of death. It's pretty damn amazing that it all works out. Its days like that where training really makes a difference.
You are one of the more accomplished professional extreme athletes in America today. Out of all the sports that you pursue on a professional level, which one is the most personally rewarding?
That's a tough question. My whole life has been dependent on the different seasons and the sports that go along with them. I still get the same big rush dropping a 70 ft cliff on skis, that I do riding a 60ft wave. I think it really all depends on the conditions, frame of mind and what keeps your blood pumping. Most of the sports I do still give me that rush and along with the athletes that push me, that's what keeps me motivated. I feel that all of the sports I do, help me excel at another and thats a challenge. Once you lose that, youre over it.
Most surfers want to get the best and most waves they can while out in the water and want to do so on a wave by themselves. I guess it would be safe to say that at times, surfing or towsurfing could be considered a self-centered sport. Its not like a golf course where you can just show up and do your thing with the same conditions every time you are there. Do the other sports that you pursue; kiteboarding, snowboarding and skiing, have a different type of philosophy or attitude when youre amongst other athletes?
I think there is a little of that in all sports, primarily due to overcrowding, ego and not being able to control the conditions and politics within the industry
which will sadly only get worse. The athletes in some of the other sports seem to show a little more respect for one another and the pecking order is defined by skill, not so much ego. Most of those sports are also more fun to do with a couple friends instead of by yourself. All in all, we just need to learn to live together and look out for each other.
Share your extensive training program and how serious you take your position as a professional athlete.
I can't afford to be injured, so training is my only way to help insure my longevity in all these sports. I train in the gym 2.5 hours a day, 5 days a week. I also make it a point to get in the water just about every day depending on conditions. Either paddle surfing, kiteboarding, long distance swimming or paddling a couple hours on my paddleboard. This summer I will be life guarding and training with the US Ocean Safety competition team. This is my way of staying dedicated to the things I love to do and it's an awesome opportunity to stay on top of my game. I also train with my partner and shaper on small days testing new boards, fins and getting my aerials dialed. The more time on the ski the better.
You do a bit of tow training courses in California and you have seen some of your own friends including your shaper come a long way within personal talents and driving ability. How does this make you feel to know that you can make an impact on the sport and the athletes that take what they do seriously?
I love what I do and if my friends are as passionate as I am about towsurfing, it makes it that much better. I think it's super important to have a solid crew of guys that are serious about training and that you can trust with your life when the shit hits the fan. I have been super fortunate to have trained with the best watermen in the world when I was living on Maui and it makes me feel good to pass on what I have learned to my friends which in turn keeps us all safe. I would rather put the time into training a new tow team the right way, then rescuing them off the rocks or worse case scenario, pulling a dead victim out of the lineup. Towsurfing is a lot of fun, but if not taken seriously, it comes with heavy consequences.
What was it like towing Nelscott Reef in Oregon for the first time this year?
It is always great to go on a road trip and explore a new spot, especially when it's big and perfect, which doesn't always happen. That place can be pretty fickle and like many big wave spots that aren't protected by a point or inside a bay, it takes a certain recipe to make it happen. The swells reminded me a lot like Hawaii, when the evening before is ankle high and you awake the next morning to thundering 25 ft beach break with light offshore winds. We scored perfect 35 - 45 ft skate park-style racy rights and lefts that peeled for over a hundred yards. The locals and wind conditions play a big part in getting a perfect day out at the reef. We were lucky the first trip because we really got to experience the nasty conditions on the second trip. That would be a hard place to live!
If you had to name one athlete that you have used as a role model or mentor over the years, who would that person be?
That's a tough question to answer. There have been so many exceptional athletes that have influenced me and I can't pick just one. Laird Hamilton for being the top waterman, Scott Schmidt for extreme skiing, Tom Burt for snowboarding, Robbie Naish for windsurfing, Lou Wainman for kiteboarding and Stacey Peralta for skateboarding. All of these athletes have qualities that helped me shape my life as a professional athlete. Theyre risk takers, following their dreams
to new heights because they love what they do!
Tell us about your latest tow equipment, your shaper and how advanced the boards are that you are riding. I have a really awesome relationship with my shaper Sean Jensen of Electic surfboards. The combination of his designs and my constant R&D, we have come up with several magic boards that work in all sizes of surf. It is also great to shape a couple different boards and then go ride and test them with your shaper. This way, we both ride the boards, compare notes and do the changes that night. Pretty simple! As far as for new shapes and designs, kiteboarding and snowboarding has helped me a lot in designing super short boards that work in bigger surf. Lately I have been toying around with a new little 4'6 skate that I ride in triple overhead surf and on the big days (50' ft++) I have been riding a 5'6 and a 5'7. Fins are all double foiled and most of my boards have little rocker, which helps with speed. Stance really depends on the rider and the board length. I'm pretty tall and I have mine at about 28" to 30" apart on center. Most of my boards are light at about 12-13 lbs and my Jaws boards are around 16-17 lbs.
How is the IMAX project coming along?
This winter we did a bunch of trial runs, testing the big cameras in all conditions and charting some new breaks for next year. The IMAX project can be really challenging because of all the people involved that make it happen, so organization is key. We have another 18 months of shooting and I'm praying for a huge winter season next year.
What are your plans for this summer?
I plan to continue training pretty hard with the USOS lifeguards in Dana Point. Catch a couple Southern Hemi swells down in Central America, South America and hopefully explore a little more of the South Pacific towsurfing and kiteboarding. I'm also working on a couple winter ski and snowboard projects in Chile and Argentina at the end of the summer. I will be at mother natures call.
Do you still hold the world record for skiing off the highest jump?
Im pretty sure I don't hold the world record anymore. A lot of the kids who looked up to us back in the day, are going pretty big now and there's no doubt in my mind that a couple of them have gone a lot bigger than my 142 ft drop. It's all progression. Just like in surfing, 50 ft seemed so huge and now we are searching the globe to ride 80-100 ft waves.
Do you ever get scared of risking your life for that one ultimate thrill, whether be it skiing, snowboarding, kiting or towsurfing?
Fear is what keeps me in check with reality; it also fuels the fire in training myself to be ready for that moment when things go wrong. "It's like risk management." We all have fears, but if we learn to channel that fear into something positive, that's when you go to the next level. I really feel alive when Im pushing my limits and thats what I live for.
Out of all the sports you have competed in, which one has helped you or continues to help your drive in charging huge surf?
It's a combination of a few sports. Skiing and snowboarding off steep mountains and cliffs has given me the confidence to drop into just about anything. Wakeboarding and kiteboarding got me used to the speed and paddle surfing gave me the wave knowledge.
I am looking forward to our next big adventure. As always, thanks for everything Chuck!