Two-and-a-half years ago, Rusty Doms walked two blocks south from the Yard Gym in downtown Hermosa Beach to Tarzan Stand-up Paddleboarding and asked for a lesson. Yard trainer Troll Subin had suggested Doms try stand-up paddling to fix a chronic back problem
At the shop Doms met Brad Fyffe, Tarsan’s “paddle pro.” Aside from an interest in fitness and living in Manhattan Beach, the two had little in common. Doms grew up in Culver City and played basketball at Pomona College. After college he played beach volleyball and at age 41 took up golf. His ocean experience was limited to bodysurfing to cool off after volleyball. Doms was 71 when he walked into Tarsan Stand-up Paddleboards.
Rusty Dom with stand-up paddleboard coaches Brad Fyffe and Gene Smith of Tarsan Stand-up Paddleboards. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)
Fyffe was 27. He grew up in Hawaii, where, he said, “The ocean was my babysitter. My parents would drop me at the beach and then go off to work.”
In the eighth grad Fyffe began racing outrigger canoes. One day he and a friend tried stand-up paddling on a lifeguard rescue board with their outrigger canoe paddles.
He soon integrated stand-up paddling into his surfing and free diving lifestyle.
“Stand-up paddling is just another way to be on the ocean. I like being with all the marine life — the dolphins, whales, sharks, jelly fish,” Fyffe said.
Brad Fyffe jumped off his stand-up paddleboard into the water off of Palos Verdes to get this shot of the Great White that had been circling him and fellow paddler Rusty Dom. Photo by Brad Fyffe (aFyffe4Life)
When there are waves he surfs, when there aren’t he paddles. Some days he does both.
Last January,Fyffe and a friend paddled their 14-foot SUP race boards from Gaviota Pier five miles up the coast to the Ranch, a famous, and famously localized stretch of surf breaks. Strapped to the bow of his 14-footer was a 5-foot-8 twin fin and a 9-foot-6 surf SUP.
When they got to Big Drakes, they tied their race boards off to the kelp and surfed their short boards until sunset. Then they paddled back in the dark to Gaviota.
Rusty Doms and other wildlife at the R-10 Buoy. Photo by Brad Fyffe (aFyffe4Life)
Fyffe shares his love of the ocean through photography. He graduated from Emerson College in Boston where he studied filmmaking, and moved to Los Angeles to work in the commercial film industry. In 2011, friends introduced him to Gene “Tarsan” Smith, who enticed him to help open the Hermosa Tarsan shop. Last December, Fyffe helped Smith opened a second Tarsan in King Harbor.
Fyffe also shares his love of the ocean through teaching.
“I love to see people’s eyes light up when they realize stand-up opens up a whole new world to them,” he said.
His stand-up students have ranged from the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and corporate executives on team building exercises to 10-year-old girls at SUP birthday parties the shop hosts.
Rusty Doms and Brad Fyffe returning home. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)
Doms admits to having been intimidated by the ocean when Fyffe started giving him lessons in King Harbor. But as his paddling improved, he began venturing past the harbor mouth
One day he saw a large fin break the surface near the breakwater. Afterwards, he asked a harbor patrolman if the fin might have been a shark’s.
“Probably. There are a lot of sharks out there,” the harbor patrolman answered. With that knowledge, Doms said he stopped worrying about sharks.
Fyffe has an even more cavalier attitude about the apex predators. When the two spotted a 10-foot Great White last winter, Doms prudently paddled away. Fyffe held his ground as the Great White approached and began photographing it. But the water was murky. So to get a clearer photo, Fyffe jumped in the water. His photos from that day show the shark giving him the evil eye, then swimming away.
After paddling for not quite a year, Doms told Fyffe he had put paddling to the R-10 buoy on his bucket list. The NOAA weather buoy is six miles off of King Harbor. Fyffe, Smith and other serious paddlers use the R-10 as a turnaround point for distance workouts.
“I like setting goals. I like to get better at things and I wasn’t going to get better at golf,” said Dome, a six handicap golfer in his prime.
“Paddling replaced golf as my favorite thing to do. There is nothing more fabulous than paddling with dolphins and seeing whales surface 20 yards away,” he said.
Doms’ Los Angeles Country Club friends have stopped calling him for Sunday morning golf games. Sunday mornings are reserved for paddling with Fyffe. They don’t talk much on the water. But they do afterwards over breakfast at Polly’s on the Pier.
Fyffe shares his youthful adventures with Doms. Doms shares his old guy perspective as a retired real estate investor who serves on the board of St. John’s Hospital and several other non profits. “He is the grandfather I never knew,” Fyffe said.
One morning their conversation ended with Doms saying he was ready to join Fyffe and Smith on a training run to the R-10 buoy. The paddle took three hours, forty five minutes. Since then, Doms has advanced to a faster, though less stable board, and cut down his R-10 time by nearly an hour.
His biggest challenge now, he said, is dealing with beam swells. When he falls he tells himself, “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying”
Dome’s next goal is the Father’s Day Rock to Rock, a 22-mile, downwind race from the Two Harbors on Catalina Island to San Pedro.
His golf friends question his sanity, but Doms and Fyffe know he can do it.
“Paddling has gotten me in better shape than I was 20 years ago,” said Doms, now 74. B