“I was in the ocean when I was nine months old, my parents put me into the short break with my floaties on,” said the Wailupe, Oahu native and current professional paddleboard standout. “When I was 12, I participated in an outrigger canoe club because canoe races are what everyone does on Sundays in the summer.”
Abbott’s love of the water and competing in it has matured. He went from racing canoes to kayaks and from Oahu to San Diego. He was taking his first classes as a University of San Diego undergraduate in 2006 when he learned that he’d been named to the United States Junior National Kayak program. He trained in nearby Chula Vista, which is home to an U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Abbott competed in the 2007 Pan American Games in speed canoe/kayak and then made an attempt to represent the U.S. in two-man kayak at the 2008 Summer Olympics. He was edged out of a spot at the U.S. Olympic Trials. It was here that he decided to make a change.
Although it wasn’t an Olympic sport, Abbott turned his attention back to the ocean and to the sport of paddleboarding. The move was a good one for Abbott, who graduated this past May with a Communication Studies degree and minor in business marketing. He recently achieved something that, in his sport, is just as tough, elusive and cherished as much as winning a gold medal in the Olympics.
Abbott, 24, won the July 31 Stock Paddleboard World Championship, a grueling 32-mile open ocean race from the Molokai to Oahu, in a record time of 5 hours, 26 minutes. One month later, at the Aug. 28 Catalina Classic, Abbott completed a rare back-to-back feat by winning its Stock Paddleboard race.
Though modest about the back-to-back accomplishment, Abbott, who also won the 2010 Stock title at Molokai, recognized its importance. “In the history of paddleboarding, there’s only been a few others who’ve done it,” he said of joining paddleboard and surfing athletes Tim Gair, Jamie Mitchell and Keoni Watson. “But it’s been awhile since a paddler won both events. It’s a big deal in the paddleboard world.”
The art of paddleboarding, which involves Abbott only using his arms to move in the water while laying flat on his stomach or knee paddling on a 12-foot board, requires strength, stamina, determination and an ability to withstand the elements. His victory in Hawaii was a testament to his local knowledge.
“Molokai is one of the deadliest channels because there are 25 to 30 knot winds and 6 to 8 foot seas,” Abbott said. “It felt really great to win it.”
Abbott’s time eclipsed the previous mark of 5:32 set by Mike Cote, a close friend and training partner. “I lived three houses down from him (in Wailupe),” Abbott said. “Once I broke his record, I’m sure he’ll be gunning for it again.”
But Abbott gave his friend a loftier challenge by taking the Catalina Classic, which has been conducting the paddleboard races since the 1950s. Abbott completed the 32-mile Catalina Island to Manhattan Beach pier course in 6:22. He said he was on a personal-best pace, but some tough currents in the latter half of the race prevented it.
While his Wailupe roots are significant to his love of the ocean and his athletic ability in it, Abbott credits his time at USD as time well spent. Abbott used USD’s training facilities, such as the Jenny Craig Pavilion weight room for workouts and the Sports Center pool to do many laps. His longer endurance workout wasn’t far from campus, either — a 15-mile roundtrip from Mission Bay’s South Mission jetty to Coronado Point.
When he wasn’t in the water, Abbott did his part in the classroom. He praised his student experience at USD and the relationships he developed with faculty, especially his Communication Studies professors.
“The entire Communications Studies faculty was excellent, especially Dr. (Eric) Pierson, Dr. (Jonathan) Bowman and Dr. (Sarah) Foregger. They’re all incredibly nice people. I really enjoyed going to my classes and they always made me feel welcome.”
His USD education also helped him land a job when he’s not in the ocean. He’s the director of marketing for Vertra Elemental Resistance, which offers a full line of sunscreen products, something that comes in handy when he’s spending long hours in the water.
Speaking of those long hours in the water, it reminded Abbott of something else his college education provided him during training. “If I had just come from a communications class, I could take what I had learned with me out on the board and think about it because it helped me relax.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Eric Abbott photo courtesy of Vertra Elemental Resistance