Any day on the water is a good day. Add a couple of friends, and it’s an instant party.
Add a couple hundred friends and it’s how Danny Ching intends to celebrate turning 28 tomorrow — by challenging himself and all-comers in the second Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle.
Last June, Ching won the inaugural stand-up paddleboard event off Duke Kahanamoku Beach by 13 seconds over training buddy and good friend Travis Grant of Australia. Grant led until the final buoy of the 5-mile elite race, an event that included 19 buoy turns over four laps with two 75-yard beach sprints.
"I’m pretty stoked to see a bunch of good friends," Ching said. "This race is so awesome. I know how hard the guys from Rainbow work at putting it on.
"I’m pleasantly surprised how much I like SUP — my favorite is still outrigger paddling — and I’ve been surprised how successful I’ve been."
Ching grew up in Redondo Beach, Calif., paddling for Lanakila Outrigger, the club founded by his father, Al, in 1970. His life is, and has always been, immersed in water: The former member of the U.S. Olympic Canoe/Kayak Team is in his fifth year as the Lanakila men’s coach; is a lifeguard instructor for the Los Angeles County junior lifeguard program; and started 404 Paddlesurf 16 months ago, a company that designs and tests stand-up paddleboards.
Ching said he was tricked into his first SUP race.
"A buddy talked me into it," he said. "When I told him I don’t paddle stand-up, he told me to just show up for the race, that I could do the outrigger long course but that I’d get to paddle more if I also did the stand-up race. Told him I’d give it a try."
He found success immediately and has been unbeaten in Battle of the Paddle events, three in California and last year in Waikiki. Ching said his favorite part is the perspective from a stand-up board as opposed to being in a canoe.
"You get to see some awesome stuff," he said. "Turtles, dolphins, blue whales, sharks. And I got hit by malolo (flying fish)."
But it’s usually Ching who packs the biggest punch in a race.
"You’re not going to track him down if he gets in front of you," said Grant, who’s also made a successful transition from outrigger to SUP. "It’s not easy to beat him. He’s been on fire.
"As for this race, the same guys will be out in front. The surf throws in another element. Guys got wiped out last year and it could happen again. Flat is boring and the water here is undulating, it has a different vibe. There’s so many good paddlers. It’s going to be hard to be in the top 20."
Candice Appleby has been No. 1 in the past two Battle of the Paddles, last June here and California last October.
"There’s going to be a lot of good competition here," said the University of Hawaii graduate, who was raised in San Clemente, Calif. "Heather Baus from Puerto Rico, there’s a world champion kayaker named Krisztina Zur and a number of young girls who are up-and-coming.
"Winning in both places has been exciting. But in Hawaii, you have the cultural aspects. You feel the presence of Duke Kahanamoku. The sport comes full-circle when coming to Hawaii."