As Todd Bradley settled into the lineup of Old Man’s, a surf break off the Kaimana Channel in Waikiki, he was greeted by surfers who hooted approval before doing their best to get out of his way.
People do that when you show up on a surfboard longer and wider than a dining room table.
A veteran surfer and paddler, the affable Bradley sat at the back of a 14-foot-long, 5-foot-wide inflatable surfboard called a Raptor. With so much curve in the nose that it looked like a skateboard ramp, the blue board was the most unusual craft on the water. Four other people, each one with a canoe paddle, waited for his command to sprint.
The waves were good, as well. Sets with 8-foot aquamarine faces rolled through the lineup.
The big board lurched forward. Within a few strokes, it was rushing along like an outsize toboggan on a suicide run. Bradley hung off the back and steered with swim fins.
The paddlers howled with delight when the ride was over. They high-fived one another. They smiled. When you ride a board with all your friends, everyone smiles.
That’s the whole point.
"When you are surfing, you are selfish," Bradley will tell you. "It’s hard to share a selfish moment. But if you catch a wave all together, you experience the same thing with all your friends."
For as long as surfers have stared at waves, they’ve fantasized about how they could ride them — on surfboards and bodyboards, even air mattresses with skegs. But Bradley and his partners at C4 Waterman, a Honolulu stand-up paddleboard company he helped found, took that fantasy to another level by creating the wildest wave-riding vehicle ever seen.
Their Supsquatch, an inflatable board nearly 17 feet long and 77 inches wide, along with the slightly smaller Raptor, have no peers in the lineup — unless a wayward humpback whale decides to surface.
Each is made from the same PVC drop-stitch fabric used in military equipment. Although they’re portable, Bradley said part of the inspiration behind the Raptor was to make something light enough — 60 pounds vs. the 80-pound Supsquatch — to be checked in as luggage.
C4 Waterman has sold more than 300 of the boards, which are pricey: $3,999 for the Supsquatch and $2,999 for the Raptor. But they’ve won over hard-core surfers and beginners alike.
They’ve been used in corporate team-bonding exercises and at parties. People pitch tents on them and fish. On Oahu’s North Shore, professional surfer Jamie O’Brien uses one to takes friends into waves at Sunset Beach. In the annual Buffalo’s Big Board Surfing Classic at Makaha, the Supsquatch category is one of the most popular divisions. And on Saturday there will be at least six Supsquatch teams among the 500 entries in the annual Da Hui Paddle Race on the North Shore, the only race in the state that includes them.
"There is not one person who gets off that board without a smile or laughter," said elite waterman Brian Keaulana, a Hollywood stunt coordinator and co-founder of C4 Waterman.
Once, on a day when six Supsquatch boards bobbed in the Makaha lineup, a friend on shore told the 54-year-old Keaulana that the riders aboard them must surely be upset by the crowd.
"I said, ‘Close your eyes and tell me what you hear,’" Keaulana said. "He said, ‘All I hear is laughter from the beach and laughter from the water.’"
From the very beginning, Bradley wanted the boards to turn heads.
A student of marketing, Bradley often looks for what he calls "aha moments," and he needed one as he prepared for the 2011 Outdoor Retailer summer trade show in Salt Lake City. C4 Waterman had been to the trade show several times before — it was the first company to bring stand-up paddleboards to the event — but now Bradley had to compete with 82 other stand-up paddleboard vendors.
His solution was more "OMG" than "aha": a 32-foot-long, inflatable stand-up paddleboard for 31 people that he called Supzilla. They paddled it on a reservoir, announcing their arrival with a waterproof stereo system on the board and dry ice that shrouded it in mist.
"Everyone’s mind was blown," said Bradley, a 55-year-old dreamer with a perpetual boyish grin. "It was so funny."
When they got back home, they asked the surfer’s eternal question: Can you ride it on a wave?
The answer was no. It was too long; it straddled waves in Waikiki.
That’s when Keaulana suggested the smaller version. They called it Supsquatch — a play on the acronym for stand-up paddling and on Sasquatch, one of the names used for Bigfoot.
"Brian took it to Makaha and one thing led to another," Bradley said. "More and more people wanted to experience it and it’s gone viral."
This winter at Buffalo’s, his father’s annual contest, Keaulana and his friends took the Supsquatch to a new level of insanity, surfing it on the 40-foot face of a Makaha bomb.
The 32-year-old pro surfer O’Brien, who can easily navigate cavernous waves at Banzai Pipeline on a short, high-performance board, said he has more fun on the bulky and less predictable Supsquatch.
At parties at his North Shore home, friends often want to ride the Supsquatch — until they see the waves.
"Generally I am taking these guys out of their comfort zone and putting them in my comfort zone," O’Brien said. "I have to talk them into it and once I talk them into it they have the time of their lives."
He, too, was at this year’s Buffalo’s Big Board Surfing Classic, riding with friends who were having so much fun they didn’t realize how big the waves were, O’Brien said.
"Most of them all want to do it again," he said. "They’re hooked."
C4 Waterman is located at 515 Ward Ave. Call 739-2837 or visit c4waterman.com.