I was well into my second year as a surfer when a heavyweight boxer then known as Cassius Clay defeated the champ, Sonny Liston.
Clay, who would soon become known as Muhammad Ali, was like a hard, coiled spring compared to Liston’s 200-pound jackhammer right hand that he basically failed to land.
But what did I care — I was a full-time surfer focused on trying to imitate another up-and-comer who was redefining our sort with his impressions in the water, Hawaii-to-Huntington Beach transplant David Nuuhiwa.
Prior to Ali, heavy-footed power punchers had dominated heavyweight boxing. Prior to Nuuhiwa, surfing was mostly about power carves from the tail
Post the appearances of the greatest boxer and the greatest surfer of that generation, both sports have essentially been split into the power camps and the finesse camps.
Even after watching Ali float like an ebony tiger swallowtail, or more appropriate to this article, a young Hawaiian surfer, I rarely found interest in boxing. It had nothing in common with riding waves, which at the time occupied my narrow aquatic world.
I thought little about boxing until my good friend, heavyweight boxer Trent Rawlins, suggested I take a lesson from him at Encinitas Boxing, located about half a block from our city’s surfboard making hub.
From that first lesson on, I realized that boxing was more about timing, speed and balance than punching power. And there was something about the boxing stance that was familiar to a lifelong surfer.
I had been working out with Trent for a couple months when my longtime surf buddy Rocco came in.
Rocco is both a lifelong surfer and a longtime martial artist whose abilities in both sports are far beyond average. He can turn a surfboard and throw a punch with power, speed and authority.
Francesco, who is less than half my age, is one of the many new friends I recently met at Encinitas Boxing. He is American born and Italian raised, and spent time serving in a Special Forces unit in Afghanistan.
Even with the horrors of war in his memory bank, Francesco is joyful and well balanced, his smile as disarming as his right hook.
We had sweated through a hot afternoon class when I asked Francesco if he wanted to learn surfing. He gladly said yes, and next week after class I paddled him out to some little Cardiff waves.
Being fit and well coordinated, he didn’t have much trouble with the basics of wave riding. In less than an hour he had learned to paddle, catch a wave and get to his feet.
Once on his feet, however, he stood too tall and quickly fell.
After he caught another little wave and got to his feet, I noticed that he was again off balance when I shouted, “Get into your boxing stance.” He immediately squared up, bent his knees and stood steady all the way to the sand.
He was equally successful on his next two rides and only the cold water (the guy has about 9% body fat) sent him back to the beach.
While Francesco is a natural at surfing (and probably most any sport he cares to try), his experience in boxing made it easier for him to adapt to the moving canvas that surfing offers.
I’ve only been at Encinitas Boxing, for two months but have already noticed that it has helped my surf stance, my balance and my endurance, all things that will work in my favor once the north swells hit again in a month or two.
Please join us for the California Surf Museum’s 13th annual gala. For info check: https://surfmuseum.org/upcoming-events/13th-annual-gala-fundraiser/