Luca Padua Is A Badass Motherfucker - Stab Mag
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Luca Padua Is A Badass Motherfucker

Meet the 19-year old big-wave prodigy being mentored by Laird Hamilton.

Words by Ethan Davis
Episode 1 of Luca’s new series, ‘The Rook’.

Luca Padua is a 19-year old born and raised in Half Moon Bay, California — a small coastal town with the most powerful and scary wave on the US coast right out his front window. Luca first surfed Mavericks as a 13-year-old and knew instantly that he wanted to dedicate his life to it. 

Luca’s not your run-off-the-mill teenager. He’s got a bit of that young-old-soul thing going on. At an age when most are rebelling against the old guard and dipping their toes in the debaucheries of the adult world — sex, drugs… perhaps not rock n roll anymore — Luca has strong core values and a family man’s philosophy.  

Speaking of family, Luca now lives with Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece in Malibu, training and traveling to surf big waves. That’s not an offer the Hamiltons extend to just anyone. They’ve seen something in Luca that they want to nurture and support. 

Luca’s journey is only just beginning, but he will be periodically releasing new episodes from his series, ‘The Rook’, in the near future. This first episode (see above) is narrated by Laird and gives a bit of insight into the man that Luca is — really just a badass motherfucker with his boots strapped and his shit together.

Below, we chat with Luca about his present, past, and inevitably bright future.

Young in age, old in the soul.

Stab: So you’re living with Laird, you surf incredibly big waves, you train like a maniac, and you’ve just signed with Quiksilver. Before we get into any of that, would you mind giving us a bit of a backdrop on who you are? The Sparknotes summary of your life so far.

Luca Padua: I was born and raised in Half Moon Bay, right in front of Mavericks. I used to surf the smaller waves around town, but from a young age, I had my sights set on surfing Mavs. It was an amazing place to grow up, a small coastal town with a tight community surrounding this amazing, powerful wave. 

I first surfed Mavericks at 13 and after that first session, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life — surf big waves. As you get older you start leveling up and pay your dues a little bit, cop some poundings, and realize the importance of training and getting equipment dialed to surf big waves. 

Paddle or tow, Luca will go.

So how did the relationship with Laird come about? 

I had a close friend of mine who moved down to Malibu. The Hamilton family splits the year between Malibu and Kauai. A mutual friend of ours invited me to go and work out at one of Gabby (Reece)’s classes. She runs a fitness program called XPT, a pool training series that’s really amazing. 

After the class, Gabby asked if I wanted to go and train at their house with them, and I ended up coming back every day for a week. I met Laird there and started training with him. I clicked with the whole family right off the bat. I spent the summer doing week-long trips at a time just to train and hang with them. Not long after they asked me if I wanted to move in with them. Laird and I have been good buddies and partners in crime since. 

Wow. Is that something that they’ve done before or did they just take a particular liking to you?

Laird and Gabby have and continue to help and inspire countless people. The dynamic between Laird and me is unique because of our love for the ocean and dedication to the mission. I think Laird saw me as a worthy candidate to pick up on some of his systematic methods to the madness

You can’t unsee this.

So what are you guys so aligned on?

I think it’s the level of dedication we have to ride big waves. It’s not as simple as just grabbing your board and walking into the water. I think we’re both pretty devoted to our training so that we can be as comfortable as possible in really uncomfortable situations. And then more philosophically, we both really value the ability to soldier up. No matter where or what, we’re both just loyal soldiers and we can count on each other.

What’s it like living with Laird Hamilton? 

It’s incredible, we don’t muck around. We wake up early and we go to work. Intense training every day.

There are three pillars to Laird’s training program. Breathwork, Movement, and Recovery. We’ll do dumbbells underwater, sprints on athletic bikes, and jump in the pool, inhale holds, exhale holds. There’s a variety of different methods, drills, and sequences, all of them pretty miserable and applicable to big wave surfing. 

The phrase Laird always repeats is, “You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training,” and if you don’t train and it’s a high level, you’re going to suffer. We call it ‘controlled drowning’, and the idea is that you build your house outside your comfort zone and just live there.

Do you have a philosophy, or a mantra that you tell yourself? Some kind of warrior affirmation that gets you up at 4 am when your body aches and you’re feeling fucked? 

Yeah, I do actually, but it changes a bit. For now, it’s a Hunter S. Thompson quote, “Faster, faster till the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death”.

How has the training affected your mental state in big surf?

It’s a different world. I know I’m good if I don’t get a breath. I know I’m good if I swallow a lot of water and I come up and there’s another one behind it. I got caught inside at Jaws a few weeks ago. Thirty-footer right on my head. I was all good. My brain just goes back to the pool. 

What have you learned from Laird? 

I think he’s taught me a lot about myself and brought out who I really am. There’s no bullshit with Laird. He wakes up early every day, works hard, helps others, and provides for the family. He’s taught me that you can have a career in professional sports and not get sucked into the pitfalls of ‘normal’. You can live outside the bubble and you can thrive. 

I related instantly to his disenchantment and indifference with ‘the core surf community’, or whatever you want to call it. The BS that comes with it is one of the main factors that drove me away. I don’t like talking about people as though their surfing defines their social standing. Or feeling like an outcast for riding non-conventional shortboards. There’s so much more to life than surfing. I just want to be a well-rounded human being. That was another point of alignment with Laird and me. 

The Left is open.

Surfing has a lot of tribalism. The thing that I really respect about Laird is that he doesn’t seem to give a fuck about what anyone in the surf world thinks. Whether it’s SUPs, foils, or riding motorized skateboards on golf courses, Laird does Laird. 

People get pissed when you have more fun than them. Or when they’re insecure. They know they could be treating their bodies better, treating people more kindly, pursuing something that inspires them. So they try to characterize people who are doing those things as lame. 

It can go either way though. Some people chose to look at Laird and go, “That dude’s in his 50’s, he’s jacked, healthy, doing well for himself and his family, just chipping away at life like a savage. Perhaps I should change my ways a little.” It’s interesting but yeah, I’m not a huge fan of surf tribes or gossip. 

What don’t people know about Laird and Gabby? Are they as regimented and serious as they are often portrayed to be? Would you ever catch them with their feet up eating snacks?

With Laird and Gabby, what you see is what you get. There’s no facade. They are honest, loving, generous, hardworking, beautiful people. They live that lifestyle every day. 

Most 19-year-olds are kicking about aimlessly, partying, chasing girls, causing trouble. Why aren’t you doing that?

That life has no appeal to me. Most people want fun in the shape of XYZ, but ‘fun’ is a relative term. For some people, fun is drinking, partying, and chasing girls. For me it’s training hard, riding big waves, and going to bed early.

I have a lot of solid influences in my life that have helped me figure out what works best for me, and that is training and being healthy, surrounding myself with love, and helping people. That makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. By no means am I on some kind of pedestal. Just do you. For me, I just know I’m a better person living this way. 

We published an article last week called The Big Wave Comedown talking about how extreme sports can alter your neurochemistry. The same kinds of highs and lows a party pill will give you. The first time I’d ever heard about the big wave comedown was actually from Laird in Riding Giants. What has that experience been like for you?

I’d always felt something but always struggled to articulate it. It’s for real. Stress is stress whether it’s work or exercise. 

In big waves, your body’s in fight or flight the whole time. Everything’s running at max RPM’s. One minute you’re euphoric and the next you’re fearing for your life. And then you fly home. It’s like, “What now?”. You’ve gotta slip back into society while people stare at the phones bumping into you. There’s a lot of inertia and it can get dark.

What do you do with the rest of your life when you’ve already backdoored the peak at Mav’s at 19 years old?

I’m not sure. I don’t really set goals. Whatever I’m doing I just show up. I just pursue what inspires me and try to stay present. 

Good for you, Luca.

You can check out his youtube channel, here.

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