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Interview: Randy Phillips

Randy Phillips

Interview with Randy Phillips, kayak surfer and designer.

kayak surfThis interview was originally produced for the Portuguese web site '' and is published exclusively on Playak in english to make it available to a wider audience. The portuguese version of the interview is available here.

Randy PhillipsName: Randy Phillips, aka R-Dog
Age: 54
Occupation: President of Conception Tile & Granite
Kayaking experience: 14 years
Sponsors: Mother Nature by way of wonderful white water and incredible surf
Address: Lompoc, Ca USA

Competition records:
'96 won K-1 in Santa Cruz.
'99 Campus Point Festival won over 12' "Big Ugly" where we got a dry barrel in a tandem sit on top.
'99 won US Championships Men's International Masters.
'99 World Championships member of the USA West National Team where we won the World’s in Brazil.
'02 Santa Cruz 2nd in HP.
'02 West Coast Waveski Championships 2nd Masters H.P.
'02 & '03 Best in the West 1st for waveski vs surf kayaks.

Surf kayaks designed:

  • '96 design input for the Necky Groovy, I showed Spike Gladwin (boat designer) where to put a tri-fin set up on his design, which became the first production surf kayak with fins.
  • '97 the original U.F.O. (Unidentified Floating Object) for the '97 World’s in Thurso Scotland where Rusty Sage won the H.P. division in my U.F.O. (could have been me if not for 5 broken ribs the day before the contest started).
  • '97 - '00 with the help of Leo Lekas we made several refinements on the original U.F.O. using an epoxy, carbon/Kevlar and Airex (foam) sandwich technology for a light weight and indestructible composite kayak. I introduced this layup to Malcolm Pearcy of Mega Kayaks back in 2000 for my first Indonesian specific designed kayak (Predator); he hated working with this new technology. Malcolm said he could make 10 standard layup boats in the time it took him to lay up my 1 composite boat. Today Malcolm has taken this layup to a new level and calls it X-Tech and it is bomber!
  • '00 I started a 4 year collaboration with Malcolm (Mega Kayaks). I would design and he would build and market the surf kayaks. This relationship produced 5 U.F.O. inspired surf kayaks and many more Malcolm variations; Venom, Predator, Marauder, Prowler and Intruder (co-designed with Vince Shay).

Randy Phillips

Hi Randy! First of all, congratulations on your achievements in the surf kayak world. Let's start with your own surf experience… when did you start to do surf kayak?
I first started white water kayaking in 1994. Unfortunately the nearest river to where I live (Lompoc, Ca. USA) was 4 hours away. So to improve my paddling skills I went to the ocean. Being a board surfer for over 25 years, it was easy for me to blend my surfing knowledge with my new found paddling skills. I accidentally caught a wave in my Pirouette and the seed was planted for my surf kayaking career.

Randy Phillips

The U.F.O tells us the story of what is known as the "first kayak equipped with fins", like Vince Shay says… The U.F.O. was my first attempt to design or build a kayak of any kind and came out of my desire to design a surf specific kayak designed around a tri-Fin configuration. I began in late 1996 early 1997 out of frustration with white water kayaks being mutated for surf specific use with marginal success compared to the possibilities. With my background in surfing and surfboard design, I decided to design a surf kayak using existing surfboard technology based primarily around a tri-fin configuration instead of just placing 3 fins on a flat bottom kayak. After shaping the design out of 1lb. beaded foam I laminated the plug with epoxy resin, carbon/Kevlar for a light weight and torsionally stiff composite layup. My goal was to have this design ready for its debut at the '97 World’s in Thurso, Scotland and to christen the newly introduced classification called H.P. (high performance) also called Freestyle. 200 hours later and the day before departing for Scotland it was ready for competition. After arriving in Thurso, I was able to get a couple days of pre surf before the start of the competition. The U.F.O. surfed exactly as I expected and was everything I was looking for in a surf specific kayak; great take off and paddle out speed, incredible down the line speed, very responsive turning and the ability to track high in the steep section of the wave. I was ready to win the first H.P. event in World’s, until I was rammed in the ribs by a fellow competitor.

Randy Phillips

Despite a visit to the hospital, pain killers and lots of duct tape, there was no way I could compete. As luck would have it, a young American paddler was there also to compete and looking for a kayak for the H.P. division. I loaned him my new design and very young Rusty Sage went on to win the H.P. World’s! I was very proud of Rusty's ability to bring the best out of my design and to have my first kayak win a world championship.

Randy Phillips

Now, Rusty Sage is the world champ in H.P. class… how do you define his surf?
You mean world champion "again"? I have had the privilege to surf with and against Rusty on many occasions at many world class surf spots and I would say the best way to describe his surfing as "dynamic with cutting edge consistency". Rusty is a true champion and a wonderful ambassador for our young sport. Rusty has the ability to excel in all conditions. I have seen him get maximum points in 3' wind chopped conditions and charge triple overhead top to bottom Indo bombs while free surfing. He is at home in any type of extreme conditions.

Besides the UFO, what other surf kayaks did you create?
Mega Venom, Mega Predator, Mega Marauder, Mega Prowler, Mega Intruder (co-designed with Vince Shay).

mega kayaks

Are you involved in any new design projects?
I always have future designs floating around in my head, nothing on the books. I have always had a love affair with the "fish" design and would like to make 7'4" "fish". Someday, you will see another U.F.O. design.

And are there any new designs on the world surf kayak market that impressed you lately?
There are many backyard designers/builders all over the world who are creating the next great sensation as well as established manufactures who are constantly pushing the surf kayak envelope. Individuals like Vince Shay and manufacturers like Mega and Murky Water are all infusing the next stoke into our sport with their designs. It is good for the sport as well as essential for us to have as many new designers as possible to keep pumping new technology into the designs to prevent us from resting on our laurels and become stagnant.

Expression Session

Another initiative of yours full of success: the Jalama Expression Session. Tell us how it all started and how it works…
I started the Jalama Expression Session in 1996 with the help of Scott McGuire. It has been held every year since; this year will be 12 years. The Jalama Expression Session was started as a way to get competition level surf kayakers together for free surfing in a non contest environment where there are no entry fees, no judges and rules – just show your best moves for bragging rights on Saturday nights BBQ celebration. Adam Druckman of Teva has supported our event every year since its beginning with free footwear, shwag and his big screen video projector for movie premiers and reviews of the day’s surfing. The event has evolved over the years to include all surfers (board, kayak, ski) and to embrace non surfers as well as the entry level surfer looking for guidance in their quest to improve. Jalama's attendance has averaged around 30 – 40 with surfers coming from as far away as the U.K., Costa Rica, Brazil, with regular attendance of the USA East Coast contingency. It is a wonderful time to share new moves, technology and a couple of beers.

You were also in the U.S. West Team for the 1999 World Championships in Brazil and also surfed in Indonesia, Panama and Fiji. Which is the best surf spot you ever surfed?
All of the spots I have been privileged to surf over the world have incredible waves, but hands down the best surf in the world is off the west coast of Sumatra (Indonesia). Here you will find the most consistent surf, the best shaped waves, the deepest barrels, and the shallowest reefs that love to make you pay in blood for your mistakes! You have got to pay to play in these beauties, but you will find no better waves in the world. I first surfed a kayak in Indo in 2000, when I went to shoot a video for Teva (Liquid Lifestyles 2) to prove a kayak could truly surf the waves of Indonesia.

indonesia waves

And regarding the US West Team… do you still contribute to the team?
Qualifying for the US Team and winning the 1999 World Championships in Brazil fulfilled one of my lifetime kayaking goals. I still compete in at least one qualifier event a year, usually Santa Cruz, but without winning, the chances of making the team are slim with only 1 event per year. I would love to make another team, but there is a considerable amount of young talent that would contribute much more to the team's success over my old school surfing. Changing of the guard!

I read somewhere that you say "Give a wave, make a friend" – how do you see the evolution of the relations inside the water between the several surf tribes?
I feel with the exception of some very narrow and limited surf spots that surf kayaking is generally accepted in the surf, as long as we are responsible surfers and abide by the same rules of thumb as the rest of the other surf communities. Surf kayakers must be held to the same standards as board surfers, kite boarders, stand up paddle surfers, body boards and so on. No double standards. I personally feel when I am in my kayak at a familiar surf spot that I am the ‘Apex Predator’, that is, I can probably get most of the best waves when I want, BUT it is my responsibility to be a good ambassador to our sport and thus, "Give a wave, make a friend". That attitude comes from knowledge of having the advantage and is not to be abused, but parlayed into a mutual respect among all surfers.

Randy Phillips

How do you see the future of surf kayaking?
My vision for the sport is to see surf kayaking on the same level of performance as the current and ever evolving board surfers. That should be our goal to achieve the same level of progression and performances as our stand up brethren. They set the bar for us to strive for.

Do you have any special surf kayaker whom you admire very much?
I have so many close and personal friends in the kayaking world and it would be a disservice to all of them if I started naming names. So let me say, I admire all the surf kayakers out there who are giving back to the sport in the way of design, construction advancements, contest organization, sponsorship, being good ambassadors to the up and coming beginner kayakers and being good stewards of this wonderful sport and the ocean we are privileged to play in.

Do you still participate in surf kayak competitions?
Not as much as I used to. I used to go to most of the West Coast competitions and a few on the East Coast and around the world, but as I get closer to retirement, my business is requiring more of my time and the need to win every time is not as strong as it used to be. Do not get me wrong, or get me in your heat, because I still love to win and pull all the stops to get that win; it's just not all consuming as it used to be.

Your favorite web paddling sites?
I prefer the real thing – Mother Ocean is the world’s best site.

Give us some suggestions to those who want to start surf kayaking…
Get a "bomber roll", practice, practice, practice, have fun at what you do, be respectful to all surfers and surf with the old dogs of the sport when given the chance; they will teach you some new tricks. Most importantly, "Give a wave, make a friend"!

Thank you for your time, Randy!

More videos

Text - Luis Pedro Abreu
Photos: Vince Shay



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