Richard Carter takes the mic in order to interrogate the otherwise laid-back Eric Mims.
Eric Mims has become one of the top ocean paddlers on the Eastern Seaboard. He lives on Isle of Palms near Charleston, SC, with his beautiful wife and their sweet daughter, while working for Epic Kayaks, Inc. So, if you were not already jealous, there are three more reasons. Once you meet him, you discover he is both affable and pleasant company. In fact, his low-key disposition seems that of a Southern gentleman, unless you are in front of him on race day. He continues to improve and recently won the 2016 Blackburn Challenge. We had the chance to ask him a few questions and he graciously agreed.
Surfski News (SN) : As a native of Tennessee, how did you become interested in the surfski?
Eric Mims (EM): I was paddling an OC1 in the Memphis race back in 2004, a year that saw Herman, Oscar, Greg, Mike Herbert and others show up. On the water, I saw Herman sitting relaxed (possibly cross legged, sipping coffee) in this incredibly sleek kayak at the starting line, and said 'well, that looks pretty easy, I need one of those!' So, I did what any normal, sane person would do and went out and bought a Fenn Millennium.
SN: We are told that, after moving to Charleston, one of your first paddle trips on the ocean ended at night, while some anxious women waited by the phone and almost initiated a SAR with the Coast Guard. Have you learned to make better choices since then?
EM: One bit of sage advice I can offer is: If it is nighttime and you are several hours late in from a paddle, call your wife immediately upon coming to shore. Do not go get a hamburger to eat and then stroll into the house around 10pm, no matter how good of an idea that seems. Actually, for the first time ever, we had an officer visit us last week a mile offshore, but he was very friendly and seemed pleased that he was getting paid to ride a Waverunner. A member of the public had thought we were in distress after seeing our lumo orange shirts and paddles offshore.
SN: Any interest in triathlons?
EM: Not traditional triathlons. Paddling biathlons are more interesting to me, as cycling is just something I have never gotten into. However, I once did a beach triathlon and had a healthy lead coming out of the paddling leg and then hopped on a rusty, borrowed steel frame bike for the cycling portion. The large basket on the handlebars made a whooshing sound as the bike gods passed me on their carbon cyclocross bikes, dressed like they just stepped off the set of the movie Tron.
SN: Can you share your thoughts on winning gold at your first Blackburn Challenge?
EM : I sent it to the lab for a full assay, and preliminary results show 0% gold in the medal. That aside, Blackburn was a fantastic experience and I was well pleased to come in first. Everyone should have this race on their calendar. Pro tip: regardless of how good it might be and how much you want to race like a true Massachusettsan, do not race with clam chowder in your drink bladder.
SN : What is the best advice you could offer to those who aspire to paddle the ocean?
EM: Either be taking a stroke or be lightly bracing at all times. Your stability comes in your next stroke. You must be in a boat that is stable enough that you can take a stroke at the one moment you need it most. Any hesitation in the ocean, any decision that takes longer than a split second, can spell disaster, or at least keep you from having fun. Do not hold your paddle at your chest when surfing a wave. When you lightly drag a blade while surfing, it gives you an instant brace when needed, as well as takes the decision time out of which side to take an immediate stroke.
SN: We know that you often paddle with old people who make you look fast by comparison. These people will soon die. Do you have an alternative plan once this happens?
EM: Advance to the tandem class, then onto the ultra-rare 4-person surfski class, but always make sure I am in the front seat so I still finish first.
SN: Tell us about the paddle you use and how it is set up.
EM: I use an Epic Mid Wing at 214 cm and 74.2 degrees right hand feather. This paddle has been left outside in the sun every day in my back yard for 5 years for stress testing. It now has lumo orange tips and I use a few swipes of surf wax on the shaft before each paddle.
SN: Why 74.2 when 74.8 is widely regarded as being faster. Are you some kind of Rebel?
EM: It allows me to throw just a bit more water on every exit, to act as a sort of smoke screen on competitors.
SN: In 2011 you won Phatwater in a tandem with Joe Glickman, covering 42 miles on the Mississippi River in three hours, forty-two minutes. We heard Rick Carter was also there. That had to be exciting. Were you lucky enough to meet him?
EM: Phatwater was one of the best races in the US and I am sad to see it gone. The time Glicker and I won is a very special memory - having never paddled together, jumping in a boat and syncing up perfectly for almost 4 hours! Last I heard, Rick Carter was still on the race course and pretty close to finishing the race. Way to go, Rick!
SN: In preparation for a race, what fashion ensemble and color combinations produce the fastest times?
EM: I like to wear a blue trucker hat, as it stays on my big head in all conditions. I then usually try to find a slightly different colored blue shirt to aggravate people like my wife.
SN: You once lived in Hawaii and returned in 2013 to compete in the Molokai World Championship. Did you win?
EM: I beat my escort boat by a few boat lengths, really embarrassing for him. We had a long, flat year in 2013. I think only one paddler finished under 4 hours! Brutal year which had me sitting still for a few minutes at China Wall waiting for a set to pass (big south swell meant full, close out waves that were breaking across the channel leading into Hawaii Kai).
SN: What took you to Hawaii?
EM: I moved there on a whim after college. A coworker continually pestered me to come paddle, so I started paddling at Kahana Canoe Club on 6 man outriggers and loved every minute.
SN: Hmmmm. You must regret spending all that time in school when you could have been paddling. If you could only do one more race anywhere in the world, which one would that be?
EM: Maui to Molokai. I used to live a few miles from where it starts, but the race didn't exist then.
SN: Marine forecasts, Magic Seaweed, Sailflow, etc., can be daunting for the novice ocean paddler. Can you offer any general guidelines regarding swell height/period ratios, tide stage and wind speed?
EM: Too many variables for every location. Marine forecasts are great, as are the surf forecasts, but you really have to be familiar with a location in real, day to day, practical terms to really know what it means. One thing for sure, inland paddlers will almost always measure ocean waves vertically from the deepest bottom to the highest crest they saw that day. Always try to ask a local paddler or surfer for advice on how to really interpret forecasts. For instance, the swell forecast here this morning was 2' at 10 seconds. At mid tide and rising, I could easily fit my V14 on the face of the swell. Seeing the forecast and thinking the height of the waves would be 2' vertically from trough to crest might put you in a dangerous situation.
SN: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We appreciate your efforts to promote this wonderful sport in the USA. The generous nature of folks who paddle make this form of recreation second to none. See ya on the water soon!