insight - Oscar Chalupsky
Written by Oryx
Occupation - Surf Skier
There is nothing small about Oscar Chalupsky. He is a giant of a man at six feet four in the ‘old language’, with a chest that does a more convincing impression of a barrel than a barrel.
While carrying ‘a racing weight’ of 99kg, the South African does concede that this is the ideal; more often than not these days there is a little extra ‘beer weight’. There is also nothing small about Chalupsky’s records: winning 11 world championships and captaining his country for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Here, Chalupsky gives Oryx readers an insight into his career, and how he dominated a sport.
What is surf skiing?
Surf-skiing comes from the family of kayaking and canoeing. Most people would be familiar with a standard canoe; a surf ski is longer and thinner than most, designed for the sea. With a canoe you would sit inside it, whereas with our ‘boat’ you sit on it. You also control the direction with two pedals in the cockpit. The boat weighs about 8 kilograms and is 6.4 metres long, and capable of huge speeds. A beginner would find it very unstable, but once you are used to it the balance becomes second nature. The sport is actually booming; it has always been big in the Southern Hemisphere, but has now taken off in Europe. At a recent event in Germany there were 40,000 seats sold out four days in a row! Ocean racing is also set to become the premier kayak sport at its current rate of growth.
How did you get into the sport?
My father was one of the first people to bring canoes into South Africa, so it was a natural progression for me. I grew up around the water, mostly in it in fact, so anytime I could get out there I did. I guess I was just a natural. I was the youngest person to win the ‘Ironman Surf Lifesaving’ event which consisted of swimming, board paddling, ski pad-dling, and running; and I also played national water polo.
And this is all besides playing national level schoolboy rugby?
Yeah, but I just messed around with the rugby, I never took it seriously... You captained your country at an Olympic games; was that your proudest moment? It was a great honour to captain my country, especially at a time when South Africa was coming out of a huge period of turmoil. But simply being captain is not as big to me as achieving something by winning, so my proudest moments would have been one or other of my championships.
Which events do you most enjoy?
There is a difference between enjoying an event, and the events that are most satisfying to win! The Molokai world championships is obviously the most satisfying to win, but one of the most gruelling with the most extreme conditions. There is nothing like the feeling of cruising down a wave that you can’t see either side of, and the forces of nature just taking you. The fastest I have ever actually been on a surf ski was 56kph – that was pretty hairy. Outside of that I enjoy events such as the Dubai Shamaal amongst others, which is not as gruelling as some, but is great fun. One of my proudest events was winning a big race in Spain (Sella Descent Canoe Race) about twenty or so years after my father had won it.
What set you apart from your competitors and allowed you to dominate as you did for such a long time?
There are things that everyone can do, which is preparing and training in the right way; being a natural athlete also helps. But when you are at the end of a 244km race and you have guys breathing down your neck, it comes down to one thing – and that is mental toughness. I believe that when I was at my peak, I was physically extremely strong, but that extra 10% came purely from how tough I was in my head.
You are 47 years old now; what is left to achieve?
Your goals obviously change and I have to pick my races carefully, ones I still think I have a chance of winning. I also still do a lot of clinics around the world promoting the sport, which I have a great deal of fun doing. One of the reasons that I am still out there competing is that I meet a great set of people who make the events ‘social happenings’ and not just competition, and that makes it so worthwhile. Outside of paddling I am also getting back into my golf again. During my ‘sports isolation’ years (the years when South Africans were not allowed to compete in international events) I reduced my golf handicap from 24 to 4 in one year. I am now around a 2-3 handicap, and in the next three years before my 50th birthday I would like to see if I can get good enough to compete on the senior’s golf tour (eligible at the age of 50).
The real thing
When you see a pile of wood strips, you probably think tinder, crown moulding at best. But Nick Schade of Guillemot Kayaks envisions an elegant boat that, though handcrafted using the oldest of techniques, outperforms its newfangled peers. Guillemot’s vessels are so striking that the New York Museum of Modern Art has one in its permanent collection. Despite their vintage looks, these kayaks have hulls that are stronger than fibreglass and as tough as carbon fibre – and they’ll outlast both. Although glued and coated with epoxy, their tough wooden cores are almost immune to fatigue. "It’s what trees do," Schade says. "They sway for hundreds of years without weakening".
The TRIAK is a single-seat, composite trimaran. Its sails are stowed in seconds while sitting in the cockpit to convert between performance sailing and kayak-like paddling. Its ‘shoe-horn’ join of deck and hull provides strength and rigid-ity, with this stiffness translating to speed under sail by eliminating flex in standard kayak conversions. But TRIAK’s most attractive aspect is the design and integration of its four main components: hull, wing, and two amas. Tool-free assembly via four hand bolts eliminates hassle and maximises time on the water. Two complete TRIAKs fit on top of a vehicle using standard kayak racks.
Clear blue hawaii – Napali
Napali is not just the world’s only transparent foldable kayak, it is also among the very lightest, weighing only 26lb. Winning accolades from Fortune and Time magazines, it also won the sporting goods industry’s prestigious ‘Sports Product of the Year’ award. Supported by a high-tech, durable, and corrosion-resistant internal carbon-kevlar frame system, the Napali has a transparent military-grade urethane skin, keeping weight to a minimum. The leading-edge innovation allows the kayak to fold up small enough to fit into a hiking backpack, while offering endless possibilities for discovery that transparent kayaks give.