Name: Chuck Patterson
Family: Fiancé, Trish Meyler
Lives in: South Burlington
Profession: BETA Technologies, aspiring pilot
Main sports: Big wave surfing/skiing, extreme skiing, hyrdofoiling
|Tanned, built like a bodybuilder and flashing a perpetual million-dollar grin under a Melin cap, Chuck Patterson is a guy you might have seen in Bogner commercials, on the cover of Powder or in surfing or windsurfing magazines, or in Red Bull or Go-Pro videos. Or, now, at the Burlington Surf Club. He’s perhaps best-known as the first person to ski (yes, ski) the towering 50-foot-plus waves that can break on Maui’s north shore at Jaws (Peahi to locals) or at California’s Mavericks break.
Patterson grew up in California extreme skiing with some of the best in the Lake Tahoe area, including Shane McConkey. Patterson and his fiance Trish Meyler recently moved to South Burlington after former pro hockey player and tech start up CEO Kyle Clark offered him a job at his growing electric aviation company, BETA Technologies.
How did a world-famous pro surfer/skier end up moving to landlocked Vermont?
There are just so many great things happening here in Vermont with small startup tech companies, and I thought it would be a great challenge to explore something new. I knew Russ Scully (who owns WND&WVS and the Burlington Surf Club) and I taught Kyle Clark’s family to surf at Russ’s villa in Puerto Rico, so when the opportunity to join the crew at BETA Technologies came up, I thought ‘why not?’
What are you doing at BETA?
It’s pretty cool to be a part of the new electric aviation culture. BETA is my first ‘corporate’ job, if you can call it that. I do a little bit of everything there. I’m on the Charge Team where we build out the charging station and control center where the electric plane gets charged for flight. I also do a lot of video and photography during flight testing as well. I’m also getting my pilot’s license, which is probably my favorite part. That and learning to work on the planes. I grew up in a family of pilots, so all of my brothers are stoked that I’m finally understanding what they do. Now they are going to have to learn how to surf!
What was your first impression of Vermont?
My first time in Vermont was about six years ago. I’d never been but always heard about it, growing up as a big skier and snowboarder in Lake Tahoe. I originally came to do a bunch of stand-up paddleboard clinics at the Burlington Surf Club. The first morning it was pouring rain and I was like, “Oh, boy.” But Russ and the gang said “Don’t worry. It’s gonna change.” So we paddled out of Shelburne Bay and within 20 minutes of being on the water, the clouds broke and the sun came out, and it was 85 degrees and it was beautiful. We ended the day with an epic Vermont sunset.
How did you come to ski waves?
Years ago we were all in Alaska skiing and my buddy Shane McConkey had skied this insane 2,000-foot vert line on a pair of water skis. He put regular ski bindings on them, ripped it to shreds and kind of changed how the world thought about ski design. I was spending my fall and winters in Maui surfing the big waves so we got into this discussion of whether you could use waterskis on waves. I got myself a pair of jumper water skis and tried it but there was no sidecut to them, so it was just this long, straight glide, nothing really like skiing. I sort of gave up on it for a while.
What got you back into it?
Two friends of mine, big-time extreme skiers Mike Douglas and Cody Townsend, started doing R&D with different ski designs. They came out to Maui for a month and tried them on waves and came out with a cool little video. They were kind of skiing and turning on waves and doing airs and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s, that’s more the way I pictured it.’
So, I got a pair of those skis from the McDermott brothers who were making them in Maine, put a pair of alpine ski bindings on them, and drilled holes in an old pair of ski boots so the water could drain out.
I went out one day on the Central Coast when there was a big swell and everbody is looking at me like,’ Okay, this is a pretty sketchy idea.’ Long story short, we get out to the break, it’s like, you know, 30- to 40-foot waves just peeling through.
It was really hard to get my wet feet into the ski boots but I get them on and my tow partner pulls me in. I catch a wave and I do an arcing GS turn and I rode that wave until it turned to whitewater. It was really, really fun. I went back and got 30 more waves and my friends were like “No way!” Someone on the cliff had taken a photo. I ran on the back page of Surfer and drew a lot of interest and funny commentary.
How did you get to skiing giant waves at Jaws and Mavericks?
I spent a lot of time tow-in surfing Jaws. Sponsors Salomon Skis and Red Bull had gotten involved with me so then there was a little pressure to try skiing it.
In 2011, we towed out to a crowded line-up with 20 jet skis waiting for waves. We waited for 45 minutes and finally got a wave and just as I am started to catch the wave, the helicopter came in close and slowed me down so I tuck and try to push with my ski poles – exactly what I would do if I was on the snow. As luck would have it, I transferred my weight forward and it gave me enough momentum to free fall over the lip of the wave. It was a bumpy survival ride all the way down. And then we ended up going back out and getting another. That steamrolled into me doing a few commercials for Bogner.
Then, two years ago I was out at Mavericks in California during a large swell. We waited until everyone started towing in –my friends Kai Lenny, Peter Mel and a bunch of other pros were all there. By then the swells were like 50 or 60 feet. There was a set and I waited for the last wave and dropped in with my skis, did a big bottom turn and then a big turn off the top, just like you would skiing. That was the first time I think I made it look like it was fun and everyone in the line-up was screaming and cheering. Such a fun day in the ocean! The next day I went to ski at Tahoe. Growing up in California it was pretty cool to ski Mavericks one day and ski Tahoe the next.
Do you winter surf the East Coast?
On my bucket list is to get up on a winter day that I’m not torn to go to the mountains, run down to the coast, trudge through three-foot snowdrifts and paddle out. We had a couple of cold days last fall when we got some really good waves in Maine. It’s a different scene here, I have to say. People are very hardy and if you want it you can get it. It’s just really all about the equipment that you have and your mindset.
So what’s a day like for you in Vermont now?
I tend to get up really early and ride my bike to the gym. In the summer or fall, I might head to the lake and take the hydrofoils out or surf behind a boat. If the wind comes up, I go to the Burlington Surf Club and we take out the windsurfing or kiteboarding gear. Then maybe I’ll go for a run or go check out a swimming hole or waterfall – my fiancé Trish and I really love doing that. In winter, if it’s a powder day I’ll head up do some backcountry skiing before work. We normally ski at Sugarbush – my friend Darian Boyle has a great posse there I ski with—or at Bolton Valley, where we can also ski in the evenings.
You still getting some warm-weather surfing in?
Yes! I’m headed to Nicaragua tomorrow to do some surfing and hyrdofoiling and filming with friends.