The Watermen

Fri, 12/20/2019 - 8:15am

“Never leave the playground and you won’t grow old.” — Anonymous

South County resident Paul Murray and Block Island’s Jeff Cowles have known each other for years and share a couple common interests.

They work — Murray’s retired — on home heating boiler systems, and they both have passions for sports involving wind and water. (And, they play musical instruments; Murray, drums; Cowles, guitar.) Cowles is a pilot, and Murray is a kiteboarder; they both ride kneeboards. Jeff Cowles knows how the foil shape of an airplane wing works to allow an aircraft to maneuver in the air, while Paul Murray zips along the ocean’s surface on a hydro-dynamic foiling kiteboard; both guys manipulate the physics of Bernoulli’s Principle, which informs the nature and shape of a foil’s dynamics — drag, velocity, gravity and lift — and their relation to flight. Most importantly, both of these watermen aggressively pursue their passions. In surfing parlance, they charge.

Paul Murray started kneeboarding back in 1974. Narragansett Pier surfer Mario Frade suggested he try it and he bought a kneeboard from The Watershed in Wakefield. Then, Paul went out to Newport Beach in California and got schooled in some good four- to six-foot surf. He graduated to bigger waves. “I surfed 12-foot waves on Block Island and at Tres Palms in Puerto Rico,” he said, “I was swimming for my life between sets at Tres Palms, and if it wasn’t for my fins, I probably would’ve drowned.” After his time surfing in California, he returned to the East Coast where he was known for going out and dropping into big winter waves. He earned his bones early on in this sport. The guy was fearless and he still is; he has earned his respect in the lineup. Murray then took up windsurfing and pursued that sport with the same mindset as kneeboarding — full on. Over the years I’d watch Paul, his friend Tom Ladd and Galilee’s Steve Hull tearing back and forth from George’s out to the East Gap in heavy southwest wind during the winter. These guys were committed to this sport and made it look easy in rough conditions. He and some of his friends progressed to the current sport of kiteboarding and foiling kiteboarding. None of this surprises me. Paul recently stopped by the ferry car shack in his Dodge ProMaster — his office — to show me his new kite foiling rigs and an older kneeboard that Jeff Cowles made for him years ago. It’s a very light design and he still uses it. He also showed me his new wing rig. This is basically a wing-shaped design that Murray uses in conjunction with his foiling boards. “It’s called wing surfing or wing foiling, they haven’t figured out what to call it yet, it’s just another way to ride the wind,” he said. This, is another example how Murray has explored wind and water.

Jeff Cowles began surfing in 1975. Subsequently, he rim-racked his ankle while ski racing and eventually transitioned to kneeboarding in 2000. Cowles is another guy who pushes himself — hard. He has surfed Great Point — a 25-foot left — off Block Island and much bigger waves in the 30-foot plus range off Nova Scotia. Both he and Murray are pioneers in their respective sports. Recently, at the ferry dock, Jeff showed me a video his partner made of a break they were hiking out to in the middle of nowhere off the rugged coast of Nova Scotia. There was bear scat on the trail of the dense woods — he usually carries a gun. (This had me shaking my head, but it didn’t surprise me, either. Cowles is a curiosity.) In the video Robin took, Jeff was carving a sweet line on a solid left wall in the frigid Atlantic — alone.

Both of these watermen must stay in shape to do these sports. Paul paddleboards, which is a solid full body workout. Additionally, he also has a Total Gym at home and a Bow Flex Max Trainor. If Murray isn’t doing his water sports he works out at home. Jeff does TRX training which was developed by a Navy SEAL named Randy Hetrick. It’s also known as Total Resistance exercises, and it’s not an easy workout. The sports these guys do are dangerous and require total vigilance; they do these activities in frigid and rough winter conditions — core training and flexibility are imperative. I’ve known Paul and Jeff for decades and the one thing I can say about them both is that what you see is what you get — they’re direct and driven. Finally, I don’t see either one of these guys ever leaving the playground and growing old.

They’ll both continue to charge where others will flinch.

‘Nuff said.