When Butch Maloney started to have trouble paddling on his surfboard to catch waves, he worried about missing out on his passion.
Decades of smoking had left his lungs weak. His stamina, a key element of surfing, was almost non-existent.
Maloney was missing too many waves. And for a time, he wasn't catching any.
All that changed when he discovered WaveJet boards.
Propelled by a power pack that is similar to technology used in personal watercraft - impellers suck water through an intake and push it out - the boards enable a surfer to get out to the swells.
WaveJets aren't allowed in events like this week's 51st annual Coastal Edge East Coast Surfing Championships, which begin today.
But Maloney - one of the event's founding fathers and a member of the ECSC Legends Hall of Fame - likely will be in attendance. And he's happy to be back on a board.
"I hadn't been able to surf in several years," he said. "Until I got this thing. It was bothering me because I love it so much.
"There are quite a few people who ride surfboards. But there are only a few surfers."
Maloney is one.
"He is the true definition of what a surf legend really should be," said George Desgain, also one of the surfers who built the foundation for the ECSC. "He could be a legend in California, Hawaii and Australia."
But Maloney, 69, grew up in South Hampton Roads, where surfing was in its infancy.
He happened on the sport while fishing.
"I guess it was in the early '60s, I'm not really sure," he said. "We were catching spot from the north side of the 16th Street pier and over on the south side there were four or five guys surfing. All I could hear was them hooting and hollering, and having a good time. We went home and came back to fish later and they were still there.
"I didn't want to do anything that long, so I figured there had to be something to it."
It didn't take long for Maloney to find out. He borrowed a surfboard and hit the swell.
"I got up and that was all she wrote," Maloney said. "It changed everything in my life."
Maloney, who spent his high school years skipping from one private school to another, played plenty of sports - he was good at some and not so much at others.
"I was so bad at basketball that there were 16 guys on the team and I was the only one on the fourth team," he said, laughing.
When he discovered surfing, he found his place. He got so into the sport that he put college studies on the backburner.
"I actually attended three Norfolk colleges in the same place. Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary, Old Dominion College and ODU," Maloney deadpanned. "I was on the nine-year plan. I finally put enough classes together to get a degree in distributive eduation.
"They were probably real happy to see me leave."
Maloney held various jobs after college - lifeguard, bartender, surf shop owner and for a run of 25 years he owned a T-shirt shop at the old Williamsburg Pottery Factory.
"I also was a carpenter, and fisherman and a teacher," he said, flashing his blue eyes mischievously. "Ever heard of anybody else with that resume?"
He never married... or drank coffee.
"I'm a procrastinator," he said. "Girlfriends got tired of waiting.
"And I don't like coffee."
From the start, Maloney was a diehard surfer. He took on the sport's social scene with the same gusto.
"I am a contrarian," he said. "But not on purpose. I'm just a free spirit who loved to have fun.
Part of that "fun" eventually included a three-pack-a-day smoking habit. He says he drank at the same pace.
"Doctors told me I should quit drinking, smoking, eating candy and drinking sodas," said Malone, an avid reader who possesses, friends say, a steel-trap mind. "I told him to add sex to the list and just shoot me. I was just trying to have a good time. I wasn't going to live in a closet and eat granola bars.
"I'm still alive, but I'm not sure if my doctor is."
Eventually, though, his lifestyle took a toll. When it affected surfing, he decided to make a change.
"I'd done something to myself that had affected my endurance," he said. "Breathing is the one thing in life that is not overrated. When you can't breathe, the party is over."
Maloney said he hasn't smoked in five years and hasn't drank in more than 10.
He spends three or four days a week in the gym.
"I'm trying to do all of the things I probably should have been doing all along," he said.
Part of that includes his new board - which can be used with or without power.
"It gets me out to the waves when there are any," Maloney said. "You can still paddle with it and I do that sometimes.
"I think it's helping with my endurance."
And it's helping him continue a life on the waves.
"Somebody wrote on one of the blogs that it's lame," Maloney said of the WaveJet. "If you're in your 30s and in great shape, I get it. But if you are in your 70s or 80s, or have some infirmities that would stop you from surfing, this thing is pretty cool.
"The thing helps me surf and surfing is too much a part of me to let go."
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