The best guys at Jaws are all drinking the koolaid. Except, it’s not actually koolaid: it’s juice. As it turns out, aside from the energy drink product placement and branded jetskis, most of the world’s best big wave riders have figured out the recipe for success, and it includes cold pressed juice. Typically, when I think of “juicers,” I think of LA moms grabbing a “green toxin cleanse” after their 9 am Soulcycle class. Maybe I’ve just spent too much time in LA, but hey, there’s some truth to it. Juice thus far has been branded as a cleansing beverage; one that promotes weight loss, but not one that fuels the body for performance.
The Sporting Club of the Pacific is changing that. Founder Tugger Balcom discovered during free dive training that consuming food or energy drinks can actually detract from the body’s ability to produce a maximum breath hold. By taking up more room in the stomach, these sources of energy compromise the lungs’ ability to expand. He began tinkering with formulas to see if non-carbonated juices could be a viable fuel for free divers and big wave surfers. Over the past 2 years, Balcom has worked to refine his product. He’s worked to develop a pack of juices that would sustain surfers throughout the entire duration of a swell: from the days leading up, to the grueling big day, through the recovery period following the marathon session. Based in Paia, the last town before Jaws, Balcom and his Sporting Club are at the epicenter of big wave paddle surfing- the perfect place to test and fine tune the product.
Balcom compares his nutrition system to resources long taken for granted by other professional athletes. Most sports are played in a contained environment, one that might change slightly, but not significantly. These athletes can spend time in “the lab” of sorts, be it the basketball court, the football field, or the gym, and scientists from companies like Gatorade or Powerade can evaluate their bodies and tailor products to meet their needs. The problem is, big wave surfing just isn’t like other sports. The top big wave riders are constantly on the road chasing swells with a haphazard schedule. They might surf in heavy water, freezing, cold conditions at Mavericks one day and jet to tropical Hawaii the very next day. There’s no lab. Not to mention there’s no convincing most scientists to sit on the back of a ski, head a mile out to sea, and sit in the channel for 10 hours with 40 foot waves breaking yards away.
For the last two years, Balcom has worked to fill the void of those scientists. He found that between traveling, getting the skis ready, and jumping in the water to warm up, surfers were frequently skipping meals in the days leading up to an all-day Jaws session. He also discovered that on the day of the swell these guys (and gals) were surfing 8 hour sessions with only a gallon of water and some granola bars to keep them going. Balcom noticed that these poor practices took a serious toll. In fact, a few top guys even took trips to the hospital believing they were injured, only to be diagnosed with malnourishment and dehydration.
With feedback from the world’s best, Balcom has been able to tailor his juicing system to the specific needs of a big wave surfer at Jaws. Balcom explains the system best. A typical Jaws swell is forecasted about 7-10 days out. At this point, his clients call in for their packs. One surfer might plan to arrive three days before the swell. Balcom will map out the nutritional needs for those three days: these “prep packs” cover all the nutritional bases and allow the surfer to be completely nourished before paddling out on the big day. The prep pack makes sure the surfer’s fuel levels won’t dip below zero, even if he eats virtually nothing the day of the swell. He also includes the “performance pack.” This pack is less focused on nutrition and more focused on hydration and energy. These juices are lighter and easier on the digestive system, allowing the body to direct all resources towards athletic performance. Finally, Balcom includes the “recovery pack.” These juices are for the days following a big swell, and they’re packed with anti-inflammatory compounds and proteins to support muscle recovery and repair.
While the science behind the process if fascinating, what’s even crazier is how successful Sporting Club has been without hardly ANY advertising. The juice is made in a cafe with no sign tucked behind another building. Balcom and team package and deliver the juice in completely unmarked glass bottles, coolers, and plastic gallons. The brand has little to no social media presence. Sporting Club’s success is completely built upon the quality of the product and Balcom’s close relationship with his clients. They know they can trust him, and he does absolutely everything he can to avoid interference between the surfers and their sponsors]. It’s a completely under-the-radar operation, but it is completely revolutionizing surf nutrition. Balcom says the next step is finding a way to package and distribute these juices so that surfers have access to them for every swell anywhere in the world. If the past two years are any indication, I’m sure we’ll be seeing mysterious coolers on every ski from Jaws to Nazaré.
Here’s just a small portion of the Instagram evidence…