Larry Capune, a legendary waterman, traveled 16,063 miles of American coastline — on a paddleboard.
Capune was a 22-year-old lifeguard at Carpinteria State Beach in California when he set out on his first long-distance journey in 1963. For that trek, he paddleboarded from San Francisco to Newport Beach, a total of 542 miles.
Riding on an 18-foot-long, 18-inch-wide board made by surfing legend Hobie Alter, Capune could cover 20 to 25 miles in about 10 hours. He navigated by a compass embedded into the board and often survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and 7-Up.
Over the years, Capune encountered several setbacks, including bad weather, bites from marine animals, boat collisions and directional mishaps. A New Jersey man once threw a Coke bottle at him for scaring away the fish; Capune was knocked unconscious in the assault and suffered a head wound that required 20 stitches. During his 1972 Maine-to-Miami trip, Capune got lost and came ashore in Massachusetts. When he knocked on Rose Kennedy’s door in Hyannis Port, he was allowed to stay for two days.
Capune’s longest solo paddleboard odyssey took almost a year to complete. From July 1975 to May 1976, he paddled 4,255 miles from Portland, Maine, to Corpus Christi, Texas. His final, long-distance trip made headlines in 1987 when he traveled 4,090 miles from Chicago to Washington, D.C., via the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, the Atlantic Ocean, the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. No other paddleboarder has ever matched the journey.
Capune continued to paddleboard four miles a day until his health failed. In 1999, he received the prestigious Gene “Tarzan” Smith Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in the sport of paddleboarding.
Capune died on May 26 of cancer. He was 61.