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.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR
I knew Larry personally for 10 years. One thing not well known about him, outside of Newport Beach, was that every summer he would show 16 mm movies on a stand up screen in the middle of one of the streets on Balboa Island. I had the honor of helping him for 10 of his 33 years of showing these movies. I know he was an inspiration to everyone around Newport Harbor
I also helped him set up the screens every week, he was a great man, and just did it for the love of the community, and just enjoyed showing his movies, you know I didn’t know that was the same famous paddleboarder that came to my high school decades ago.
He will be missed.
Larry led the lifestyle everyone would dream about, but few people actually are fortunate to achieve.I grew up watching him as lifeguard at the Beeks beach on Balboa Island, and also in Dover Shores.I loved hearing his stories and reliving his adventures from days gone by. Larry was a interesting friend and left a special mark on my life.
I knew Larry personally having lived on Balboa Island with my family. Being an avid swimmer I would encounter him while swimming a mile a few times per week in Balboa Bay. One morning he suggested I get out of the water and try his board. The rest was history. I bought the turquoise board and spent a couple of years of enjoyable paddleboarding .He seemed like a great bloke .He was like a big kid .If anyone can elaborate more on his life it would be great. I was saddened to hear of his passing . he seemed invincible . I swear I some times see him bearfooted on his beach cruiser flying down PCH.
I remember Larry speaking at our school. I was around eleven years old and had just started surfing. After the assembly, I remember shaking his hand and thinking that he was, other than my father, the coolest person in the world – he reminded me that I could do anything I set my mind to. He was a very thoughful person and spoke to us as though we all mattered. His stories were just fantastic and all I could do was dream about paddling to some distant place. It turned out that my aunt, an avid paddle boarder in Newport Beach, knew Larry and after telling her about his presentation at my school she said, “Aww, he’s such a sweetheart, bless his heart”.
I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich this morning. I don’t know why, other than the fact that I felt like having peanut butter. I so seldom have peanut butter any more; but when I do, it always reminds me Larry Capune.
I used to paddle every day from Wood’s Cove in Laguna Beach to Abalone Point and back. Craig Lockwood got me started on it back in the early eighties. One day Craig took a few of us up to Balboa to meet Larry. I remember helping Larry carry his projector and film reel from his little studio apartment that he was paying fifty dollars a month for. We set it up in the street, waited for dark, and then watched Breaking Away with about forty-five other people I didn’t know.
Larry and I paddled together a few times after that. He used to show me his news clippings of his adventures and he would tell me the story about receiving words of encouragement from Rose Kennedy one stormy night when he was just about to throw in the towel on one of his east coast journeys.
I would still run in to Larry just cruising around the island from time to time up until about 1989. That’s when I moved further south, and then only frequented the island maybe once or twice a year. I paddle just as seldom these days. But when I think of peanut butter, I think of that tub that Larry always had strapped to the nose of his board, and how Larry always told me that peanut butter was the perfect source of food energy for long paddles.
After swallowing the last bite of my sandwich, I decided to go on the Internet to see if I could find any evidence of Larry and his antics. To my sad surprise I found nothing but obituaries in his honor, dated nearly three years prior.
Larry was an odd character: a loner, yet a friend to many. He was a little bit competition and a big bit inspiration. He was a teacher, a motivational speaker (before there was such a thing), a maverick and a pioneer. He new something about life that most people will never know exists, and yet he shared those secrets with anyone who would take the time to listen. The next time you have a PB&J, listen… and you just may hear Larry Capune.
I had a crush on Larry when I was 8 until about 12 back in the sisties. He introduced me to my love for Old Spice and lifeguards.I lived at Nicholas Beach in Malibu and he would paddle in to our house on his trips to other places. we had visible beach gatherings. He became a friend to my older cousins and would drive over in his hearse to visit. Once I got in the back with a girlfriend of mine while he visited my parent’s Jack and Sally Brady. He was always in touch with us over the years. Larry was wonderful to know. I wished I wasen’t 14 years his junior. He will always hold a place in my bank of life’s favorite people.
With fondest memories,
(and a smile) Patty
I knew Larry when he was a teenager, staying with Bob and Greta Pruitt in HuntingtonBeach/ LaCrescenta. His mother had married a big-league psychiatrist who wrote columns about good relationships but he kicked out Larry and Marty to fend for themselves. (that was the story – it may or may not be completely so, right?) Thought of him the other day after watching a PBS program on Walter Freeman, lobotomist. Thought it might be Larry’s stepdad. Probably not, but it prompted me to Google Larry and look what I found – he turned out so well. He was a great kid. I am deeply sad to find that he’s gone. How’s Marty? Thanks so much for this site and all the others I’ve found. Can’t find the obituary notices in LA or the Mercury, though. Anyone out there have any? I’d like to see if his family ever came through for him.
Thought of Larry in the aftermath of recent pubicity (Surfwise)on Doc Pascowitz, another California coastal icon.
I wrote about Larry as an editor of one of Petersen’s magazines in the mid sixties. Larry was promoting himself for another trip and came up to Hollywood to check in. I went down to Balboa to interview him and hang for a day.
As as been written here, Larry was a friendly critter, inoffensive with a succesful self promotional bent. He too seemed to live without much material support. His athletic acheivements, were they in a convential sport, would rank him as a world record holder. Today in the era of sponsorship of extreme sports he would be a big celebrity.
I had Larry as a swim coach for swim team in the late 60’s. My son
who grew to be an swimmer and famous in his sport retired at 27. Today he called me on his way to Hawaii to ask me who was that paddler who came and spoke to him in 3rd grade. I said Larry Capune, Aaron has just bought a 14ft custom paddle board and is loving it. I guess a passion lives on in a little boy he met over 20 years ago. I wish Larry was here, he could give him some pointers. He would also show us movies, Clarence The Cross eyed Lion. Good memmories, thanks Larry.