On May 2, Laird Hamilton hit the Burlington waves. No, not Lake Champlain; airwaves. The world-renowned surfer talked with the crew of Burlington-based water-sports shop WND&WVS in the first of a new podcast series produced by storeowner Russ Scully.
"I just got an overwhelmingly strong 'Let's do this!" feeling and wanted to dive in headfirst,' says Scully of starting a digital radio show that showcases professional surfers, paddleboarders and other aquatic athletes.
Locals were privy to hearing Hamilton talk casually about the surfing conditions in Hawaii, and how he and his wife, pro volleyball player Gabby Reece, were going through hip replacements. Peppy questions and frequent laughter punctuated the 45-minute show.
Scully and his cohosts are riding high on a media trend: The New York Times recently reported that 46 million Americans listened to podcasts each month last year, a number expected to reach 57 million this year.
For now, Scully plans to create a new podcast — from his desk in the back office of WND&WVS — every three weeks. We caught him in between sets, and surf sessions, to talk radio.
SEVEN DAYS: Why'd you start the WND&WVS podcast?
RUSS SCULLY: I was on a 17-hour car ride in mid-April from North Carolina back to Burlington after competing in a paddleboard race with my friend Jeff Henderson, and listening to a few episodes of a new podcast he'd heard of called PaddleWoo. The host, Erik Antonson, interviews famous athletes and industry people in each episode. After listening to two or three of them, I turned to Jeff and said, "We should do this!" Podcasts are a great way to really get to know a person. The interview format is casual and, by listening to voices without video, you get a comforting sense of who the person really is.
SD: What's your audio setup?
RS: We have a Yeti mic from Blue Microphones, which is one of the best for podcasting. We also have a headphone splitter so that all of us can listen in on the call without sending feedback to the microphone. The mic is plugged into a laptop running GoToMeeting, which records the conversations. Later, we covert the file to a compressed audio file. The beauty of our setup is that it's easy for the guest. All they need to do is pick up their phone and make a call.
SD: But with no background noise from the shop?
RS: Yeah, the mic doesn't capture any ambient noise. We can have music playing in the background, or phone calls coming in to the shop, and none of it is audible during the recording. I like using our office because it's real. We're not in a recording studio. Instead, we're in our day-to-day environment, surrounded by all the things that make us stoked to come to work every day. If we're happy and comfortable, the conversation sounds more natural and less manufactured.
SD: How did you land the interview with Laird?
RS: I played an episode of PaddleWoo to one of my key staff guys, Kevin Womersley. We immediately started building a list of likely guests that we were confident we could get on the show. When he threw out Laird's name, I said, "Yeah, sure, but let's get a few under our belts before we invite him." We both knew Laird was a likely candidate, because we carry his line of standup paddleboards at the shop. We also have a great relationship with our rep, and we had met Laird in person eight months prior at Surf Expo. But I didn't expect him to be our first call.
Within a few hours we had an acceptance from Laird, asking if we were available next week. At this point we were floating off the ground in excitement. We set up the call for Monday at 2 p.m. Eastern, and spent the next few days getting all the technology in order.
SD: What were some of the biggest surprises from Laird?
RS: The first surprise was how quickly he agreed to be a guest. We sent the request and had a date in less than 24 hours. And he'd just gotten out of surgery — the same day he got our request! The other surprise was that he wasn't joined by anyone else. No public relations people, no handlers and no product reps. Not even Gabby. It was just us talking directly with him while he was chilling at home in Malibu. That was really cool. I loved the simplicity of that arrangement and the candidness of the conversation. The flow of the interview went surprisingly well, considering it was our first episode and that we were talking with one of the biggest legends in our sport. I was certainly feeling some pressure to make a decent impression on a guy who has always been a huge inspiration to me.
SD: How has the Burlington community responded to your podcast?
RS: We're on a mission to surprise everyone with the things a small surf shop from Vermont can do. We like to be nimble and courageous, and we love to show authenticity in the industry. Nailing down this interview and pulling off the first episode within a week of committing to the idea surprised a lot of our peers and community fans. I hope it gives all of us up here in Burlington a sense of pride knowing that our little WND&WVS shop is slowly gaining visibility and respect in the eyes of an otherwise coastal industry.
SD: Will any WND&WVS customers be able participate in the podcast?
RS: I'd love to have customers sit in and watch the podcast — that would be fun. And maybe we could build in some time for a guest question — that's a good idea!