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Boating to Work: How NBA Champion Klay Thompson Makes a Splash on the Way to the Court

By: Scott Way

Klay Thompson boating Axopar 37 Cabin
Thompson getting a handle as captain aboard his Axopar 37 Cabin / Photo- Instagram @klaythompson

Golden State Warrior shooting guard and 3-time NBA champion Klay Thompson is living the life of a splash brother. But instead of splashing the net on the hardcourt, he's splashing his way to work aboard a 37-foot fishing boat.

He's got good taste, too. While most NBA stars drive to the arena in McLarens or Bentleys, Thompson heads to the Chase Centre in downtown San Francisco in an Axopar 37 Cabin. The boutique centre cabin is one of boating's recent breakthrough brands, and the Finnish-made hulls are arguably the nautical equivalent of a premium supercar.

Thompson has had time to explore new hobbies in recent months. He's in the midst of rehabbing from multiple leg injuries including a torn ACL suffered during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA finals and a torn Achilles tendon suffered in late 2020. To take his mind off the intense rehab schedule, the freedom of boating has become a focus of his recovery.

In an interview with the New York Times, Thompson went into detail about his newfound passion, and his mindset is sure to reverberate with seasoned boaters.

For Thompson, his foray into the #BoatLife has been enriching beyond simply forgetting the rigors of a tough NBA schedule. "You can’t have a bad day when you’re on the boat,” he says. The ability to hit the water and get a respite from the repetition and constant pressure of being an NBA player has had other unforeseen benefits, too: “It’s been so good for my mental health. “When the days would get really tough, I would take a cruise into the city or toward Oakland or just be out in nature. It always helps.”'

Many boaters are passionate bordering on compulsive, and Thompson's driven nature seems to have fallen right in line with the boater mindset. According to him, it's more than just the cruising, "I fell in love with all the little things, whether it’s navigating, cleaning her, tidying her up — all the stuff you would never think of when driving a car.”

That passion even flirts with humanizing his boat as if were a real person. “I know,” he says. “That’s how much I respect her.”

That devotion wasn't simply handed over with a set of keys and a handshake, though. Thompson went about his new hobby with the same persistence that brought him to the NBA. Having never captained a boat, he connected with a local boat dealer named Kenyon Martin (ironically, not the former NBA player but a brand manager for Seattle Yachts) and developed an instant rapport. Martin then set him up with a boat captain who gave him lessons, which Thompson took for several months, before taking the helm fulltime.

“It’s not like a car where you just flip someone the keys and you’re like, ‘Yeah, you’re good to go,’” said Martin.

But like any new captain, there were still some lessons to be learned. When Thompson began taking the boat to the Chase Center where Golden State plays home games, he was tying it up in assigned slips at a nearby marina. Mike Brown, an assistant coach for Golden State, caught wind of the ruckus and helped him get squared away.

“He was just docking his boat wherever he wanted,” Brown said. “And I was like, ‘Klay, you can’t park your boat there!’”

But even that innocent mistake turned into a new friendship, as marina owner Arvind Patel took a liking to Thompson and allowed him to park his Axopar next to his own 60-foot sailboat. Now the 70-something year old Patel and Thompson go fishing together.

“We caught two nice fish and had a wonderful time,” Patel said after a recent outing in San Francisco Bay. “It’s actually kind of a pure friendship because I’m not that into basketball. I’m into it when the local team is winning. I’m a sunny-day fan. So now, if I need tickets, I say, ‘Hey, Mr. Klay!’”

Thompson also got serious about something that all captains do: obeying boating superstitions. Not only are bananas not allowed onboard (a tradition dating back to early naval commerce in the 1700s, and also one of Thompson's favourite foods), but he also went to great lengths to give her a name (or two).

“I have a few names for it. I call it the 'Nordic Knife' or 'Splash Express,'" Thompson told NBC Sports.

“She was made in Finland, so that’s Norwegian I think. She cuts the water like a knife, so I call her the Nordic Knife. People are like ‘why would you name your boat after a weapon?’ I’m like ‘it’s not a weapon it’s just the way she rides.’ It’s so fast. Then Splash Express is when I'm carrying my friends on board and we’re commuting.” A clever play on words is a staple of boat naming, and that sharp wit clearly isn't lost on one of the NBA's 'Splash Brothers.'

As for the boat itself, the Axopar 37 Cabin is in a category all its own. As a uniquely designed offshore hull that rides a strange line between utilitarian and ultra-luxury, it's equal parts grizzly fishing boat and glitzy yacht. With a pricetag in the neighbourhood of $400k US (which Thompson can manage after signing a $190 million contract in 2019), the enclosed centre console is packed with ultra-modern tech and 500 horsepower on the transom thanks to dual outboards. It's the ideal commuter boat for the big waters of San Francisco Bay. It's also a great fit for an NBA player who'd rather sink money into accoutrements like underwater lights and infrared cameras for night boating than his next Lamborghini.

Thompson definitely appears to have caught the bug of a lifelong boater.

“The ocean and free diving and spear fishing and boating bring me joy,” he said, “second only to winning basketball games, really.”

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