Best Local SUP Instructors: Peter Pan
New England-based instructor Peter Pan got his moniker at a surf competition in 1967, when an announcer shortened his Greek name, Peter Panagiotis, to that of the czar of Neverland. The handle stuck and has become increasingly fitting: After all these years, the 63-year-old Pan still flies on the water with age-defying grace. A celebrated competition surfer, Pan launched the Northeast’s only nationally-accredited surf school in Narragansett, R.I. in 1978.
Pan was introduced to standup on a trip to Hawaii in 2005 and through his connection with board manufacturer BicSport, Pan introduced paddleboarding to New England in 2007. He’s been at it ever since.
“Nobody even knew what SUP was back then,” says Pan, who was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 1996. “People laughed at it. They thought it was a joke. When they saw a board, most people would just sit on it.”
That was the old East Coast. Pan says coastal New England is “absolutely perfect” for SUP—both for its point breaks with “slow, mushy waves,” and sheltered channels, rivers and inland lakes for flat water paddling. Pan was trained by Jimmy Blakeney, a fellow BicSport paddler and “big chief” of SUP instruction in the American Canoe Association (ACA). Pan was a student with an open mind. “I was a surfer,” he says. “I didn’t know much about paddling. The best thing I ever did was take that course.” Pan’s surf school is one of the few on the East Coast to offer ACA-sanctioned training and today, he estimates that he alone instructs up to 400 new paddlers each year.
ACA chops aside, Pan takes a unique approach to instruction that’s informed, in part, by his off-season job as a fitness instructor; SUPing is an outdoor antidote to working up a sweat in the gym. “People want a challenge,” he says, “and when I take them on the water, I want them to know that it is a real class. It’s not a video game. So I’m the bad guy.”
After teaching the basics, Pan often leads his group on a hard, one-hour paddle up the Narrow River, regardless of the conditions. “I don’t babysit, that’s what my assistant is for—they’re the good guy,” laughs Pan, who admits this part of the lesson is entirely optional—and also that his preferred training waters on the Narrow are sheltered, shallow, sandy and totally beginner-friendly. “The people who do the hard paddle say ‘Holy shit, this is a workout.’ I’ve sold a lot of paddleboards that way.”
As SUPing blossoms in the northeast, Pan once again lives up to his namesake—the leader of the Lost Boys—in the midst of the New England winter, Pan is the only one on the water. “I just love it,” says Pan. “I go out in the dead of winter, sometimes after shoveling two feet of snow. That’s part of the challenge of living up here.” –Connor Mihell
This article originally ran in our 2014 Beginner’s Guide as “Local Knowledge.”
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