Extreme distance SUP racer Shane Perrin has conquered some of the most grueling sit-down paddle races on an SUP, from the MR340 to the Texas Water Safari, to La Ruta Maya. While he continues to push the limits in SUP racing, the ultramarathon paddler is also busy running a mobile SUP shop. Perrin, owner and self-described Director of SUPerations at SUP St. Louis, has made it his mission to “Bring Aloha to the Midwest” via standup paddling. —Tom Fucigna
SUP mag: What’s your background and when did you first get into standup paddling?
Perrin: I’ve been a canoe and kayak paddler for over 20 years. I started standup paddling in 2008 by building a paddle and standing up in my 14′ Old Town canoe. Over the next couple of years I built a couple wood strip SUPs, based on Tom Blake’s kookbox surfboard designs from the 1920s, and paddled the local rivers.
In 2011, I was building a wood strip SUP to race in a 35-mile canoe race when a local shop asked if I wanted sponsorship. Who wouldn’t say yes? So my first actual SUP was a 14′ x 28″ race board that I learned to paddle on the Meramec River, 10 minutes from my house. That was the first time I actually stood on an epoxy SUP and used a carbon paddle. What a difference! From there I became a dedicated SUP river paddler.
SUP mag: Why did you decide to get into the SUP market?
Perrin: In 2011 there was no market. There was one store that carried SUPs but offered very little in service. To really put SUP on the map in St. Louis I decided to race in the MR340, a 340-mile river race on the Missouri River across the entire state of Missouri. I hoped that doing so would get people talking about the sport, and build the market.
I started SUP St. Louis in 2012 with seven boards. By the end of the year I had a fleet of 12. This year I have 17, with more boards on the way to keep up with demand. SUP St. Louis is a mobile outfitter, which minimizes our overhead and allows us to keep our prices low for customers.
SUP mag: What features of your area make it appealing for standup paddling?
Perrin: Missouri is filled with beautiful rivers and lakes. Simpson Lake is a great, easily accessible spot in Valley Park, Mo., where I do most of my beginner lessons. It is completely wood-lined so, regardless of what the wind is doing, there are almost always perfect conditions.
SUP mag: What SUP-related activities do your customers like?
Perrin: We offer lessons, rentals, SUP yoga, river tours, custom excursions, and sales. Since SUP is still so new in the area, beginner-level lessons have been popular. SUP yoga has also really taken off. River paddling is becoming more popular as people learn that the rivers are actually very safe, as long as you have a knowledgeable guide taking care of you.
In general, growth in SUPs on the water during the past year has been amazing. At the end of May I counted 19 boards on the lake, whereas two years ago I was the only guy out there.
SUP mag: What gear do you carry?
Perrin: Right now, I’m selling Nalu brand boards, which are a local Ohio line of SUPs, SUP ATX, and Glide paddleboards that have Midwest pricing in mind. I’m carrying adjustable aluminum paddles as a basic get-on-the-water paddle for $100, and I’m still deciding on what name brand/higher-end paddles to carry. People are mostly looking for value/performance here, and brand name is not as much of a determining factor.
SUP mag: What size, or types, of boards have been popular?
Perrin: We are predominantly selling 11′ x 32″ recreational boards, because there are so many beginners just starting out. I sell an occasional touring board, and I’m starting to see a few other touring boards in the area, and even a full race board occasionally.
SUP mag: Have you organized any events?
Perrin: I am the organizer of SUP STL, a meet-up group for St. Louis standup paddle boarders. It’s really helped form the SUP community. After only one year we have 106 members. We do lake clean-ups, beginner lessons, river paddles, and even SUP yoga. Membership allows someone who doesn’t own a board to come out and sample a lot of boards. I bring out my SUP St. Louis fleet, and those who own boards bring theirs. It’s a good system that has been getting a lot of people into the sport.
I’ve also launched a non-profit named Beyond the Board that is intended to help people push past adversities in their lives and live freely on the water through paddle sports. BTB is sponsoring Expedition: Iron Athlete, a mission to show people that the only limitations in life are the ones we place on ourselves. I’ll be racing a total of 640 miles in New York, Missouri and Illinois to raise money, some of which will support a 160-mile expedition for BTB’s newest athlete, Nathan Woods of Eugene, Oregon.
SUP mag: Where do you think the SUP market is headed?
Perrin: The market here is definitely expanding. There are now two nearby storefront shops that sell boards. I’m the only mobile shop with a fleet of up to 18 boards at any given time to take out large groups. I think the demand will eventually be overwhelming for me, and the stores will need to up their game and provide more lessons. The sport is on the verge of exploding here.
SUP mag: Are there any standout standup paddling customers or locals we should know about?
Perrin: Absolutely. Michael Rokos was a client of mine in 2011 when I worked for a paddle shop. He bugged the hell out of me over the winter to start my own business- so much so that I listened and he became my right hand man at SUP St, Louis. He’s a big part of the business, helping out with lessons and river trips. He also started racing last year.
Kelly Kasten is my latest protégé that I can take no credit for. In March I told her she needed to do the 10-mile season-opener Perche Creek Gut-Buster race in Columbia, Missouri. She agreed, and ended up beating three of the guys. After that, I told her she needed to do the 28-mile Volunteer 28 race on the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Tennessee. She obliged and set the women’s SUP record. I’m working her up to bigger races as we go. She’ll be one to watch for.
SUP mag: What else would you like our readers to know about SUP St. Louis?
Perrin: Our focus is to give clients a great experience every time they come out with us. What I love about what I do is the fact that I’ve made it affordable for the Midwest to learn the sport. For me it’s not about the money, it’s about spreading the stoke of the sport I love.