Inside the Midwest SUP Festival

SUP mag checks in on this weekend’s Midwest Stand Up Paddle Festival in Madison, Wisconsin:

With a little bend, Tony Paul tests the flex on his newly purchased Quickblade standup paddle.

“Yeah, it’s really nice—a lot nicer than the one I’ve got now. I like it a lot!,” says Paul, who made a five-hour drive from Michigan to spend a warm Saturday at this weekend’s Midwest Stand Up Paddle Festival in Madison, Wis.

“There are not a lot of events like this round,” added Paul, already busy making plans for his summer adventure to Hawaii with his young son, Gavin. “And to have all this gear to try out and so many experts to learn from this is really something special.”

For the first time, local retailer Paddleboard Specialists gathered top brands, world-class athletes and avid enthusiasts to share their love of standup paddling on Lake Mendota’s Maple Bluff Beach. In addition to a new product demo and clinics on paddling techniques, the event sponsored two open-water races of 3 and 6 miles in length.

“Our main goal was to introduce the widest possible range of people to this fast, wonderfully growing sport,” said event organizer Gary Stone. “What has made the event successful is a lot of people coming down to it check out, having smiles on their faces and having a good time enjoying the range of clinics we were able to offer with some of the top designers and top racers.”

Ocean paddling athletes like Chuck Patterson were psyched to see a huge crowd turn out to race on Madison’s largest lake.

“What a surprise!” Patterson said. “In this great venue, having so many people with smiling faces, it really puts a stoke on the sport.”

Windy conditions and choppy water made for a challenging course. Patterson won the 6-mile race with a clean margin, but said it was every bit as tough as events back home in California.

“I was a little afraid that it was going to be hot and glassy,” he said. “When you’ve got Olympic paddlers like Jimmy Terrell and the Bark guys and the Naish people and Hobie on your tail, being a big guy like me it’s kind of a blessing to have wind.”

Surftech designer Joe Bark paddled the 3-mile race and said Wisconsin water is just what his boards are made for.

“You want your board to be two things. You want it to be stable and want it to be fast,” Bark said. “A good quality board penetrates really well into the wind, and downwind it flies.”

With an emphasis on long crossings and less on surf handling, modern SUPs are ideal for Midwest flatwater. “And you’ve got so many lakes here,” said Karen Wrenn, winner of the women’s 6-mile race. “I know that this sport is really going to take off.”

As dozens of people came out for this new event, it’s already pretty clear that SUP has already taken hold in the Midwest. A fundraiser for the American Family Children’s Hospital, the race fees and admission cost $52. A committed crowd stayed for a full day of activities that concluded with dinner and an evening screening of the new paddling film Destination 3 Degrees from Soul Surf Media.

“We’re definitely going to do it again next year,” said Paddleboard Specialist’s Gary Stone,” And we’ll bring in an even larger number of paddlers as this sport grows and word passes from person to person.”  — James Mills

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