SUP Women: Christine Graham
Christine Graham of Huntington Beach, California, lives passionately. She’s been a staple in Southern California’s SUP scene for years, competing in and participating in a variety of races, fundraisers and other SUP events. But, the Southern Californian wasn’t always a face of fitness. In this installment of SUP Women Graham shares her quest to find standup paddling and the community of SUP women that inspire her, and others, to get on the water.
SUP mag: Tell us about your background.
Graham: I was a couch potato, party girl, smoker and heavy drinker until I was 30. I met a boy who was into healthy living and body building, and started working out with him with fantastic results. Then, I started having injuries to my shoulders and back, plus, after lifting for more than 10 years I was so bulked up it was unattractive. I started running and completed quite a few half-marathons, but mostly just ran for pure enjoyment.
How’d you start standup paddling?
After a serious ankle sprain, I started spending more time surfing. I had been surfing my whole life, but really didn’t connect with it. I was about 48 years old and was having a hard time surfing because of my shoulder. I kept seeing people paddling on big boards. It looked so peaceful.
One December morning, I rented a board and paddled in the harbor. I fell in love. After a few more harbor paddles, I rented a 10’6” and went surfing. The first wave I rode at Bolsa Chica State Beach I fell flat on my back, my legs flying spastically as I tried to get up. I was laughing so hard. I walked to my car that moment, called my work and told them I wouldn’t be coming to work for the next week. I kept that rental board and took it to San Onofre every day for a week straight. I was there at 6 am and did not leave until the sun went down, I was completely hooked and obsessed.
What led you to racing?
While surfing at San Onofre there was a lot of buzz in the water about racing, especially the Battle of the Paddle. I decided I would just watch. I showed up on the day of the race, by myself, not knowing anyone. I saw a woman who looked like she knew what was happening and asked her, “How does this all work?” The woman happened to be Brand Baksic, who replied, “Do you have your board? Go stand in that line over there.”
So, I did, and the rest is history. I took second place in my age division that year at BOP. I went on to do 30 races the next year and attended every event that pertained to SUP—from ocean clean ups, to fundraisers, to paddle alliance groups—I was obsessed.
Do you have a favorite event or race?
Standup for the Cure has become my favorite fundraising event over the years. It’s well organized, well supported, and one of the most ‘feel good’ events in town. I enjoy the fundraising and I fully support its cause more than ever because one of my favorite paddle sisters, Suzanne Yeo, desperately needed help and Standup for the Cure was there for her; I believe through the efforts of Judie Vivian and others involved with the event, that Standup for the Cure saved her life.
Tell us about the SUP Chicks group and your involvement.
The founding women, Sabrina Suarez, Carla Stoner, Jolene Thompson, Kerstin Ouellet, Carmela Arstill, Debbie Church, and Pamela Strom are warm, passionate, dedicated and amazing women. They’re a paddle group that loves to dress up and party—I found my people! These women promote inclusiveness, positive attitudes, the Aloha spirit, and acceptance. These paddle chicks are, without exception, the nicest people on the planet.
I’ve introduced a few of my friends to the SUP Chicks group and every one of them has had the same experience, feeling welcomed, supported and important—like a beloved family member—and that spirit is contagious. It reinforced my belief that every person you encounter deserves to be treated like they are the most important person in the world. This principle has opened a lot of doors for me, both in my personal life and my professional career.
Tell us about some of the changes you’ve seen take place in the industry in the past few years that you’ve been involved in SUP.
I haven’t raced in a few years due to health issues. I’m grateful that I was into the racing scene early; in its infancy, everyone seemed more concerned that everyone was having a good time and felt included and appreciated. It’s gotten so big these days, it doesn’t have the same cohesiveness and camaraderie as it did in the early days.
The feeling of belonging was what really kept me wanting to race. These days, because I’m not physically up to the demands of racing, I choose to enjoy my paddle time surfing, mostly at a little beach in South Orange County where only 30 cars fit beyond the bamboo. It’s very much like being on vacation—very private and full of Aloha.
What has SUP brought to your life?
Standup paddle has changed my life in ways never I could have imagined. It has given me more confidence, strength, endurance, and courage than I ever knew I could have. I love my salty life and my bond with the women of SUP. I never connected with surfing. Who wants to lie face down in the wax with your hands and feet in the freezing cold water? I catch more waves, enjoy more time on the water, I’m warm and just stoked to be standing on the water.
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