SUPAA and the Board Restriction Debate

If you've ever been to a SUP race, you know that beyond the competition and social scene, one of the funnest aspects is the demo surrounding the event–looking at and trying the latest in board and paddle designs. And, if you've been to an SUP race in the last year or so, you've probably noticed how narrow the latest raceboard designs have become. Some worry this progression will hinder SUP's growth, because as the boards continue to trim down, the difficulty in riding them increases.

There have been movements to set race rules and restrict some design nuances in the past–Rainbow Sandals' Battle of the Paddle and the World Paddle Association come to mind.

Now, the Standup Paddle Athletes Association (SUPAA), an upstart association of professional paddlers, are collectively voicing their concerns on the direction of board design and racing restrictions, and how they'll affect SUP racing’s growth.

SUPAA recently published an article discussing its newly adopted board restrictions, determined by collaborating with athletes and board manufacturers like Starboard, Naish, Fanatic, BIC, 404, NSP, Imagine, JP, Kings and Bark. The restrictions focus on board width, rail height and weight, in an effort to promote boards and board divisions that are more user-friendly:

"At a certain point producers can lose sight of the fact that pushing design is not always better for the sport as a whole. More aggressive designs usually come at the expense of stability and cost in stand up paddle board development. The more a product costs and the harder it is to use, the fewer customers you will have," SUPAA states.

Thus, SUPAA has come up with the following standards that will go into effect in 2015:

No board shall have raised rails greater than 4.92 inches (12.5 cm) as measured from the standing area to the top of the rail.

• 14' width minimum of 23 inches as measured at the 3-inch rail mark
• 12'6 width minimum of 23.75 inches as measured at the 3-inch rail mark

• 14' weight minimum of 10 kg (22.05 lbs.)
• 12'6 weight minimum of 9 kg (19.84 lbs.)

Professional paddler and SUPAA President Chase Kosterlitz believes these standards will keep the sport open to all.

“Everyone is going to have their opinion but the more people we get involved in this, the better the brands will do and we can all continue doing what we love. We want to take into account every angle and are reaching out to manufacturers to coordinate with them,” Kosterlitz says. “Ultimately, what we want to see is more people on the water and racing. The people benefiting from the restrictions most will be the new paddlers because they’ll have that good first experience, will get hooked and want to continue involvement in SUP.”

In an effort to move forward with the board restrictions at races, SUPAA will be holding certification courses for event directors over the next year. “We’re hoping to hold three classes in Europe, one in South America, and at least three in the States,” says Kosterlitz. “Because our sport is new, a lot of the race directors are also new and haven’t actually raced themselves. There’s a lot of good information from athletes that the race directors could benefit from. We’re trying to move forward with a cohesive mindset because our agenda [at SUPAA] is to help the sport to continue to grow in a fun, inclusive way.”

But, while the SUPAA makes its push towards creating consistent rules across the board, Event Director Barrett Tester—who puts on Battle of the Paddle (BOP), the Mongoose Cup, ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships, and other notable SUP events—believes the restrictions should be put into effect on a situational basis:

“I think it varies depending on the event. I’ve met with Chase [Kosterlitz] and support the SUPAA’s work, but it’s an interesting thing,” Tester says. “It’s all good what they’re trying to do because there’s a need for races to be standardized, but BOP won’t adopt the SUPAA restrictions,” he says. “I think the SUPAA needs to get rules in place and then send officials to help with events so people can get a taste of it first. If a race becomes a SUPAA-certified race, I’ll follow the guidelines and will be compelled to take the certification course, but we’ve seen organizations try to take ownership like this and I don’t know if it really drives traffic to events.”

With that being said, Tester and the ISA are meeting with SUPAA in an effort to better understand and potentially adopt the restrictions at future ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships. “Right now, we’re going through the process with SUPAA and the ISA to try to adopt the SUPAA rules. It’s good for the sport to be standardized, but I’ve found as an event director that, while some rules sound practical, they don’t actually end up being effective,” Tester states. —SC

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