Standup paddle fitness guru Brody Welte, who traverses the globe as an instructor with his Paddle Fit program and Dave Kalama's Kalama Kamp, recommends visiting Philip Shearer at Big Blue Unlimited in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. "Philip from Big Blue is the man. They have such a great operation, with new, top-of-the-line equipment for SUP surfing and paddling, and connections with all of the hotels," says Welte. "It's one of Kalama Kamp‘s favorite places to go because Big Blue offers everything, and Turks and Caicos has it all, with unbelievable conditions for downwinding, surfing and eco paddling. They have boats and great support staff, and really know their way around the islands. I’d say that this is one of the top three destinations to paddle, and Big Blue is a huge part of that."
Dave Kalama also recommends Big Blue: "Kalama Kamp is about sharing an authentic healthy lifestyle with people that have a passion for the ocean. Philip and Big Blue epitomize what we are trying to create for our Kampers. It’s simply a perfect fit."
"Turks" is a reference to the indigenous Turk's head cactus, and "Caicos" is from the Lucayan term "caya hico" meaning string of islands. Would you like to know more? —Tom Fucigna
SUP mag: What's your background?
Shearer: Very varied. I have a very strong background on the ocean as a Captain, scuba instructor, freediver, windsurfer, kiteboarder, standup paddler and underwater/wildlife/nature photographer. Essentially, I am a TCI’s waterman.
SUP mag: Are you a native, or what first brought you to the islands? What's your approach on guiding new or returning visitors?
Shearer: I'm not a native, but have essentially grown up in these waters. Our family first came here in the early '70s. I like to get visitors— old or new— excited by the outdoors, the wild and wonderful on, in or under the water. I'm not against development, but am against a lack of appreciation when nature got it right in the first place. I favor a soft approach, with low impact, while interacting with those who live here. The typical “expat” outsider thing doesn’t wash. The core philosophy of “less is more” runs through Big Blue. Adventure. Excitement. Nature.
SUP mag: When and where did you first get into standup paddling, and why did you decide to get into the SUP market?
Shearer: Here in the TCI, 2009. I thought it would be a good addition to our kayak adventures. I'm always keeping an eye out for new adventures and ways to explore, and SUP, although not really known, was the obvious next step for me.
SUP mag: What features of your location make it appealing for standup paddling?
Shearer: Everything! We have amazing flatwater potential, limitless exploration, downwinder options, and waves. It's warm and clear, and full of wildlife above and below. It's also eco friendly.
SUP mag: Do you have some favorite spots or routes to paddle?
Shearer: Paddling in the mangroves on a high tide at sunrise, sunset or a full moon is pretty damn special. The conditions vary depending on exposure. The mangroves are the most protected, and a paddler's dream. Inter-island paddling can be tough due to wind and currents, but perfect for the avid fitness/core paddler. Then, there’s the sunrise/sunset surf session.
SUP mag: What SUP-related activities do your customers like?
Shearer: At the moment, over 95% of our clients are first-timers looking for exploration.
SUP mag: What kinds of habitats, settings, or wildlife can a first-time visitor expect to experience while exploring with you?
Shearer: We use our extensive knowledge of over 15 years of kayaking in the mangroves as an intro to first-time visitors. Juvenile sharks, turtles, rays, bonefish, ospreys, pelicans, egrets, herons…there is so much wildlife just waiting to be discovered. We also regularly do moonlight trips and use LED lights under the boards on dark nights.
SUP mag: Are your clients comfortable going out at night?
Shearer: Our clients are comfortable as we take them to the same areas they paddled during the day. It's so new at night, but we see lots.
SUP mag: What brands of boards and paddles do you carry?
Shearer: Naish has been, and is, our primary brand. This year we are adding Imagine. We use Quikblade for carbon paddles and basic Naish paddles for daily tours.
SUP mag: What size, or types, of boards have been popular?
Shearer: By far, the most popular has been the Naish Mana 10’0″ all-around, which is super stable and compact. The market is very, very young here and folks don’t yet know what they like, but stability is essential.
SUP mag: Have you seen many people fishing from SUPs, or surfing?
Shearer: Fishing, no. Surfing, there are two of us!
SUP mag: That sounds like the perfect number. What are your surf spots like and what conditions produce good surf for your location? Do you teach SUP surfing?
Shearer: Reef breaks and shallow waters! The less wind the better, thus rare. As far as teaching surf, we have yet to open that box, save for our yearly Kalama Kamp.
SUP mag: Do you sponsor any events?
Shearer: We're the main sponsors of Windvibes, the Turks and Caicos’ annual kiteboarding event since 2007. We added SUP racing into the mix in 2012. This will also be our third year as a Kalama Kamp location.
SUP mag: How has the addition of SUP racing gone?
Shearer: The races are loved, but still very simple and not serious at all…yet.
SUP mag: Where do you think the SUP market is headed?
Shearer: I think it will be much like what windsurfing used to be, in that everyone near water will have one, and the basic touring board will likely lead the way, either in epoxy, inflatable or plastic. It's the no-brainer side of SUP that makes it attractive: easy exercise and loads of fun.
SUP mag: What else would you like our readers to know about your shop or location?
Shearer: a href=”http://www.BigBlueUnlimited.com” target=_blank”>Big Blue is an all-out watersports adventure outfitter. We offer educational lessons for small groups in kayaking, SUP, diving, snorkeling, biking and hiking. Above all our location is second to none!