From February 19 – 25 in Miraflores Peru, standup paddling will be on display like never before as the International Surfing Association holds the first ever World SUP Championships. The ISA, usually a surf-centric organization, is entering new water by hosting a standup paddling competition. SUP magazine caught up with ISA President Fernando Aguerre to talk about the challenges and rewards of hosting this inaugural event. ––JC
SM: When and why did the ISA decide to bring standup into its program?
FA: Standup has been a surfing sport since the beginning. Adding it to the ISA program is something I have wanted to do for many years. I committed to launching the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship three years ago, and it took awhile to find the right partner and the funding for the first event. All ISA World Championship events are team events. That’s what differentiates the ISA from all other competition. Athletes compete in ISA events as part of their national teams, representing their countries. It’s like Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard being on the USA Basketball Team in the Olympics.
SM: The ISA has made a major push to make surfing an Olympic sport. How does standup fit into that goal or philosophical drive?
FA: Bringing surfing into the Olympics has been a dream of mine for more than 20 years, and as ISA President, it is something I am pursuing vigorously. Standup is in all of our discussions and presentations with people in the Olympic Movement (too).
SM: There's people out there that feel surfing and standup should remain separate. How can the ISA be a facilitator to bring the two sports together?
FA: Surfing and standup share identical roots, so from an organic perspective, they belong together. Having surfing and standup within the ISA is a natural fit. The ISA has more than 20 NGB members with standup programs within their organization. These nations have local standup competitions, regional and national championships. They are fielding teams for the event in Peru. Their programs will continue to expand and be more and more effective within their countries and on a global basis. More ISA members will be adding standup programs in 2012 and 2013. (I believe any conflict) will naturally work itself out.
SM: Why did the ISA choose Peru as a venue?
FA: Peru has a history with ocean water sports dating back thousands of years. It's a country that's very proud of its watermen and women. Water sports are well organized, and funded by both private and public entities. The government and the National Olympic Committee are very supportive, and have joined forces with the local community to deliver the first ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship.
SM: How many entrants are you expecting from how many different countries?
FA: We are expecting 125 competitors from 17 countries. The event will be held annually and will move around the world, which is how the ISA develops interest in the sport. That’s the purpose of the ISA – to develop all the disciplines that come under the ISA umbrella, as recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
SM: What are you expecting from this team format? Standup adds a different element than formats the ISA has used before in that there's timed events and distance races. How will it work logistically and how will the ISA deal with these challenges?
FA: All ISA events are team events, although there are individual champions as well as team champions in the ISA format. There are many differences between an SUP event and a traditional surfing competition, so we have hired experts in SUP racing and surfing events to manage the World Championship. The event Contest Director is Barrett Tester, who many know as the CD for the Battle of the Paddle. Barrett was also the founder of the Molokai-to-Oahu paddle race, so his experience goes a long way back. We are expecting a top quality event.
SM: How has the response been overall?
FA: The response has been extremely favorable, and we're very pleased with the number of teams and the quality of athletes who will participate. For example, Jamie Mitchell is the Team Captain for Australia and I'm really excited to watch him compete.
Top photo, San Diego Union Tribune. Bottom photo courtesy of the ISA.