Whether to go with a hard SUP or an inflatable SUP is one of the first decisions to make when looking to buy a new standup paddleboard. But do a little research and consider your paddling needs, and the answer becomes clear. To help you come to a conclusion on what type of SUP makes sense for you, here’s a little insight on each board type—hard or inflatable—and where they work best.
San Diego is home to countless surf breaks. In most every surf scenario, you’ll want an epoxy hard SUP for maximum performance. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Hard SUPs, or solid standup paddleboards, are most commonly built from different materials like foam, fiberglass, Kevlar, plastics and wood, and protected with coats of epoxy resin. The foam core creates buoyancy, while layers of fiberglass, Kevlar or bamboo veneer creates durability and rigidity, while the epoxy finish works to harden the board and ensure it's water tight.
Many epoxy boards have an air vent installed on the deck, used to prevent delamination of the epoxy resin from the EPS foam blank. Other finish layups, like plastic, are available and usually cheaper, but don't necessarily provide the same level of performance. Other than shape, size and a few other factors, when considering a new purchase it's important to make sure the board is light enough for you to manage, provides ample floatation (volume) for your weight and comes equipped with a thick, unblemished finish to ensure it'll be durable and water tight.
Epoxy SUPs generally deliver better performance and responsiveness than inflatable SUPs, particularly in surf and downwind. That's because they are considerably more rigid, and because manufacturers are able to get more precise with designs to produce higher-performance shapes. For SUP surfing and racing, epoxy SUPs are undisputedly the way to go. For whitewater paddling, traveling and convenience sake, inflatable SUPs may be a better option.
SUP associate editor Jack Haworth paddling an iSUP on Lake Michigan with the Chicago skyline in the background. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Inflatable standup paddleboards, or iSUPs, are manufactured from layers of PVC plastic with woven fibers that connect the top and bottom at points inside throughout the board. They typically come in a carrying case about the size of a large duffle bag, weighing anywhere from 18 to 28 pounds. iSUPs come equipped with a valve that the operator attaches to a pump (most often included with the iSUP) and uses to inflate the board, normally to around 15 psi.
iSUPs can become surprisingly rigid once inflated, and some even come equipped with carbon strips or rods that run along the rails or stringer (the center line) from nose to tail to increase stiffness. Many iSUPs, especially boards geared for river paddling, come with flexible, built-in fins, but some come with fin boxes for replaceable fin options. Inflatable SUPs are commonly a bit lighter than most solid boards because they are composed mostly of air and plastic. They're also generally less expensive.
The biggest differentiator between iSUPs and hard boards is in its convenience: an inflatable paddleboard fits in the trunk of most cars and can be checked on an airplane without extra fees. They're great for road trips and even better for air travel when space is limited and a giant board bag can be a nuisance.
If you're just looking for a knock-around sled for your summer house that can be stowed in the basement during winter, an iSUP may suit your needs best. They're also superior for standup paddling in shallows and particularly on whitewater or river trips where collisions with boulders and rock bottoms is likely. iSUPs are generally much more durable than hard boards and can handle a fairly rough beating in rapids.
Standup Paddleboards in SUP’s 2018 Gear Guide
Hacks: What’s the Right Fin Setup For My SUP?
Hacks: How to Pick the Perfect SUP Paddle
Running whitewater is a blast. It also can be very dangerous. Strong currents, cold water and large boulders present an array of challenges that whitewater paddlers must deal with on the river. That is why it’s essential to be prepared with the right gear that will not only make your river experience more enjoyable, but could even save you from a precarious situation. To find the best head-to-toe whitewater setup, we put the following 10 items through the wringer. They did not disappoint.
Shaggy does it…
MSRP: $189.95 – BUY NOW
Next to a PFD, a good helmet is probably the most important piece of safety gear for whitewater paddling. Unlike some other helmet brands, Shred Ready has been in the whitewater game since the very beginning. It shows too, like most of their models, the Shaggy is super-adjustable with padded inserts and a BOA tightening system. Shred Ready even designed it to be worn backwards with no change in function, just style points.
The helmet is lightweight, made out of Armid and carbon fibers, but also super tough and doesn't retain any water. After a couple gnarly swims, we noticed there wasn't any slippage in the fit. We dig the Limited Edition Camo design – though we did notice the paint job scratches easily and our test model has a few battle scars. While paddlers living in colder climates might desire a more insulated design, we love the Shaggy for almost all other river paddling conditions.
Keep it dry, keep it warm.
MSRP: $1010 – BUY NOW
A quality drysuit can extend your paddling season into the coldest of conditions, but most designs are geared towards kayakers. But after testing the Front-Entry by Kokatat, we think we've found a winning solution for SUP. During our initial inspection, we were impressed by the thick GORE-TEX material and burly Optiseal zippers. Even the knees and seat were reinforced with a tough layer of Cordura fabric.
Having worn drysuits before while standup paddling, we were expecting a billowing fit – with the bulkiness hampering our strokes and mobility. However, the Kokatat fit very neatly, especially after a quick neck-deep dip in the water to squeeze all the air out. The wrist and neck gaskets were tight, as to be expected, but not overly constricting. And after multiple swims during our last river outing – not a single drop of water squeezed in. The Front-Entry gets extra-points for the relief zipper up front, as well as the bungee draw-cord at the waist to tighten the fit.
Drysuits are expensive, it's true, so it's important to take care of yours. The feet are the most vulnerable, small rocks and sticks can puncture the fabric as you change into the suit, so we recommend using a plastic tub to change in. The tub then doubles as a receptacle for all your wet gear. And if that's not good enough, Kokatat's drysuits also come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Take all the flak the river can throw at you with this jacket.
MSRP: $270 – BUY NOW
River safety begins with a solid PFD and many consider the GreenJacket to be the premier choice for discerning paddlers. The GreenJacket comes equipped with a standard quick-release and metal O-ring, a must for paddlers looking for a leash-attachment point. Remember, no ankle leashes on the river. With its over-the-head design, GreenJacket might be a little more cumbersome to take on and off, but once it's on and adjusted to your body, it fits like a glove with none of the floppiness inherent with other PFDs.
Most of the floatation is low-slung, leaving the upper arms and shoulders free to paddle without any hindrance. We liked the large storage pocket on the front, big enough to hold all your goodies for a day on the river, not to mention safety essentials like a whistle. Two smaller pockets lie on either side. The jacket might be a bit heavier than others out there, not to mention costing a bit more, but that's some of the price you pay for an outstanding quality product.
Better to have one and not need it than, well, you know…
MSRP: $49.95 – BUY NOW
Whether you’re trying to carve a marshmallow stick, open a can of tuna or help your river-partner in an emergency – we feel that a good rescue knife is an essential piece of gear. With its rubberized handle and solid 2.5-inch blade, we found the Neko knife from NRS to be a solid choice. The Neko has a pointed tip, which isn't super common for rescue knives, but is a nice feature.
The blade is also double-edged, with one serrated and one smooth. The clip is super sticky and it takes a good deal of effort to pull the blade out. The handle also has a squared hole that works as a valve wrench for O2 tanks, as well as an integrated bottle opener. Get a good river knife, attach it to your PFD and leave it there.
Umbilical cord for the river.
MSRP: $79.95 – BUY NOW
There are different camps when it comes to leash theory for river SUP, but we stand by the notion that if you want to go leashed on the rio, attach it to your PFD. Too many drownings have happened when paddlers get held underwater after their ankle leashes get caught on rocks or logs up-stream. Unlike ocean waves, river currents don't let go. So we tested the best leash that the whitewater gurus at Hala had to offer.
We immediately liked the robust build to this leash. The coiled cord is thick and tough, perfect for keeping the leash from dragging behind you. Using a sailing shackle quick-release, it solves some of the problems if you decide to hit the river without a PFD that’s equipped with a release-buckle. And given that Hala wanted to make it extra versatile, they include a detachable ankle strap for flatwater and ocean days. This leash comes in 7' and 9' options.
Let’s go play ‘catch a kook!”
A good throw bag is a piece of safety gear that many might overlook at first, but we encourage everyone to get a good rope before going out on the river. Clip it to the back of your PFD or on the front of your board. We tested the Wedge by NRS. With a 55' 1/4" polypropelyne rope packed in a compact bag it was definitely a good design, compared to other bulkier bags we've used in the past.
The bag uses foam panels to keep it afloat, while the mesh panels ensure quick drainage. We think it's a good idea to pair your throw bag with a locking carabiner and practice packing and throwing it. It also doubles as a clothesline strung up at camp to hang your soggy paddling gear. Get some throw bag skills here.
Don’t get knee-capped.
MSRP: 69.95 Euros – BUY NOW
Let's face it, your knees are going to take a beating when you get into river SUP. Whether falling into shallow rock fields or getting pitched forward every time your fin hits a rock, you'll be thankful you sprung for a good set of knee pads. We tested the Bearsuit Knee Guard from Sweet Protection and found them to be super flexible and durable (they are actually designed for mountain biking).
The guards were comfortable worn right over the knee, or wriggled on top of wetsuits and drysuits. Once on, they stayed put and we nearly forgot they were there, until we took that next spill onto the boulders. Get a pair and save your knees (not to mention your expensive drysuit). Our only issue is that they take a bit longer to dry out than some of the other options out there. For the next level paddlers out there, Sweet also makes matching elbow pads.
Kicks for toe-jam prevention.
MSRP: $110 – BUY NOW
Rivers can be beautiful and fun, but they are also treacherous. Combat the unseen by equipping yourself with a good pair of water shoes. For this review we tested the 'Eleu Trainer by Olukai. We found the shoes dried very quickly with their synthetic build and mesh uppers. The sticky rubber outsoles provide solid traction on wet and slippery surfaces. The footbed is also perforated and hydrophobic, so water flows both in and out very quickly. A single pull-cord lacing system allows for quick adjustments to the fit, a cool feature when pairing with a neoprene sock, drysuit bootie or just going barefoot.
We did find that the seam above the heel caused some chafing on the Achilles, but we think this is just a fit issue. As with all shoes, it pays to try some different styles on before purchasing. These shoes are also tested by the Hawaian Lifeguard Association and Olukai gives a portion of all proceeds to the Ama OluKai Foundation, honoring those who preserve and celebrate the cultural heritage and Aloha spirit of Hawaii.
Choose your weapon wisely.
MSRP: $269 – BUY NOW
This paddle is a battleaxe – and we don't mean that in a negative way. It's the appropriate tool for repeated rock hits and slapping brace strokes. We tested Werner’s Performance Adjustable model (it also comes in a custom length or a 3-piece travel version). Paddlers used to lightweight carbon race and surf designs might be initially put off by the weight of the paddle, but we feel that the added weight is well compensated by the paddle's overall durability.
The shaft is a bit wider than other flatwater and surf paddles. In a move away from the tear-drop design, the Session employs a dihedral fiberglass blade, crafted into a long and rectangular shape that is easy to paddle with its gentle catch. The paddle can also be ordered in a 'small-fit', which Werner claims is a good option for lighter paddlers or children. We also dig the yellow blade lay-up which will inevitably make it easier to find downriver if you lose your grip on it during a swim.
I’m here to pump… your SUP up.
MSRP: AU $185 – BUY NOW
While not an essential tool, we have found that an electric pump sure is handy. This volume pump is designed for inflatable SUPs and hooks up to your car's battery with two small alligator clips. The pump is super easy to use, simply set your desired Psi and press go! While there is no Psi gauge on the pump itself, it automatically stops when the desired Psi target is achieved. It’ll take no more than 10 minutes to have your SUP ready to rock. That said, expect some noise, these types of pumps are not quiet.
The pump package comes in a small case with three compartments, holding the pump chassis, power cables and hose. It also comes with some small adapters for attaching the main line to a variety of intakes. Chances are your iSUP will have a standard ¼ turn inflator valve (aka Halkey Roberts). We did encounter some loose fit issues with RED boards, not to mention that NRS uses a proprietary screw-in style, which took some jury rigging to inflate. The pump does get hot and requires a 20 minute cool down between boards, so it's maybe not the best package for outfitters and big groups. In any case, this pump is a smart investment if you're a regular user of your iSUP. Check out what contributor Zach Mahone has to say about it in our Word on the Water installment.
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Whitewater SUP Review: Hala Gear Gram
Unless you're SUP surfing overhead waves or hurling yourself down shallow rapids on the river, standup paddleboarding is generally a low impact sport. Of course, that's not to say SUP is easy on your body. When done properly, standup paddling engages the gamut of your musculoskeletal system, exercising the minutia of stabilizer muscles throughout and testing the durability of ligaments and tendons. But when not properly trained and protected, paddling can cause or worsen joint injuries. If you suffer from joint pain or weakness, or you're aiming to prevent these issues, consider these hacks for keeping your joints conditioned both in and around workouts.
Athletes have a tendency to build lopsided training habits. Maybe you're super psyched on distance training right now, or sprint intervals, or cross training in the gym to build more power in your stroke. Whatever you're into, be careful not to do too much, too often.
Stagger your days of pumping iron with days of cardio, separate sprint training sessions with longer, more sustained paddle outings. Take a rest day once or twice a week. Differentiating your training routine allows needed time for specific muscle groups to heal and grow, and helps ensure no single part of you blows out from over-tension.
Charlie Cindric with an all-in layback brace on Idaho’s Pipeline Wave, bracing.
If you've suffered a joint injury or are concerned about a tender area, a lightweight, waterproof brace can sometimes be just enough support to prevent further injury. The biggest issue with most joint injuries—dislocations, torn ligaments and even moderate sprains—is that they heal poorly, making the area prone to reinjury.
Aiding your ligaments and tendons with some sort of structural support—be it waterproof tape, a light and tight splint or compression clothing—can help drastically with injury prevention and recovery or at the very least, some sort of placebo effect.
Jana Valesova gives herself a tuneup with the Trigger Point Grid Vibe after a paddle in Pacific Beach, California. Photo: Mike Misselwitz
Ah the mighty foam roller—it hurts so good. Rolling out your muscles and joints before and/or after SUP workouts does wonders to prevent injury, speed up recovery, improve mobility and remove lactic acid in your muscles. It works like a deep-tissue massage with your body weight controlling the pressure to loosen up tissues and engage dormant or recovering muscle groups. Use it to loosen up your IT bands before paddling out or to dig knots out of your rotator cuff after a hard workout. It's an easy staple for your arsenal.
Stay hydrated on race day. Photo: Lorenzo Menedez
There are a lot of supplements out there, many questionably conducive at best, but when it comes to strengthening your musculoskeletal system, there are a couple with proven positive effects. Glucosamine Hydrochloride (not Glucosamine Sulfate, which is basically Glucosamine HCl with added salt), found naturally in shellfish, is known to enhance cartilage health and relieve arthritic pain.
Fish oil, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, will work as an anti-inflammatory to decrease pain and provide vital nutrients to the joint systems. Most importantly, be sure you're getting the calories you need and drink lots of water before, during and after your workouts. Hydration is king.
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For those looking for an abundance of paddling opportunities, South Africa should be on your radar. Whether downwinding, surfing or touring, this beautiful SUP destination has something for every paddler. French SUP surfer Benoit Carpentier recently got a taste of what South Africa has to offer during recent trip. And luckily for the rest of us, he brought a filmmaker along to document the pristine waves he scored. Enjoy.
Watch: Classic Longboard SUP Surfing with Benoit
Feature: The Edge of Africa
In Malibu, California, offshore winds normally equate to perfectly-groomed waves and throngs of stoked surfers. This past weekend, those winds drove a devastating wall of flames straight into the heart of the quintessential SUP and surf community.
The Woolsey Fire sparked on Thursday afternoon and was first reported just south of Simi Valley, located about 20 miles inland of Malibu. With gusting Santa Ana winds fanning the blaze and drought-stricken vegetation fueling the flames, the fire quickly grew out of control and made an unstoppable march to the Pacific Ocean.
As the fire roared into Malibu, the entire town was put under a mandatory evacuation order and residents were forced to flee for their lives. Tragically, not everyone made it out. Two people lost their lives when flames overtook their car as they attempted to escape the inferno.
While most people evacuated quickly, famed big-wave surfer and SUP pioneer Laird Hamilton stayed behind to defend his home from the flames.
View this post on Instagram
Now I know why I learned at an early age not to mess with mother nature. There is too much ground to cover for the brave firefighters so many of the members of the community are doing their best. I want to thank my dear friend @elijah_a.b who stayed behind with me and fought the fire at my house and my neighbors. For now he helped me keep the home standing. Most importantly is that the humans are safe. First video is all around our home and the second video is what we saw as we were exiting PCH just north of Pepperdine.Aloha
A post shared by Laird Hamilton (@lairdhamiltonsurf) on Nov 10, 2018 at 11:23am PST
Now I know why I learned at an early age not to mess with mother nature. There is too much ground to cover for the brave firefighters so many of the members of the community are doing their best. I want to thank my dear friend @elijah_a.b who stayed behind with me and fought the fire at my house and my neighbors. For now he helped me keep the home standing. Most importantly is that the humans are safe. First video is all around our home and the second video is what we saw as we were exiting PCH just north of Pepperdine.Aloha
A post shared by Laird Hamilton (@lairdhamiltonsurf) on Nov 10, 2018 at 11:23am PST
According to Instagram posts, Hamilton and his friend, Elijah Allan-Blitz, were able to successfully battle back the flames and spare Laird’s home. According to a report in the New Yorker, the duo had used water from Hamilton’s pool to quell the flames.
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Last night I had the honor of getting to help my big brother @lairdhamiltonsurf protect his home from the fire. 10 years ago (almost to the day) my house burned down. It was such a privilege to help save this home that has adopted me and means so much to so many of us in this community. @gabbyreece @_reece_hamilton_ @brody_equine @kennacolbs I love you guys. Thanks for being my family. So much love and gratitude to everyone who is still out there fighting this fire
Last night I had the honor of getting to help my big brother @lairdhamiltonsurf protect his home from the fire. 10 years ago (almost to the day) my house burned down. It was such a privilege to help save this home that has adopted me and means so much to so many of us in this community. @gabbyreece @_reece_hamilton_ @brody_equine @kennacolbs I love you guys. Thanks for being my family. So much love and gratitude to everyone who is still out there fighting this fire
In addition to Laird, Malibu Mayor Rick Mullen also stayed behind to help battle the blaze that had engulfed his town. An 18-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Mullen described the fight as “intense” and the fire as the largest he had ever seen.
Not everyone who stayed behind was so fortunate. Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson "Zuma Jay" Wagner ended up in the Intensive Care Unit after he also tried to defend his home. While a city spokesperson said that Wagner was recovering, his home did not survive the blaze.
It was far from the only one. According to the latest tallies, some 370 structures have been destroyed and over 143 square miles scorched.
“There are people who are going to feel very relieved that their house made it and people who are devastated that their house didn’t make it,” Mayor Mullen told CNN. “We’re all going to come together because Malibu is a team, and team Malibu will ride again.”
Stay tuned for more updates on this story as we follow how this iconic community recovers from the devastating blaze. In the meantime, click here to support the victims of California’s wildfires.
Dreamy SUP session in Malibu.
Ladies, we have a proposition for you: why don’t you join us in Barbados for a dream SUP/yoga/wellness retreat March 2-9, 2019? Camp Bajan Blue, hosted by veteran instructors Casi Rynkowski and Anna Levesque, promises to be a bucket list event with 24/7 coaching, diverse paddling opportunities and luxurious accommodations mere feet from the beach. Still need convincing? Here are five reasons to sign up now!
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Who doesn’t love the Caribbean? Close to North America, beautiful translucent water and gorgeous white sand beaches. Barbados, in particular, is a paddling paradise, offering a variety of surf breaks, downwind runs and beautiful bays protected from the wind. We’ll be hanging with the crew from Paddle Barbados to keep us on the best possible conditions throughout the week. All you have to worry about is enjoying yourself as much as possible.
There’s nothing better than being able to walk to the beach from where you’re sleeping. Something about close proximity to the ocean just relaxes the mind. You’ll be staying at Crowsnest II, which is a luxurious beach-front house only 30 feet from the ocean that features 180-degree views of the longest beach on the island. Did we mention it has a rooftop pool? How good does that sound?
Your home for the week. Photo: Crowsnest II
Casi and Anna are both extremely experienced guides that have been working specifically with all levels of female paddlers for years. Anna is a world-traveling paddler and former member of the Canadian Freestyle Kayak Team who inspires her students to, “achieve more power, freedom and adventure in their lives.” Casi runs an adventure fitness company that specializes in, “exposing clients to the idea of fitness outside four walls,” and getting them “to step outside their comfort zones.”
Casi and Anna wanted to create a welcoming environment for beginner to intermediate female standup paddlers. Their coaching will not just focus on paddling but on the active lifestyle as a whole. Daily yoga, nutrition tips, snorkeling and injury prevention are just a few of things you can expect to enjoy and experience during the week.
FULL ACTIVITY LIST
Does it look like they’re having a good time? You could be too! Photo: Paddle Barbados
Camp Bajan Blue was flexibly designed so guests can enjoy the best of what Barbados has to offer. While each day will start with a gentle morning yoga class to get the body moving, the day’s plans will change based on the conditions and to ensure you’re having the best experience possible. Whether that’s a sunset catamaran cruise, snorkeling with sea turtles, catching your first SUP surfing waves or taking an adventure paddle, no two days will be the same and not one will be forgettable.
What are you waiting for? Sign up now!
San Clemente, Calif. – The Surfrider Foundation, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of clean water and healthy beaches, launched its nationwide United States and Oceans of America (USOA) campaign to rally Americans to join the bipartisan fight to protect our oceans and coasts for the future.
"We invite coastal defenders across the nation to join the movement to protect our oceans from urgent threats like plastic, offshore oil drilling and water pollution," said Surfrider's Marketing Director, Eddie Anaya. "The Surfrider Foundation's USOA campaign is a call to action for each of us to stand up and do our part to keep our precious coastal environment clean and healthy for this and future generations."
America's oceans cover nearly 4.5 million square miles, which is 23% greater than U.S. land area. More than 100 million people visit the nation's beaches annually. In fact, coastal recreation and tourism constitute 2.2 million jobs and contribute more than $115 billion to the nation's economy every year.
However, our oceans and coasts are increasingly at risk. Pollution at recreational beaches costs the U.S. economy more than $2.2 billion and results in 20,000 health advisories annually. At least 5.25 trillion plastic particles are currently floating at sea. This year, the Trump administration proposed opening up more than 90% of U.S. coastlines to offshore oil drilling, putting the nation's economies, jobs, communities and livelihoods at risk of a catastrophic oil spill.
"We have more water than land in the U.S. and it is up to each of us to protect it for the future," said Dr. Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation. "We all have a stake in taking action to defend the places where we surf, swim, play and live. Together, we are the United States and Oceans of America."
Musicians G-Love and Jack Johnson supporting USOA.
Notable USOA coastal defenders include world-renowned musicians Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, G. Love and Jack Johnson; world champion surfers Lisa Andersen and Carissa Moore; Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins; big wave surfing legends Greg Long and Kai Lenny; supermodel Carolyn Murphy; and speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Clarence Jones, who co-wrote the historic 'I Have a Dream' speech.
"I have seen the impacts of plastic pollution and sea level rise at my local breaks," said three-time surfing champion, Carissa Moore. "I believe we all need to become aware and do our part in taking care of our oceans. I'm proud to be a Surfrider Foundation coastal defender and believe in their mission to protect the oceans, waves and beaches."
The USOA campaign was developed in collaboration with the brand agency, Activista, and their award-winning creative directors, Roberto Fernandez and Paco Conde, who are committed to driving social, economic and cultural change through the power of ideas.
For more information, view Surfrider's USOA video narrated by Sal Masekela. Join Surfrider and take action at Surfrider.org.
About Surfrider Foundation
The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world's ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains more than one million supporters, activists and members, with over 170 volunteer-led chapters and student clubs in the U.S., and more than 500 victories protecting our coasts. Learn more at surfrider.org.
MSRP: $845 – BUY NOW
Convenient to store and simple to travel with, inflatable standup paddleboards are built for versatility. Of course, not all iSUPs are created equal and some are better equipped to handle a variety of paddling scenarios. The ISLE Explorer iSUP is a perfect example. This Swiss-Army-style board was built with functionality in mind and gives paddlers plenty of options to satisfy whatever their next paddling adventure calls for.
The explorer is lightweight to carry but still very durable. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
While you can choose between an 11- or 12-foot model, both options measure in at 32 inches wide and six inches thick. We immediately noticed the Explorer provides a stable platform that’s suitable for paddlers of all skill levels. Meanwhile, the three-fin setup offers a couple different options depending on the conditions for that day.
For those looking to get rowdy on the river, the two stubby side fins are enough to help with stability and tracking but still shallow enough to prevent you from getting bucked off by shallow rocks and branches. But when taking the Explorer into deeper waters, you can easily snap-in a larger center fin for improved tracking. While we loved how easy it was to pop the center fin in and out, a submerged log dislodged our fin, so we would only suggest using it in deeper water.
At six inches thick and 32 wide, the Explorer felt very stable. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Just as its name suggests, this board has several features that make it optimal for stroking into uncharted waters. Those looking to carry a load will appreciate the ample lash points including seven reinforced D-Rings per side and a larger D-Ring in the back for attaching your leash. And with bungee straps on both the tail and nose section, we found that this board handled even the heftiest loads with ease. While the Explorer feels solid in the water, the comfortably padded nose, center and tail handles made for hassle-free portages – even with a weighted-down board.
The bungee straps on the nose and tail give paddlers options for gear stowage. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Not to mention, ISLE’s proprietary Airtech Fusion uses a specialty machine to coat the drop stitch and bond the high-density PVC layer, thus eliminating the possibility of human gluing errors. This unique process results in the board being light enough to comfortably carry, but durable enough to withstand harsh environments like rivers.
So whether you’re a beginner just looking to cruise around on some local flatwater or someone ready to expand their range and do a multi-day expedition, ISLE’s latest inflatable offering will easily satisfy the explorer in all of us.
Inflatable Review: An Inflatable Balance Board Perfect for Paddlers.
Inflatable Review: Red Paddle Co. 11’3″ Sport.
Over the last couple of years my office has turned into a miniature gym. I have a pull-up bar, elastic bands, kettle ball, massage cane and a rotating cast of other workout accoutrements. When I get a quick break in the action of my day I try to fire off some pull-ups, squats, lunges, push-ups, stretching or whatever else my desk-bound body might be craving.
My latest addition to the gym is a Kumo Board. Kumo is an all-inflatable balance board set to keep you in tune for all your board-sport needs. If you buy the full package, you get the board, the roller and a disc, all inflatable and ready for whatever level of balance training you’re at. Sometimes I simply stand on the board at my standing desk; others times I’ll do pushups with the board on the disc and when I need a break, I’ll put the board on the roller and practice my footwork and imagine my next paddling session.
The fact that the Kumo products are all inflatable (and durably built) is what sets them apart. We’d argue that it gives you the most complete balance training around because not only do you get side-to-side training but also heel-to-toe, which is obviously useful for standup paddling, not to mention surfing, skating, snowboarding and more. Inflatable also means packable, so you can take your balance training wherever you go. And it won’t ding up your furniture—or your family members—because Kumo is soft, yet rigid, so anyone can have fun on it safely.
Whether you need to do physical therapy work, want to get a circuit workout in or just want to mess around with a fun toy, Kumo Board will help prepare you for your SUP life and beyond.
More useful gear for workouts.
Where is your dream vacation? If you’re a SUP surfer, we’re willing to bet Costa Rica might make the cut. With countless surf breaks, warm tropical weather and beautiful rainforests to explore, what more could you ask for? To fuel your daydreams, check out this fun session from the SUP-friendly spot of Nosara, Costa Rica.
Watch: More SUP surfing footage from Nosara.
Meet one of Costa Rica’s top young SUP surfers.
This story originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of SUP Magazine.
Words: Brittany Parker
Photos: Chantelle Melze
As I stood on my board above the indifferently named Rapid 12 on Africa's infamous Zambezi River, geysers of whitewater shot over the horizon line and pushed fear deep into my gut. The rapid's roar was so powerful that the sheer sound of it seemed to have as much to do with the carving of the canyon walls as the water itself. My heart raced and my voice shook as I asked, "Should we get out and scout this one?"
"Nah, just run it straight down the middle," said Andrew Kellett, a legend amongst watermen/woman in South Africa. Andrew led by example and took off down the tongue but when he hit the first wave his feet left the board and he plunged head-first into the turbulent water. That didn't help.
But still, I felt I had to go.
The Zambezi—famous for whitewater rafting and kayaking—had never seen standup paddleboarders, and we were attempting the first SUP descent on the section below Victoria Falls. First descents are nothing new: in this early stage of exploring the sport, surges of paddlers set out to attempt different first descents every year. To me, it felt like those first descents were losing their meaning. Does it really matter if you're the first to paddle rivers that have been paddled by kayakers and rafters alike? I wasn't sure.
But it wasn't the prospect of a first descent that drew me into this trip: it was the plight of Africa's rhinoceroses.
Every day in 2014 more than three rhinos were poached in Africa for their horns. These horns are shipped to places like Vietnam and China where they are superstitiously believed to have medicinal properties that can heal a wide range of conditions, from cancer to hangovers. Several species of rhinos are critically endangered with population numbers well below 100. Many of those poached rhinos leave calves behind that must fend for themselves.
Two African paddlers wanted to do something about it: Shane Raw, a legend amongst the world kayaking community and Bertrand van de Berg, a long-time kayaker turned South African SUP advocate. They organized a team to draw attention to the plight of the rhinos through a stunt: paddle the Class III-V Zambezi on standups, something that many paddlers thought was impossible. Doing the unthinkable tends to draw in an audience and we hoped to direct that audience to the bigger issue of poaching and those calves left behind.
They assembled a talented cast of paddlers from Africa, recruited myself and Nadia Almuti from the States and went about raising money for the rhino orphanage Care for Wild, which has made it their mission to protect and care for these traumatized calves.
And now that I was standing above a churning cauldron of African whitewater, things were feeling very real.
An intense shot of adrenaline coursed through my body before dropping into the new rapid. I did a few squats and took some deep breaths to slow my heart rate. Then I'd repeat my mantra, "Do it for the rhinos."
Coming over that horizon line was like coming face to face with a monster. My flight response kicked in but I'd purchased a one-way ticket; there was no turning back.
The first wave towered over me. I dug my blade into the water, trying to match the speed of the river, squatted low and braced for impact. The combination of those techniques pushed me up and over the first hit—I couldn't believe I was still standing. Then I met wave number two, a feisty lateral that came at me so quickly I didn't have time to line up. It flipped my board and sent me deep into the center of the current.
As I plunged under the turbulence of each crashing wave, the crippling adrenaline I felt right before the rapid was replaced with a euphoric energy. Although no one cleaned the rapid, we were facing our fears on the Zambezi. And we were doing it with purpose.
When I was a raft guide, I drooled over the big, juicy rapids of the Zambezi. I watched countless YouTube videos and imagined myself running the river, quietly promising myself that I'd go there someday. I never would have guessed I'd be doing it on a SUP.
When Nadia and I stepped off the plane in Livingstone, Zambia the reality of our adventure hit us with a wall of heat. The African sun beat down on the tarmac and made the air so thick it felt like we had to push our way through it. My jet-lagged haze kept me from communicating coherently to immigration officials and our shuttle driver. I pressed my forehead against the window of the cab, half listening to the driver and half focused on what was happening outside. Baboons were running through the streets picking up scraps and warthogs foraged through the front yards of houses and fancy hotels. A smile crept onto my face through the fatigue.
Paul Teasdale, local Zimbabwean and founder of outdoor lifestyle brand Raw Adrenaline, and his two extremely friendly pit bulls greeted us at the gate of his home where we'd be staying for the next week. Paul gave us the run through of the house, introducing us first to his new friend Basil, a leaf nosed bat as big as my forearm that hung sleeping outside of Paul's office. He warned us to always keep doors to the outside latched and locked. "Baboons are often harmless but if you walk in on one in a room it will feel cornered and tear you to shreds," he said. "Also, there's a camel spider that lives here, he's about the size of your palm and looks frightening but don't kill him. He's harmless and keeps away a lot of the pests. Alright, get your swimsuits on. Let's go!"
I said goodbye to any chance of a nap and hopped into his 2002 Mazda Drifter, an old but reliable beater with a decal of a hyena and the word Suntwe stuck to the hood. I asked Paul what the word meant.
"Suntwe is the Tonga word for hyena," he said. "As an African bush survivalist I earned the nickname because hyenas are cunning survivalists themselves. As the saying goes, a hyena doesn't always hunt but a hyena always eats. That, and my high pitched laughs sounds similar to that of a hyena." He chuckled. The nickname was fitting.
We stopped at the local mart and filled up our cooler with a six-pack of Zambezi Lagers and headed to Paul's favorite soaking pool on the beer's namesake river. The sleepiness bounced out of me as Suntwe crawled up and out of the potholes and ruts. The calm and vast Zambezi, the river I'd dreamed of years ago, emerged from the horizon. It flowed slowly, as if in no rush to meet the cliff walls of the Batoka Gorge.
The warm water rushed over my toes as Nadia and I shuffled across the slick basalt to a pool that Paul assured us was safe from crocodiles. The word alone made it hard to relax, and I constantly looked over my shoulder for any sign of movement in the depths around us. But with a landscape straight out of "The Lion King" and the African sunset reflecting off the water, I quickly forgot all about the large reptiles.
We only had seven days to complete our mission: standup paddle Rapids 1–24 below Victoria Falls on the Zambezi. Once our African contingent—Andrew, Bertrand, Shane, Philip Claassens and Leon Pieters—arrived, it was game on. All were highly experienced paddlers, intimate with the Zambezi's big water. Now it was time to test that knowledge on SUPs.
As we figured out how to cram eight paddlers and all their gear into the tiny Mazda the excitement coming from the guys was evident. To them, the Zambezi was a close friend. For Nadia and I it was like meeting a childhood idol for the first time. The combination of fear and excitement was so intense I felt like I was going to vomit.
The Batoka Gorge cuts across the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in a zig-zag manner like a lightning bolt carved into the earth. Scaling its craggy walls is the only way to access Rapids 1–24. With the steep canyon walls and blistering heat it's common practice to hire local porters to carry gear in and out of the gorge. Many families in Victoria Falls and surrounding villages depend on this as their main source of income and the paddling community is a huge component to the economy here.
It felt against my nature to have someone carry my board for me, but once we began our descent, I couldn't imagine carrying my own board. The temperature was a punishing 110 degrees and my feet often slipped out on the loose rocks blanketing the steep trail. The trip wasn't going to be solely a test of our paddling skills but also of our personal fitness and stamina.
The sight of the river was a welcome oasis. I ran to the water's edge and filled my empty water bottle with the sweet nectar of the Zambezi.
"We're going to run Rapids 18–24," Paul told us to start our safety talk. "Below 19 there's a big crocodile that lives there so come together and make sure you're presenting a large entity. Below 21 there's another big crocodile. Other than that there's nothing to worry about."
He seemed paradoxically upbeat. I always thought crocodiles would be a deal-breaker for me. I remembered pacing back and forth in my living room, talking to Paul via Skype, him reassuring me crocs were not a concern. I'd purchased my ticket on that information. And there I was, being told where the crocs live and how to steer clear of them. The fear was like a solid object lodged in my throat. I clipped my leash to my lifejacket, jumped on my board and swallowed it.
It's usually comforting when rapids finish in a pool of calm water, but I'd just learned that pools were crocodile territory. As we worked our way down the river, the sense of urgency to get back on my board after each fall was acute. Nadia and I adhered to Paul's advice and stayed as close together as possible without knocking each other into the water.
Paul saw our fear and reassured us that crocs never hang out at the base of the rapids. The small bumps on a crocodile's body can detect the tiniest vibrations from the surrounding waters. It would be nearly impossible for them to differentiate between the vibrations produced by the rapids and those of their prey. This little biological fact was surprisingly comforting. The fear of the crocodiles disappeared after an hour or two and was replaced with a healthy and rational awareness.
We completed our day's run and the porters met us at the river's edge, eager to grab our boards, deflate and make their way up the canyon walls to call it a day. It may have been the mellowest section of the river but stoke-filled high-fives were passed around as we celebrated the start of our mission. We had completed seven rapids and had 17 more to go.
We hiked up in the glow of the African sunset. As Nadia climbed up the makeshift tree-limb ladder ahead of me, I stopped to take in my surroundings, breathing in the buzz of the cicadas and give thanks to the Zambezi for welcoming us into its wild water.
The beat and pace of Zimbabwe felt like the steady pulse of Mother Nature herself. Life there is thirsty but full of life, born from resilience and the need to survive. Early in the morning baboons would terrorize the dogs from their perches on our host's roof. Herds of elephants were a regular cause for traffic jams as they roamed wild and free throughout the plains. Sitting on the veranda at night, the crew would often stop mid-conversation to listen to the hyenas howl into the inky blackness. It was hard to believe it was standard living for the Zimbabweans. It felt like a different world but more like the world humans were intended to live in, a world where animals and humans live their lives together, and ours were no more important than the animals around us.
But the natural world of Africa wasn't always friendly. Hiking in and out of the gorge in the oppressive heat eventually took its toll on us. Halfway down one of our hikes, Nadia's face got beet red and her pace began to slow. Any sturdy tree became an opportunity to rest and wait for the dizziness to stop. Then her arms began to cramp. Paul, having dealt with heat stroke on many occasions with past clients, handed Nadia the rest of his water and massaged her arms until she was able to wiggle her fingers again. Then, halfway into our paddle, my feet began to seize and Paul followed the same protocol. After that we always drank electrolytes first thing in the morning and brought extra with us. The people of Africa say "Africa is a tough teacher," and they're right.
Everything built up to our last day. That morning was filled with a nervous energy. What had been a hike filled with laughter and happy chats over the days prior was now quiet and solemn. The group seemed to move slower than before, taking space to process prospect ahead of us. For me, it was an attempt to postpone the moment we would be paddling the biggest section of the Zambezi, Rapids 1-10.
While getting our boards ready I saw Nadia talking to our drone pilot with a concerned look on her face. I asked her what was wrong and immediately regretted it. She told me that, "a couple years ago a girl fell out of a raft at the top of Rapid 5. She went into one of the holes and her body resurfaced five days later."
The information sent me into a downward spiral of fear and anxiety. Nadia walked, head down, to sit alone and process this information. I slunk away, wedged myself between some rocks, and let the fear take over as salty tears burned my cheeks. The rest of the team had put their boards on the water but I felt glued to the shore with indecision. Nadia urged me to join the rest of the team. Andrew, sensing the confidence draining from the crew, had us circle up and said, "Today is about us. Our safety is our priority and our strength as a team will make the difference between success and failure. Today is not about sponsors or social media expectations. It's about our ability to use our knowledge and experience to achieve something that has never been attempted before. We aren't just anybody taking on this challenge; collectively we have decades of experience on rivers around the world. We have to believe in our ability and trust and support each other's decisions. Today is about us."
His words gave our crew the strength we needed to get on the water. The support from my peers turned that fear into fire as I paddled hard and fast into the thundering rapid ahead of me. Soaking wet from swimming at the bottom, I climbed on my board after the rapid feeling like I just conquered Everest. Andrew paddled up to me and gave me a high-five—a tip of the hat in acknowledgment of how challenging he knew it was to push through my fear.
Though I felt confident in that moment, I also realized that some of the rapids ahead had potential consequences that I couldn't justify. I would sit out from running Rapids 4-10. In the end it was a simple decision. I knew I wasn't ready. Nadia, as spirited as she is, made her decision with a bit more reluctance but eventually deflated her board and joined me in the raft.
Seeing the force of the whitewater squeezing between the canyon walls, I knew I'd made the right decision. As the remaining paddlers made their way down the river, each one came out at the bottom unscathed. There were no fist pumps thrown at the finish, no bragging or boasting. This wasn't about conquering the Zambezi. It was about surviving, about testing boundaries both personal and within the sport of whitewater SUP while bringing attention to something much larger than ourselves.
Our descent of the Zambezi raised thousands of dollars for Care for Wild and brought awareness to the challenges that rhinos face across Africa. I'd started the journey to help these magnificent creatures but ended up learning a lot about myself in the process. I learned how to tell the difference between rational and irrational fear, that my experiences are invaluable and that the journey only really begins once you surrender all expectations. Africa grabbed me. It wrapped me in its wild spirit and allowed me no choice but to embrace it fully. I understood then why Africa is referred to as 'The Mother.' For humans, rhinos and all the other animals living there too.
For more information on the Standup 4 Rhinos project or to donate, go to Standup4rhinos.org.
SUP Adventure on the Edge of Africa.
Watch: Brittany Parker SUP Surfing on a Whitewater Wave.
When standup paddling burst onto the surf scene over a decade ago, it allowed paddlers to catch more waves and get longer rides. Nowadays, SUP foiling seems to be taking over as the craft that allows for maximum wave riding time. In this clip, paddlers riding SUP foils enjoy seemingly endless rides at an undisclosed break in Australia. While the waves are fairly small, the paddlers maintain solid speed thanks to the foils and ride some of them for nearly a kilometer.
Watch: SUP foiling montage.
What’s the Deal with SUP Foiling?
Western Australia offers countless options for those paddlers seeking big and burly waves. Paddlers like Kai Bates, Benoit Carpenter, Wesley Fry, Justin Holland, Rick and Jack Jacko and Dave Muir. This crew sought out swell up and down the coastline and from the looks of things, they found what they were looking for. Check out the highlights from their trip in this radical edit of elite SUP surfing.
Watch: SUP Surfing in Indonesia with Kai Bates
Watch: Kai Bates SUP surfs a wave for nearly a mile.
Watch: More SUP surfing gold from Kai Bates.
Picking out your first paddleboard can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. The key is understanding the attributes of SUP board design that will help you achieve your goals on the water.
The bells and whistles aren't necessarily going to make you a better paddler. Instead, focus on what's practical. To help you hone in on the best setup for you, here are a few tips to consider when buying your first SUP.
Learning how to SUP is simple enough, but not if you're taking plunges every time you go for a stroke. A stable board makes it easier to focus on paddling without worrying about falling in, which will allow you to progress faster and have more fun doing it. Size equals stability with SUP design, so you'll want something fairly large for your first board.
Bigger is better for beginners. Photo: Black-Schmidt
For the best beginner experience in flatwater and surf, look for a length between 9'6" and 11' and a width in the range of 28" to 32". Also important to consider is volume, a factor oft overlooked by beginners. For an average-sized paddler starting out, a safe and stable volume will be somewhere in the realm of 220 liters to 260 liters.
There's no getting around it: beginners are hard on standup paddleboards. Don't underestimate the amount of wear and tear you'll acquire just learning to handle your board—it's all too easy to knick the nose or tail on a curb, crack a rail while unloading or worse, plow into a fellow paddler in the surf zone.
Take this into consideration when considering your first SUP purchase and look for something with a thick glass job, reinforced rails and a reputation for ruggedness. It'll save you money on ding repair in the end.
Where will you be paddling your SUP? On flatwater? In surf? Maybe the river? Different disciplines call for different designs, and what works best in one won't necessarily work well in another. When purchasing your first SUP, make sure you have clear expectations about where you'll be using it and communicate your needs to the seller.
Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
For flatwater, a board with less rocker in the 10' to 12' range is most adequate. In surf, you'll want more rocker in the nose and a length between 9' and 11'. For the river, your best bet is to tack on some added width for increased stability and go with an inflatable SUP, as they're more durable when bumping into rocks and riverbeds. A quick Google search for SUPs in your discipline will help you narrow in on the right design.
For paddlers who haven't achieved intermediate to elite skill level, a top-of-the-line, high-priced paddleboard is not going to magically increase performance. Don't be discouraged by the price of cutting-edge designs, chances are you don't need it yet anyway. Entry-level standup paddleboards are available at most price points, and often times the less expensive options are more than adequate to get you started. Save some sheckles for a good paddle and focus more on the design, size, shape and discipline when picking out your first SUP.
How much money to spend on a new board.
More tips for buying a new SUP.
As the late August sun began to sink below the horizon and a wide smile crept across his sun-drenched face, 48-year-old Jason Gorski stood in the sand and proudly pointed to the surf break he had called home for over three decades.
"No man, everything I need is right here!"
In retrospect, it was unnecessary to ask the man known as J-Bird if he'd rather live next to an ocean. I already knew that answer. The diehard surfer and paddler had spent his entire life playing in the freshwater and possessed an unrivaled passion for his hometown waves.
"I can't live more than a few minutes from the water," said Gorski. "I left to college, which was only an hour away, but I had to move back."
Missing out on swell was a price too high for a man who has an infectious stoke for the water. But it isn't a world-famous wave in California or Hawaii that had claimed his soul, J-Bird was talking about Muskegon, Michigan.
J-Bird – he’ll fix your board, make a killer set of cabinets or just shower you with stoke.
As the largest city on Lake Michigan's eastern shoreline, Muskegon boasts a rich history of industrial manufacturing and a wild rumor that its downtown was built with stolen Confederate gold. But it is Muskegon's prime location that has earned it the distinction as being one of America’s most unlikely surf destinations. Centrally located on the lakeshore, the area can pick up wind swell from several different directions, primarily in the fall and winter, which equates to a precious 30 to 40 days of surf each year.
"People will say, 'You can't surf in Michigan,'" said Gorski. "They should have told me that when I was 14, because that's when I started riding waves!"
The inaugural Great Lakes Surf Festival was less than 24 hours away and J-bird worked with a crew of volunteers to prepare for the big day, figuring out how to display a 50-foot surfboard using some lumber, screws and ingenuity.
The first-year event had been spearheaded by local waterman Joe Bidawid. The father of two was a former professional windsurfer and a pioneer in bringing both kiteboarding and SUP to the Great Lakes area. Now he was looking to cement his area's surf culture for future generations, his two young boys being a large source of inspiration. Bidawid sees his Midwestern surf community as a modern-day throwback to the laidback surf culture that captured people's hearts and imaginations in Bruce Brown's legendary 1966 film, Endless Summer.
"When I watch that movie, I think that we have that vibe here," said Bidawid. "We have something that is special."
It's a lofty claim for a place that doesn't have an ocean within a thousand miles of it. But as I met more local paddlers and surfers, I began to get a sense for what he was talking about.
Folks like Joe and J-Bird were not merely outliers, but rather core members of a growing community of paddlers, surfers and kiteboarders, all frothing for their next chance to get on the water. The conditions they endure to get these freshwater waves that demonstrates just how dedicated they are. While mid-winter air temperatures routinely drop into the single digits, it's only the lake freezing over during the coldest months that prevents them from surfing year-round.
Chris Matteson has spent 30 years chasing waves and stoke. It’s been a successful journey.
For a warm-blooded Californian, just the thought of paddling out in those conditions made me shiver. But for these freshwater rippers, the thrill of wave riding was too much to let icy water stop them. This was especially the case in the early 1980s, when most of these diehard watermen began surfing as teenagers and used any means necessary to keep the stoke alive.
"The stoke comes from the desire to do it," said 51-year-old Chris Matteson. "Because we wanted to [surf] so good, we did some crazy stuff to get into that cold water. Like putting on wool socks with plastic bags over it and old Converse tennis shoes on our feet just so we could go out into the cold water and have fun."
The teenage years were much the same for Marc Hoksema, one of the area's most well-respected watermen. Today the 48-year-old water photographer enjoys the comforts a six-mil wetsuit and a lithium heated vest, but his early years of surfing in the middle of winter involved wearing a two-piece, three-millimeter wetsuit, bolstered by a pair of long underwear made from cotton.
"What good was that doing me?" Hoksema laughed. "I had no idea. I was getting hypothermic and I didn't even know what hypothermia was, I'd be coming in and everything was undulating."
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…Marc Hoksema flying high above the lake on his kiteboard.
With the late summer sun warming my face and the balmy Lake Michigan water lapping at my feet, I tried to imagine the sub-freezing conditions they spoke of. Carrying my board across snow instead of sand, jumping into water strewn with icebergs as the howling 20- to 30-knot winds whip up the ultimate prize: freshwater waves.
You don't have to be dodging icebergs and growing ice beards to find stoke on the water in Muskegon, but for the wave-hungry crew of J-Bird, Chris, Marc and Joe, they had each spent over 30 years chasing the freshwater surf in all seasons, ice water be damned. Nowadays, they were embracing their opportunity to share their stoke with others.
"You get excited to tell people about it because there is that unbelievable aspect to it," said Matteson. "Most people don't perceive Michigan as a surf destination."
He's not wrong. Even among those living in the area, surfing's role as a viable recreational activity is just beginning to catch on. Unlike surfing's typical hotbeds on the left and right coasts, Michigan's surf culture is still in its infancy and that's one of the primary factors that drove Bidawid to create the Great Lakes Surf Festival.
Joe Bidiwad and his wife Tammy made the Great Lakes Surf Festival a success and spread the Michigan aloha vibes to the community.
"There is an opportunity to cement the rich [surf] history that we have and showcase that to the general population in the Great Lakes," said Bidawid. "We were the first generation at the Great Lakes, but we want to empower that next generation."
Being the first generation of local surfers does come with its perks. Uncrowded lineups, an untainted love for surfing and an inclusive vibe that is rare in 2018. As much as they want to spread the word to others, they realize it's a hidden gem they have the privilege of enjoying.
Chris and Jason sharing the stoke both on and off the water.
The fog that hung low over Pere Marquette Beach did little to dampen the mood when the Great Lakes Surf Festival kicked off on Saturday morning. The spacious shoreline was already buzzing with eager attendees that spent the past night camping on the beach.
With an eclectic mix of local vendors, live music and smorgasbord of free classes and lessons, it didn't take long for the laidback beach vibes to wash over us. The attitude towards surfing in this part of the country was different: it wasn't jaded or callous and being a clueless beginner wasn't going to get you featured on Instagram's @Kook_of_the_Day. Instead, the Great Lakes Surf Festival attendees seemed to all be in pursuit of a common feeling, the same one that Mike Hynson and Robert August pursued around the world in the Endless Summer.
Chris and J-Bird were renting standup paddleboards by the lakeshore and eagerly watching first-time surfers and paddlers learning the basics of their favorite sport. The waves were flat, which is pretty normal for the summer, but a boat was creating small waves so that the participants could get a small taste of that magical feeling that only a surfer knows.
The lifelong surfers looked as though they were trying to will the first-timers into the one-foot bumps. Hoping a single ride might spark the same stoke that has filled both of their lives.
"I wanted there to be waves so everyone could see what a little gem this place really is," said Gorski. "But as you can see, everyone is stoked."
Despite the tiny waves, we watched as the new surfers were laughing, smiling and high-fiving. It probably didn't hurt that their instructor was a local surf pioneer, Larry Larsen, who bought his first surfboard in 1966 and has been surfing in Lake Michigan for over 50 years. And with more than 150 people signing up for the surf lessons, local interest in the sport is clearly growing.
As Larsen and Bidawid continued to convert new Midwestern watermen, I signed up for the Pro-Am SUP race, which would run as a five-mile downwind run later that afternoon. For myself, it represented an opportunity to check off two firsts from my list. My first-ever race and downwinder.
Thankfully, the race was not a high-pressure affair. Here on the Third Coast, as it's called in these parts, the atmosphere was relaxed as we shuttled to the start line in a board-stuffed sprinter van. I chatted with a fellow racer who also happened to be from California. He eagerly told me about his experience in Michigan the previous year when he happened to score great surf on one of those magical fall days in Muskegon.
Mik DeBoef is the guy you want to know if you paddle Lake Michigan. Ubiquitous in his huge Spinter van towing a bevy of boards, the SUP industry rep is probably responsible for getting more quality paddling equipment into the hands of locals than anybody else. As our dedicated fixer for the trip, DeBoef was clutch in introducing us to the locals as well as pointing out the paddling points of interest, such as the Big Red lighthouse in Holland.
"When I got back to California, my buddies told me that I missed a great swell at Malibu. Then I showed them a picture of Muskegon's surf and told them that they were the ones that missed out."
At this point, I desperately wanted to experience what everyone kept telling me about. Those fabled freshwater waves that had fostered a surf culture with so much passion and excitement. I didn't have to wait long.
After the short drive, we carried our boards and paddles down a steep flight of stairs to the sandy beach below. A gust grabbed my board as my feet sunk into the sand and whitecaps danced out to the horizon. Conditions for the downwinder looked pristine. While the waves at the shoreline may have been lacking, the waist-to-shoulder high bumps offshore was all the energy we would require.
I was finally about to be surfing across Lake Michigan.
After they drew a line in the sand to represent the start, we were off and into the water. Glad to have not stumbled off the start, I took a few strong strokes and quickly aimed the bow of my board parallel to the coastline. After settling into a rhythm, I found myself in a fun battle with a fellow racer, Will Faison, who I later learned was also running his first downwinder.
Before long, I stroked into my virgin downwind bump and was fired up to be gliding across the lake. The stoke was only quelled once I realized Will and I were battling for the final spot on the podium. We jockeyed back and forth for nearly 45 minutes, a memorable way to get my first taste of surfing and racing on Lake Michigan.
In the final 50 meters, we were in a dead heat. Our boards rubbed, I fumbled my leash detachment and watched the final podium spot slip away. The defeat stung but was quickly overshadowed by the realization that Lake Michigan was much more than a surf destination, but also a downwind haven.
"We call ourselves the Bump Brothers and we're chasing downwinders on Lake Michigan all the time," said the Men's Pro-Am champion, Matt Hasenrich. "It's an adventure to chase [bumps] when you live in the Midwest because you are always going with what the wind gives you."
Sam Griffen took the Women’s victory in the Pro-Am SUP Race at the Great Lakes Surf Festival. She also paddled with us in the Frankfort area, where she helped us find Petoskey stones. These fossilized colonial coral stones showcase the corals that used to live in warm shallow seas that covered Michigan about 350 million years ago
On that particular day, the wind was at our backs and my eyes were opened to Lake Michigan's possibilities. Not just in the waves that the diehards pursued during all seasons, but as a pristine destination for all paddling.
"The reason I live here is that my life is a 10-mile downwind run from Muskegon to my home in Grand Haven," Bidawid told me as the festival was wrapping up. "I do it on a kite, a SUP and sometimes I'll just surf and end up miles down the beach. It's really accessible, stunning scenery and I want to welcome anyone who hears about this and is curious about the scene here."
It's a goal that Bidawid and countless other Muskegon surfers have been pursuing for years and word is beginning to spread.
The following day, we bid farewell to Muskegon's diehard surf culture and drove about two hours north to the quaint town of Frankfort. The surfing bug had taken longer to spread up the coastline, with many people still unaware about the Michigan surf culture, but that was beginning to change.
61-year-old Jim Rogers operates the Chimney Corners resort. Nestled on the shoreline of Crystal Lake, the stunning 400-acre property has been open since 1935 and features a historic lodge and old-fashioned cottages shaded by lush forest. It's an idyllic setting.
With Michigan winters essentially shutting down his resort, he spent time down in Florida and always surfed there. But once back home in northern Michigan, surfing never even crossed his mind.
"I'd been surfing my whole life and it never dawned on me that in my backyard I could surf Lake Michigan," said Rogers.
Jim Rogers has found that SUP is a great way to enjoy the water, including beautiful Crystal Lake.
He wasn't alone. As we staged our boards along the shoreline on Sunday evening for a sunset paddle with Rogers, a few ladies in the midst of a happy hour session inquired about our boards.
"A paddleboard?" Barb exclaimed quizzically after learning the name of our giant crafts. "I thought those were just for school teachers."
After proving we wouldn't fall off our giant surfboards, we paddled past picturesque lake homes and watched as the sun slunk below the tree tops. Rogers talked about the different pace of life in these parts of Michigan, how long-time residents who lived in the area were very in tune with the weather and the seasons, from the migrations of wildlife to brilliant fall colors.
"If you are waiting for the wind to blow or the waves to be right, you'd wait forever," said Rogers. "For me, SUP has filled a huge void for watersports."
We met up with Chris Ferrara and his son, Tristan, on a search for a sunken ship south of Frankfort. Of course, Mik lead the charge, both above and below the surface.
Of course, Rogers eventually caught onto surfing in the Great Lakes. After sitting on the beach and watching guys catch waves one day, he mustered up the courage to ask to borrow a board and paddled out in blue jeans.
He knew surfing had been around in the Frankfort area during the 1960s, as he had seen old boards sitting in the rafters of local barns. But for some reason, the sport seemed to die out and go away, until about 10 years ago when a surf revival struck Frankfort. Rogers recalled watching in amazement as several local kids borrowed boards and tried surfing for the first time. He knew he witnessed something special.
"I felt like I saw surfing beginning all over again," said Rogers. "I'll never forget that, it was a great day."
The reason for the sudden revival?
Rogers believes the X-Games, Unsalted (a 2005 film about Great Lakes surfing), and snowboarding all played a part in bringing it back. However, there was different influence at play.
"I credit those guys from Muskegon, South Haven and Grand Haven for getting it going," said Rogers. "They started bringing boards and would travel up and down here."
After being embedded in the local Muskegon surf culture for the past few days, his admission did not surprise me. People like Joe, J-Bird and Chris have a passion for surfing that is as contagious as it is hardcore. But it's not just about surfing, it's also a sense of pride for their community and the good vibe that comes with it.
The sunsets are not bad either. Heading out into a golden hour paddle by Muskegon harbor.
It may not be for everyone, but I was left with the impression that there is something very unique and welcoming about Michigan's paddling culture. At its best, it is a secret oasis of freshwater waves, pristine downwinders and incredible seasonal paddling. At its worst, it can be brutally cold and downright scary.
Though perhaps it's that toughness that weeds out negative aspects of surfing culture that many of us would rather live without: localism, egos, and aggression. These guys aren't paddling because it'll make them one of the cool kids or to stoke their egos, they paddle because they love the sport. It's honest, pure and among those I had the pleasure of meeting, the stoke was as genuine as I have ever encountered.
"It just seems like the right place for me," J-Bird had told me a few days before. "And really, people don't understand that we have all this goodness, right in the heart of the United States."
I finally did.
SUP America Tour: Holland, Michigan.
Good Story Paddle & Surf is not your typical board company. Tucked in the wooded hills of the historic maritime town of Port Townsend, Washington, founder Matthew Nienow constructs and array of wooden SUPs by hand in his shop. The business is not built for the short-term: prototype boards take anywhere between 60 and 100 hours to build and, once constructed, they’re intended to last 20-plus years. I raced one of Nienow’s wooden creations, a 17-foot prototype he later dubbed The Hunter, in the Seventy48 this summer (look for a digital feature on the experience in November).
I spoke with Nienow to talk roots, learning and what goes into making a Good Story board.
You have a canoe background, right?
I grew up in the Seattle area but my folks are from the Midwest. At ten years old I went to Camp Manito-Wish (a summer camp in Wisconsin) and that camp has a lot of traditional stuff but their biggest highlight is their wilderness tripping programs. They get up to almost two months and they’re self-supported expeditions. As a kid from 10-15, I did them, starting at three days long and building up until a 33-day trip in northern Saskatchewan. Then I worked at the camp for a couple years. I did a 55-day staff instructors course through northern Canada, ending up in Hudson Bay. The last one I led was a 45-day canoe expedition.
Wow, that’s serious. How did you get into boat building?
In junior year of college I got disillusioned with academics and took a canoe building course with a bunch of 60-year old men. A decade later, I went to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock. From there I was building a handful of boats, trying to start my shop.
Good Story boards are each unique pieces of art. Photo courtesy Good Story
I happened into paddleboarding accidentally. I thought SUP would be better for taking my kids out on the water. I built my first one about seven years ago and that was my first paddling on a standup. I love canoeing, so the single blade made a lot of sense to me. I got hooked pretty quick.
I had some some distractions in between, taught at a high-school for a couple years, including canoe building but mostly teaching English classes. I went full time on board building three years ago. I still feel like I'm starting every day new.
How long does it take you to make a board?
Coming from a boat-building background, I did a lot of work by hand at first. A couple years ago, I taught myself computer design with a naval architect. Now I make the exact design online then get (the ribs) cut on a CNC machine. Basically, I cut myself a kit so I can do the same thing over and over with simplicity. It’s not like a traditional board, you’re basically putting panels over the (CNC-cut supports). Once you have the panels on, you shape it a lot like other boards We do our glassing with epoxy and then traditional spar varnish so the epoxy doesn't start breaking down. They can tolerate a lot more abuse than a standard board.
Prototypes can take 60-100 hours but once I've done it I'm usually able to put it into a process similar to other builds and it becomes a 40-50 hour process per board. Then we try to do several at a time.
A board about to get deck and base panels. Photo courtesy Good Story
For the most part, wood is where my heart is. You take this living element and give it a second life after it's been harvested. The other part is working in durability, the longevity of a project. We work primarily with Paulownia. Most of it is grown in China but I get all our stuff from the Southeast US and I'm working on planting our own trees. The idea is that we'd eventually be doing as much as we could locally. We’re really focusing more and more on sustainability. We already have Level One certification with Sustainable Surf and I'm working on bio resins (for glassing) to see how they hold up versus petroleum based (ones).
I also found out that canoeing or standup paddling on a wooden craft doubled the experience. You're more in congruence with nature itself and you're not distracted by anything. I want to make something durable enough that will last 20 years, if not longer.
Learn about Good Story.
What’s the Seventy48?
Interviews by Rebecca Parsons
Surfing is officially on the roster for the 2020 Olympics, which leads us to wonder: Will SUP ever be added to the games? Should it be? And if it makes the cut, will it feature flatwater racing, surf racing, SUP surfing, river runs, foiling, or all of the above? We posed these very questions to seven of the top paddlers in the sport. Here's what they had to say. –RP
I would love to see SUP in the Olympics. I feel that surfing being added to the Olympics was a mistake—I love surfing with all my heart but it's hard to judge it as well as find a good location. People say the solution to this is a wave pool. That's great, but I think it gets boring watching someone surf the same wave over and over.
Jade Howson on her way to winning the Women’s Pro Junior Technical Race at #PPG2018. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
As for paddling, if it were in the Olympics it would be much more exciting. I like to compare it to swimming—people love swimming! It's so exciting to watch because it has a clear start and finish. Paddling is the same way and you don't need waves to paddle (though it make things more fun and interesting!). I think paddling would fit right in at the Olympics.
I'd love to see SUP in the Olympics! Whether it's sprint racing, distance or surfing, I'd love to have a shot!
I don’t think SUP surfing will be in the Olympics anytime soon. I can see SUP sprints or technical racing getting the nod before SUP surfing. Part of me wants SUP surfing to be an Olympic sport because I would love an opportunity to compete at such a prestigious and iconic event, but I don’t think the sport is quite there yet. There is enough talent in SUP surfing for an event of that caliber, but I don’t think it should go to the Olympics until there is a reliable, professional competition series for SUP athletes.
There have been a few organizations putting on SUP surf series, but until there is a reliable contest schedule and professionally organized events, I don’t think it makes sense to have SUP surfing in the Olympics. I hope the discussion of SUP surfing being included in the Olympics draws more attention to the sport and gains more support for SUP athletes.
I believe that SUP, given a couple years, will be put into the Olympics. Surfing has close ties with SUP and with the support of the ISA, I do believe there is a strong chance that SUP will follow soon after.
Tyler Bashor felt the thrill of victory at #PPG20188, will Olympics be next? Photo: Christian Jung
I think SUP should be added to the Olympics because it could have positive impacts on athletes, brands and the SUP community as a whole by bringing a worldwide exposure to the sport. Going to the Olympics has always been a dream of mine and I believe it is that way for many young athletes.
I do think SUP will be added to the Olympics eventually. I believe the flatwater and ocean racing is a great candidate for an Olympic event; I don’t see what harm it would cause. My M.O. is whitewater paddling, so I couldn’t see myself being interested in competing in that sort of event.
I think SUP is a natural progression into the Olympics only because the sprint canoe/kayak has been in there for years—this is just another adaptation of that so it's a pretty easy application. Surf racing, however, may take a little longer, just for the general people to understand.
With surfing being added to the Olympics, there is a yin and yang for the chances of SUP. Being that SUP may be seen as a paddle sport and/or a surf sport, there may be some people saying there are already multiple paddle sports as well as a surf sport. On the contrary, many may believe that SUP is a solution to bring together disciplines of paddle and surf sport.
Zane Schweitzer (white) hopes to get a chance to compete on the world’s biggest stage. Photo courtesy of APP
I believe SUP should be added to the Olympics because we are able to perform in a broad range of conditions and adapt in many different bodies of water, as well as being something that every country can partake in as a relatable and accessible sport. To compete on a platform such as the Olympics has always been a dream–it would be an honor to represent my family and home.
The Florida county that pioneered Special Olympics SUP events.
Mother Nature does not always cooperate.
Due to a lack of significant swell during the 2018 Red Bull Heavy Water weather window (October 15 – November 2), this year’s highly-anticipated SUP race in San Francisco has been called off.
Due to unfavorable swell conditions, Red Bull Heavy Water has been postponed until 2019. We thank everyone involved for their patience and understanding. We look forward to bringing the world's best male and female SUP athletes back to San Francisco in 2019 where they will battle a 12km course from Aquatic Park under the iconic Golden Gate bridge concluding with a surf battle and finish at Ocean Beach.
The race only will run if the waves are at least 10 feet or bigger, a size the ocean was unable to produce during the end of October. With the race course being run in reverse of the previous two years and women being invited to participate for the first time, anticipation levels were at an all-time high. Nevertheless, the swell did not cooperate and left race organizers with little choice but to call it off.
Photos from last year’s race.
Highlight reel of the wild action in 2017.
It’s no secret that downwinding on a foil is an amazing experience. Over the last couple of years, its popularity continues to increase as more people have gotten hooked. And considering that many people claim it’s akin to flying on water, can we really be surprised? To see what we’re talking about, check out this recent example of foiling fun.
How to convert an old SUP into a SUP foil.
Watch: SUP Foiling in the Dead Sea
San Diego was voted by our readers as the winner of the 2018 Paddle Town Battle.
San Diego, California might just be one of the most attractive SUP destinations on earth. Home to more than a seemingly endless summer, miles of public beaches and of course, the California burrito, America's Finest City hosts a smattering of SUP locations with something on offer for every standup paddling discipline and skill level.
La Jolla Cove does not disappoint. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
There's a thriving SUP community to boot, with local paddling groups and outfitters standing by to help make your San Diego SUP dream trip a reality. Here are a few San Diego paddling hubs to keep in mind while making travel arrangements this winter.
San Diego SUP surfing touts too many spots to list here, with uncrowded breaks spotting the coast from Imperial Beach to Carlsbad. But if you're new to town or new to SUP surfing, one surefire bet for gentle waves and a SUP-friendly lineup sits at Tourmaline Surf Park in Northern Pacific Beach.
San Diego is home to countless surf breaks. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
"Tourmo," as the locals call it, is the city's go-to training ground for longboarding and SUP surfing, featuring mild surf and a dense but hospitable crowd. Paddle a short jaunt north to PB Point during mid- to high-tide for a longer, more consistent right-hand point break alternative.
If you're aiming to immerse in quintessential SoCal beach life, there's no better place to tour than Mission Bay. The wind-protected nooks and crannies of this manmade bay offer seemingly endless flatwater exploration, featuring unparalleled views of the Mission Beach peninsula, Pacific Beach, Crown Point and Fiesta Island. Get outfitted at the Mission Bay Aquatics Center and paddle across Sail Bay for a drink at the Barefoot Beach Bar and Grill to round out a day's outing.
Disclaimer: Wind is not San Diego's pièce de résistance when it comes to ocean paddling, and thus downwinding is not San Diego's traditional forte. That said, on the rare and rather random occasion that the wind honks out of the north (we're talking 340-360˚ NNW, ideally), the 10+ mile run from Cardiff (Encinitas) to La Jolla (Scripps Beach or La Jolla Cove) offers an unobstructed downwind course hailed by locals as San Diego's primary option.
Not a bad takeout spot. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Keep tabs on the wind report during your visit and hit up an outfitter if you see a 20- to 25-knot NNW breeze in the immediate forecast.
Less than 30 miles south of San Diego, paddlers with a knack for exploration can find themselves in an entirely new world of SUP offerings, or at least a new country. The trek from downtown to the San Ysidro border (entering Tijuana), takes less than 30 minutes. High-tail from there to the coast and you'll be paddling Mexican waters in less than an hour's time from your San Diego departure. While surf dominates the disciplines of SUP in Northern Baja, there are flatwater and touring options in the Playas de Tijuana and Rosarito regions as well. Find a good guidebook, double-check that your passport is up to date and plan wisely. This may be foreign terrain, but it's a lot more accessible than one might expect.
More Info About the Winner of the 2018 Paddle Town Battle
Paddle Town Profile: San Diego
This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of SUP Magazine.
While sun-drenched San Diego already sits atop America's list of most popular tourist destinations, now it can officially claim the title as the hottest paddle town on the planet. Of course, that won't come as a surprise to those locals fortunate enough to call San Diego home.
Whether you are into SUP surfing, touring, racing or even downwinding, "America's Finest City," will keep you stoked and on the water year-round, with nearly perfect weather and endless paddling options.
Jess Rocheleau stretching out on the calm waters of San Diego Bay. Photo by Aaron Black-Schmidt
No matter your skill level, San Diego County is a SUP-surf fantasy land. The coastline's dotted with countless breaks from the Mexican border to San Onofre. While many local paddlers prefer the classic SUP-friendly waves at popular spots like Cardiff and Tourmaline, those with a sense of adventure will be rewarded with remote stretches of coastline that reveal shifting sand bars, rocky reefs and un-crowded point breaks shaded by magnificent sandstone cliffs.
RELATED: Best Places to SUP in San Diego
If touring is more your speed, San Diego has two massive bays and miles of beautiful coastline that are perfect for casual cruising. Mission Bay affords opposing views of keep-dreaming real estate to marine wildlife in wind-protected coves perfect for windy afternoons. Thirsty? Paddle right up to the dock at Barefoot Bar, a different type of waterside watering hole. Meanwhile, San Diego Bay offers sweeping views of the city's sleek downtown skyline, mega-yachts, huge Naval ships and the Coronado Bay Bridge.
For nature immersion, La Jolla Cove is a must. Against the backdrop of magnificent cliffs, paddlers can peer down into the crystal-clear water filled with bright-orange garibaldi (California's state fish), bat rays, leopard sharks, seals and dolphins.
Snorkeling 101 in La Jolla. Step 1: Tie up to some kelp. Step 2: Put on your mask and get wet. Step 3: Make new aquatic friends. Photos by Aaron Black-Schmidt
Of course, it takes more than pristine paddling options to justify a 'world-class' label. People matter. And San Diego has welcoming and passionate paddlers in spades, with paddling groups gathering regularly throughout the county. Don't let the surf lineups fool you; S.D.'s paddlers won't bite. They're happy to strike up conversations on or off the water.
Events are the easiest way to make those connections, and the area boasts two of the biggest in the sport. The Hanohano Huki Ocean Challenge attracts hundreds of paddlers to compete in Mission Bay each January, while the biggest event in SUP, the Pacific Paddle Games, takes place each fall at Doheny State Beach, located only an hour north of downtown. The county is also home to some industry big-hitters, including Boardworks, King's, Surftech, Tower, ISLE, the list goes on.
If you're still feeling crowded and can't yet see the upside of one of the largest, thriving communities of paddlers on earth, then consider its immediate proximity to the empty escape of Baja California.
Best Places to SUP in San Diego
Paddle Town Battle #8 Finisher: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Paddle Town Battle #7 Finisher: Auckland, New Zealand
Paddle Town Battle #6 Finisher: Tampa, Florida
Paddle Town Battle #5 Finisher: Washington D.C.
Paddle Town Battle #4 Finisher: Toronto, Canada
Paddle Town Battle #3 Finisher: Honolulu, Hawaii
Paddle Town Battle #2 Finisher: Portland, Oregon
While wiping out tends to be a spectacle no matter what board is under your feet, somehow SUP spills just tend to be a little bit wackier. Whether it’s the bigger boards, the paddle or some combination of it all, wiping out on a SUP looks like a dramatic affair. To see what we’re talking about, just check out this short wipeout reel of paddlers eating it.
Watch: SUPsquatch surfing wipeouts.
People vs. Paddleboards: Three Minutes of Misery.
By Casi Rynkowski
Fifteen years ago, I left the corporate world to become a stay-at-home mom. My friends who’d made the same choice seemed content with the daily activities of raising a family, but I craved more. I felt like I'd lost a piece of myself somewhere, somehow.
So I reinvented myself as a personal trainer with a focus on cross-training outdoors and soon fell in love with both paddling and surfing during an adventure trip. My newfound passion became a big part of my business and I became a certified paddleboard instructor and guide.
I was gung-ho. My children, less so. When they were young, there were plenty of times when Chase, now 16, Sky, 12 and Gray, nine, watched from the sidelines as I came and went, unhappy that I was off to get on the water again. I felt guilty as I made my way out the door, but it wasn't just my kids' disappointment that left me feeling that way. The "it-must-be-nice" comments from friends and other moms stung, but the mental clearing and physical high I got from paddling or surfing was intoxicating. It was exactly what I needed to revive my sense of self.
Now 48, I'm still trying to answer the question of how to make it all work, being a mother and a businesswoman, all while pursuing my passion on the water. Over the years, I've drawn strength and advice from the amazing mothers I've met in the paddling community. I've assembled a few of their stories here with the hope that they'll do the same for you.
Maui mom Andrea Moller plants a kiss on her daughter, Keala, after winning the 2012 OluKai Ho'olaule'a race.Photo: Tracy Leboe
Elite Canadian SUP racer Lina Augaitis, mom to four-month-old daughter Aiste and two-year-old son Tavas, is in the throes of all things parental, including diaper changing and potty training. Coming from an adventure racing and kayaking background, pursuing a livelihood as a professional paddleboard racer was a natural progression, but becoming successful required her to give up a full-time high school teaching career for the unknown. And that was before she had kids.
Brazilian Andrea Moller, mother to Keala, 14, pursues life at a speed not understood by most moms on the laid-back island of Maui, where their family lives. Her passion for downwind racing is balanced with a high-stress career as a paramedic. Her dedication to racing means a big commitment to training, while learning to balance life, work, motherhood and her passion in new ways.
Single mom and ER nurse Bronwyn Comer, mom to Marek, 13, and Esme, 10, began her paddling career after borrowing her mother's sea kayak. She transitioned to whitewater SUP a few years later, and paddling became a way for Bronwyn to cope with depression brought on by an abusive relationship. Running rapids down the James River in Virginia on the weekends after a twelve-hour shift in the hospital was certainly not your typical mom's hobby, but it was a welcome sanctuary that helped restore Bronwyn's happiness.
Pro racer Lina Augaitis takes a family paddle with Tav (paddling) and Aiste (growing).
"You have to marry a great guy to make it work," Lina says. She often borrows time from her husband so she can train. Lina overcame the inevitable physical sacrifice of recovering from pregnancy, while planning a comeback to racing. "Nothing prepares you for your post-pregnancy body, accepting what that looks like, and rebuilding what it can do. You have to redefine your beauty and strength in your head."
Andrea, who is trying to be present during her daughter's teenage years, recognizes that, "the sacrifice goes both ways." Finding time to connect with Keala often means missed training opportunities. "Not being consistent with training makes it hard to compete with the big dogs." And mom duties and household responsibilities add layers of complexity to her already demanding paramedic work schedule. "Something has to give to make paddling happen," she says.
It's all about time, and sleep deprivation is Bronwyn's personal sacrifice to pursue her passion. "I want to experience whitewater so badly, I'm willing to deny my body sleep to make it happen." She reserves her weekdays solely for her kids, so weekends are packed with three 12-hour ER shifts, followed by hours of paddling.
LEFT: Keala knows her mother Andrea's dedication first hand. RIGHT: Author Casi Rynkowski's children have come around to their mom's life on the water.
It's all about balance. Finding equilibrium between family and paddling, figuring out ways to combine fitness and quality time, that's what keeps us moms going. "There are not that many moms out there that get to spend time on the water with their kids," says Lina, who shares paddling time with her kids whenever she can.
"Keala knows how to listen to her heart and pursue her dreams," explains Andrea, who feels her daughter has learned this from watching her travel, train, compete and work.
For Bronwyn, the paddling community has provided a reward beyond expectation. "When my kids go down to the river, everyone knows their names, jokes with them and looks out for them. They treat us like we're family. The paddling community has helped create my extended family."
For me, the rewards are becoming more and more visible. When my kids were young, I worried about my passion damaging them, or our family, in some way. Instead, I now see my children growing into independent, confident adventure-seekers who I believe are starting to realize that happiness is not something that is bought, sold or acquired by happenstance, but something that we each create for ourselves.
Casi and Sky pause a paddle to capture the moment.
1. Be creative and flexible. Cross-training is an all-inclusive activity for Lina. Cross-country skiing, biking or running while pulling a "land chariot" filled with kids is her new normal. In warmer months, she strolls to the beach while pulling the chariot with one hand and carrying an inflatable SUP in the other.
2. Communicate. Andrea says, "Nothing is worse than blindsiding a spouse or kids with unexpected paddling, especially when they might have their own plans. Communication helps prevent frustration." Considering everybody's schedules, priorities or commitments may not be easy, but it can help avoid bigger problems.
3. Be ready. Because opportunities to paddle often come spontaneously, I keep a box of gear in my car at all times. When I find an unexpected gap in my schedule, I hit the water. It also helps to have a bag packed with workout or water clothes, a warm layer, and something you can put on after a paddle to run into the grocery store without looking like a complete wild woman.
4. Take time, give time. Invite your kids along on paddling adventures with you. Weekdays are kid's days for Bronwyn. If she is able to make it onto the water, she makes sure they are out there too.
5. Block out the negative chatter. Not everyone will view your paddling passion in a positive light. There will always be those who make quick judgments without seeing the positive benefits.
Last but not least, remember: there are only so many hours in a day, and grasping a few of them to paddle or train may be the goal right now, but days and years fly by. Suddenly, our children will be grown and striking out on their own paths, so make the most of every moment with them now. Find your personal balance, guide them well, give them the tools they need to learn how to paddle their own boards and enjoy the glide together!
LINA AUGAITIS NAVIGATES THE 444-MILE YUKON RIVER QUEST WITH BABY IN TOW
Best gifts for SUP moms.
Have you ever thought, “What if I had another blade on the other side of my paddle?” Well, the crew at STAGE has quietly been tweaking their SwitchBlade double-bladed paddle for five years and they swear by them. Over that time, they’ve converted many paddlers to this “kayak-style” method who now won’t paddle with anything else.
Why should you give it a shot? For all the reasons you might think: STAGE says that the more time you have your blade in the water the more distance you cover; that the side-to-side motion feels natural straight away and helps keep your center of balance; that new paddlers will have an easier time out on the water because they’ll automatically track straighter and carry more momentum; and that when the current or wind gets rough, you’ll have more horsepower to fight against them.
Still not convinced? The SwitchBlade is a five-piece paddle that converts into a standard adjustable paddle and breaks down for easy storage in your trunk or inflatable paddle bag. And, if you buy the combo kit, your SwitchBlade can be converted into two different three-pieces for a screaming deal for you and your favorite paddling partner. The paddles are all adjustable so they can fit paddlers from 5’2″ to 6’3″.
The SwitchBlade comes in four different iterations for paddlers of varying levels: 100% carbon fiber for the lightest, stiffest paddle ($299.99); 60% carbon fiber with plastic blades ($149.99) for better durability and more flex; combination for getting three paddle styles for the price of one ($109.99); and aluminum for the toughest, most affordable version ($79.99).
Try one today—with a money-back guarantee!
More from STAGE.
Words by Rebecca Parsons
If New Caledonia isn't on your SUP radar, it should be.
A French territory comprised of a series of small islands in the South Pacific, New Caledonia is home to white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and a lagoon and barrier reef, bustling with marine life. The third largest of all islands in the South Pacific, New Caledonia has been a tourist magnet for years due to its stunning views, delicious food and over-the-water bungalows. But more recently, it's gaining recognition as a breeding ground for top standup paddlers.
SUP racers Titouan Puyo, Noïc Garioud, and Clément Colmas all call the island nation their home. Puyo's been turning heads for years as a dominant force in the racing scene. No stranger to the podium, Puyo is currently ranked third in the world after a number of top finishes this season. Just two spots behind Puyo in the world rankings is sixteen-year-old Noic Garioud. After a strong 2018 season, the young paddler made a serious name for himself in the world of SUP racing when he secured a victory in the double downwinder at the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. Finishing just behind Garioud was seventeen-year-old Colmas, further proving that New Caledonian paddlers will be a force to reckon with for years to come.
Titouan has lots to smile about. Photo: Georgia Schofield
"Before the race my father said to me: 'Son, you can win this race. The problem is you must beat 100% of the best downwinders in the world,'" Garioud recalls. "My heroes are Titouan [Puyo] and Lincoln Dews—I had an eye on them during the entire race. I enjoyed beating them but I also have a big respect for them and all the other riders."
"I was so glad to finish second before many SUP legends," says Colmas of the double downwinder. "I was even more surprised to be on the podium with my training mate, Noic [Garioud]. It was a really nice event for me."
Garioud has made 2018 his breakout year. Photo: The Paddle League
Puyo, Garioud and Colmas all regularly train at the Territorial Center of Training (CTE) alongside a few other talented local paddlers. The group meets four times per week and training sessions are planned and organized by coaches Ben Riviera, Brian Rollan and Vincent Guillaume. Trainings usually consist of flatwater and downwind runs, but occasionally the crew will venture into the waves for some surf training.
"New Caledonia is paradise for watersports," says Colmas. "You can practice every day, the wind is good half the year to downwind and there are some nice swells in the winter. It's a really nice playground for anyone who wants to SUP."
With prime downwind conditions back home, it’s no wonder the New Caledonians excel at this discipline. Photo: Georgia Schofield
Despite its presence on the world SUP stage, New Caledonia is a small nation comprised of just over 280 thousand citizens. With only a small pool of paddlers to draw from, it will be interesting to see if the island nation will continue its dominant streak. Garioud, Colmas, and even Puyo are still young and there are a few other groms that have been showing some serious potential.
"The CTE is a good way to improve and the government is very supportive of young paddlers," says Puyo. "I am proud to represent New Caledonia because the island and the sport have given me so much."
Recap of the 2018 Gorge Paddle Challenge.
Core Commentary: Titouan Puyo
Longboarding is an art form. A style of surfing that lends itself to both beginners and lifelong surfers alike. While it’s fairly simple to ride a longboard, to ride one well requires years of practice, impeccable technique and a innate feeling that only comes from within. Benoit Carpentier is one paddler who has clearly checked all of these boxes. In this latest edit, the French paddler puts on an impressive display of soul surfing on some very fun looking waves in Hossegor’s La Nord Beach in France.
Watch: Longboard vs. Shortboard SUP Surfing
Watch: The Art of Longboard SUP Surfing
Alaska is a standup paddler's paradise. Albeit not in the usual sense. White sand beaches and turquoise waters may be the stuff of postcards, but the Last Frontier offers endless miles of empty water set against breathtaking backdrops. In Alaska, you have the opportunity to paddle amongst glaciers, icebergs, fjords, waterfalls and rainforests in the company of sea lions, seals, sea otters, humpback whales, orcas, bears and even moose. The only tradeoff to paddling the stunning glacier-fed waters is that you'll have to acquire some thicker neoprene.
While navigating the frigid waters alone may sound intimidating, there are a number of tour companies that will help plan your adventure. We've rounded up five options that will help make your cold-water paddling dreams a reality. –RP
Alaska Wilderness Charters offers an all-inclusive, eight-day SUP expedition down the rugged coast of southeast Alaska. Guests stay aboard The Glacier Bear, a 95-foot motor yacht, as they travel to remote SUP destinations. Each day features a unique itinerary with the opportunity to hike, paddle, surf, kayak, whale watch or practice yoga in remote locations.
Life at the bottom of the waterfall. Photo: Adriane Honerbrink
Along the route, guests will have the opportunity to view fjords, glaciers, icebergs, waterfalls, rainforests, waterfalls and wildlife such as eagles, bears and whales. Trips begin and end in Juneau and favorite destinations along the way include Endicott Arm, Ford's Terror and Red Bluff Bay. Both mixed trips and women's only trips are available and run in late June and early July. In addition to SUP, AK Wilderness Charters offers fishing, kayaking, photography and family tours.
Adventure Guru's guided SUP tours take place on Kenai Lake and the surrounding area against a backdrop of hanging glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and grassy meadows and streams.
If we were paddling in Alaska, we’d be this excited too. Photo courtesy of Adventure Guru
Easy and moderate tours are offered on the glacier-fed lake, while advanced river tours take place on the Kenai River, and a full-day "Source to Sea" tour navigates the entire length of the river. The experienced guides are Alaska Boat Safety and SUP certified, wilderness first aid certified, and carry a first aid kit and communication device to ensure participant safety from start to finish.
Liquid Adventures is located in the heart of Seward and offers a variety of SUP tours from May to September. Tours take place at their home in Seward, Aialik Bay and Bear Glacier.
Of their many tours, the Bear Glacier is consistently the most popular. Participants are shuttled into Kenai Fjords National Park via helicopter or water taxi where they have the opportunity to downwind paddle from the face of a huge tidewater glacier. In addition to SUP, Liquid Adventures offers a variety of kayaking tours, including multi-day camping trips.
Ocean Swell Ventures is your one-stop shop when it comes to the ultimate SUP adventure. Run by a team of surfers and standup paddlers, the folks at Ocean Swell Ventures want to help make your vision for an epic SUP trip a reality. Expeditions take place aboard the M/V Milo and include food, park fees, water toys, and use of an inflatable launch.
Popular destinations include Kachemak Bay, Kenai Fjords, Augustine Island, Big Foot Coast, and Kodiak but trips are fully customizable depending on your schedule and the weather. In addition to SUP, guests can kayak, surf, hike, bike, ski, or simply take photos and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
At Unravel, they do things a bit differently. Based in Anchorage, they offer weekly trainings/meetups for locals, strength clinics, girls/women's retreats, corporate retreats, and instructor trainings for those looking to start a practice of their own or further their skill set. Owner, Sami Glascott, is a Paddle Into Fitness and World Paddle Association Master Trainer, and prioritizes safety in all of her trainings and workshops so that paddlers can feel confident in the sometimes-trying Alaskan conditions. In addition to SUP, Unravel offers yoga, meditation, and wellness classes so you can cap off your SUP expedition with a calming and rejuvenating practice.
Watch: Spencer Lacy “SUP surfs” down an Alaska glacier.
More stories about paddling in Alaska.
When it comes to marketing a race, terms like biggest and best usually find their way into the moniker. But why use hyperbole when you can just call it what it is? At least, that appears to be the mindset of a few race organizers in Greece.
The 8th Corinth Canal SUP Crossing took place earlier this month under the classic billing as, “World’s Straightest SUP Race.” They weren’t kidding either, the race takes paddlers on a straight shot down the Corinth Canal with not a single turn involved.
This simplistic approach resonated with the paddling community and over 400 turned out for the linear paddling competition. But don’t think for a moment that the lack of turns makes the race dull, as these highlights prove just the opposite.
Like turns? This race has plenty of them.
Earlier this week, the waiting period began for the highly-anticipated Red Bull Heavy Water race in San Francisco. And while it remains open until November 2, the event’s website currently has the surf window listed as “Red,” meaning there is no swell in sight for ten days. But as competitors nervously wait for Mother Nature to deliver one of her XXL swells that this race needs to run, Connor Baxter and Ryan Funk got in some practice at Ocean Beach. We’ll keep you updated on when the race is going to run but in the meantime, check out their practice session.
Highlights from last year’s RBHW.
Who’s planning to compete in this year’s big race.
As kids, many of us can admit to dreaming of becoming a professional athlete. But when the reality of adulthood sank in, most of us turned to pining over those living out our dreams through social media and web stories. But does being a professional athlete truly mean traveling the world, competing and chasing waves for days on end? Or is there more to it?
We caught up with five of the top athletes in the sport and asked them if being a pro is truly everything it's chalked up to be and more importantly, how they make it work financially. You may be surprised by what they had to say. –RP
It is definitely a challenge to fit in work, training and school into my schedule but I make it happen and I wouldn't have it any other way. I have to admit it is sometimes very challenging financially and I end up paying for a lot of my travels and expenses out of pocket.
Not only do I go to school full-time during fall and spring but I also nanny part-time during the school year and work full-time during the summer as a summer camp counselor. Life is definitely about balance for me! Although it is definitely not a dream life and a lot of work, I love what I do. I work hard in every aspect of my life and I am very lucky to have the opportunity and ability to do so.
Traveling full-time competing in SUP races/surf events is exhausting! A lot of the time we have to travel with a 14-foot board—that isn't the easiest/cheapest thing to do. I usually fly Delta and it's $150 for a board bag and I usually have two board bags! I try to plan ahead and plan with other athletes to make it work out and split costs. Luckily, I do have a few sponsors that help with a lot of my travel expenses.
Mo works construction with his pops.
I also have a side job when I am home—I help my pops with construction. I love learning how to do physical work. Knowing how to do wood work, mechanics, and household stuff is a great deal; you save a lot of money doing it yourself! Eventually, I'd like to go to school, I can't pick up wood my whole life. Recently, I've been doing clinics while traveling, which helps with some of the expenses. I'm under contract for the next three years so we'll see what the plan is after that.
This year it was not financially feasible. I was receiving travel assistance from a sponsor before and this year that stopped. You may have noticed that I haven’t flown to any races and I drove out to Carolina Cup and lived in my van for the month. I’ve always worked at Carolina Paddleboard Co. doing sales, rentals, and marketing but I moved to California so I’m in between jobs. Which means even less funds for travel than before. Not to mention the stress of finding another really cool place to work that’s okay with you taking off for a month or two to race.
April with her co-workers at the Carolina Paddleboard Co. She has since moved out west.
I’m currently looking for sponsors to help out and I’m also looking for a job (or many small jobs) so I can travel and race. Maybe if I had a nickel for every time someone told me that 'I’m valuable' to the industry or my content is good, I’d have enough nickels to go to an event! I’m very optimistic for 2019, though!
A lot of people from the outside think we are all professional athletes. There are some full-time professional SUP athletes but not many. I personally work full-time. I paddle before or after work—I've done it that way my whole life. Now I've even stepped into coaching more and am enjoying that just as much.
Each year, I negotiate with some sponsors to figure out what events will benefit us both. Everyone has budgets but sometimes you have to get creative in order to fill your duties and also do the events you really want to do. If there's a will there's a way. I treat my sponsorship money like it's my hard earned money because it is. I try and find good flight deals, be organized and book early, stay with friends or book a room with a group, car pool, etc. Even for the sponsored guys it's not easy—the budgets are not that big. If more people did SUP or watched SUP they might be, but at the moment SUP is still a very niche sport.
This specifically hits home to me because I couldn’t afford to compete this year due to my finances. It’s really financially exhausting for me to travel. At the high point of my career as a whitewater paddler, I earned about $4,000 cash between the small collective group of sponsors I had, plus all the newest and hottest gear to compete with. With all of my bills and travel expenses, it still put me in a lot of debt. So much debt that I had to pull back the last two years from competing to pay it all back.
Zollinger makes ends meet through various side jobs including working at the 98 Center Restaurant. Photo: Heather Jackson
The most important season to train is the winter/spring to set yourself up physically for a strong competitive season. But I work in a seasonal town and that's our busy season. So to have to work 40+ hours a week to pay my debt back and to save money for the next season, I hardly had energy to train. I actually never really felt 100% prepared or confident in my physical body and state for any of the seasons I competed in as a professional athlete. I tried to fit in as much as I could, when I could, but it still wasn’t what I had hoped for in committing to being a professional athlete. I always felt like I had to have one foot in the athlete world and one foot in my other world.
At Infinity, we have a team and it's not cheap, that's for sure. Fortunately, I do most of the marketing and design so a lot of that entails being on the water, going to events, and doing the fun stuff. For instance, in New York, I went and competed but I also filmed, dropped some edits, and shot photos—I just try to balance the best I can. I get to write it off because it is work; in a sense I guess I kind of sponsor myself.
SUP is in a unique position. There are a lot of action sports that are supported by other things like clothing companies, drink companies, shoe companies or whatever it may be, but SUP is really only supported by the board companies. So all the burden's on the board guys and without the boards there's no industry. It's no secret that the boards have much smaller margins as far as making money than a clothing or drink company does, so that's the challenge I have as a brand. Most people think these guys are making a bunch of money, everything's free, they're doing whatever they want but it simply isn't the case—it's only the top, top guys that are making any real money.
Trips, equipment, and such are pretty expensive. I get quite a bit of help from my sponsors and my parents have helped me a lot with this aspect of SUP. Paddling, cross training, and school take up a large amount of my time during the winter months and in the summer, trips for racing as well as the time it takes to train make it difficult to create a schedule that is open enough to get a job.
Casper Steinfath’s unlikely road to SUP stardom.
SUP pros’ guide to morning nutrition.
The 2018 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life were the most exciting iteration of the event we’ve had yet. Hundreds of racers and fans from around the world, both professional and recreational, gathered on the iconic sands of Doheny State Beach in Southern California for a weekend of high action. Hurricane Sergio provided the waves, race director Anthony Vela provided the race structure and vendors provided free demos, fitness classes, a beer garden, clothing sales and live music. Fun was had by all. But don’t take our word for it. Check out the highlights above and start planning your trip for #PPG2019!
Photos from #PPG2018.
Watch the Men’s Pro Technical Final.
Watch the Women’s Pro Technical Final.
Some people are just plain fun to watch on a SUP surfboard. Dave Boehne makes this short list. Don’t believe us? Just check out this long lost clip from a 2013 trip to Mexico that produced the SUP Award-winning film, H2Mexico. Check it out!
Watch: Classic SUP noseriding with Dave Boehne.
More lost clips from H2Mexico.
Interview by Rebecca Parsons
Alison Teal is a girl on a mission. A mission to save the planet. A mission to travel the word. And a mission to share her experiences with others.
Often referred to as a "wild child" or the "female Indiana Jones," Alison travels the world, creating engaging and entertaining content with a focus on sustainability. With a film degree from USC, Alison ventures into ancient cultures and shares her stories through her blog and video series, Alison's Adventures. She's paddled the trash-laden LA River in an effort to ban the plastic bag, surfed the Seine River in Paris in support of the Paris Climate Accord, and paddled through piles of garbage in the Yucatan to raise awareness about plastic pollution.
Teal strokes through a waterway of filth, also known as the LA River. Photo: Tina Segura
In addition to her adventure series, Alison is a Naked and Afraid alumni and runs a non-profit alongside her parents. We caught up with this wild child to learn more about her experience on Discovery Channel's hit television series and what ignited her passion for sustainability. –RP
Sounds like you had a pretty unique upbringing.
I was world-schooled since birth. I was gifted to have a world-renowned adventure photographer papa who got paid to capture the beauty and majesty of different cultures and a mom who was one of the first people to embrace the natural health movement and yoga in the USA.
At two months old, my parents took me up the highest peak in southern Peru and since then life has been a whirlwind of adventure. I was that sort of Tarzan child raised around the world, literally carrying my stuff in a backpack. They inspired me to carry on the torch of adventure filmmaking – showcasing environmental and cultural phenomena in an effort to share the beauty of the world and why we should protect it.
So what is Alison's Adventures?
Growing up, my dad always had a camera in my face so by default we became his models. I could only rebel against it for so long before realizing that I just love sharing adventures, travel and culture as a way to keep it alive and perpetuate what's out there. I was incredibly blessed to get a scholarship to USC film school. With that film training I thought: How can I share the mystery and the intrigue about what I love about the environment and the cultures I've grown up in? I decided to do a sort of education through entertainment—I wanted it to be like if Disney and Discovery had a baby. I joke that I got on my camel with my pink surfboard made of recycled coffee cups, my bikini made out of recycled plastic bottles, and my camera and I set out across the world.
Tell us about your time on Naked and Afraid.
It was the first show, the first season and initially I said no because I didn't want to be naked on national television. Discovery Channel pursued me to join the challenge and showcase survival skills in extreme conditions. I survived 122 degree heat in the Maldives because I knew how to live off the land and sea due to my childhood in foreign environments, as well as having special skills the elders in Hawaii had taught me.
Teal finding trash on the island she had to survive on in Naked and Afraid. Photo: Sarah Lee
All I could do all day was watch all this plastic wash up on shore from all over the world. You spend a month in that environment and it definitely creates a new sense of what's happening in the world. How often do you sit there naked watching nature all day? I made a pact in my head that if I survive this and the Earth can keep me alive, I want to give back and show everybody what's happening.
Why the focus on sustainability?
I never wanted to be an activist. I'm an entertainer and if I'm going to entertain I have a duty in life to also bring change to this world. I was given a unique upbringing and understanding of the world, so it's also my duty to protect it and keep it around for our future generations to play in. While growing up, the world was my classroom and the ocean was my playground, so I want to keep that here and going. And not in a preachy, condescending way, but in a way that's more a fun and exciting.
I'd say in terms of SUP, one of my favorite adventures was going between the islands in the Maldives doing trash cleanups. I did the first statewide Hawaii beach cleanup in 2017. I hosted it with Kai Lenny—he foiled between all the islands and we did beach cleanups at each stop.
I recently went to Tulum to get an in-depth look at one of the last pristine sources of fresh water on the planet, the cenotes. Currently, waste management on the peninsula is not good and all of the pollutants seep straight through the porous limestone and directly into the beautiful cenotes. This trash is located directly over the beautiful fresh water caves. I paddled through the trash and it's probably the most powerful photo that I have.
I think it's important to recognize the power of one. A lot of people get overwhelmed so they do nothing. But you can do so much, even if it's just one person.
Learn more about Alison: alisonsadventures.com (@alisonsadventures)
Watch Alison paddle through filth on the LA River.
For the first time since the event's founding in 2016, nine women are officially registered to compete in this year's Red Bull Heavy Water event in Ocean Beach, San Francisco. The course runs 7.5 miles from San Francisco Bay to Ocean Beach and waves are expected to be at least 10 feet. With the waiting period officially open now, nerves and excitement are high as the competitors log their final training sessions before the big day. We caught up with eight of the women and asked their thoughts on competing in the heaviest race in SUP. –RP
I'm definitely both nervous and excited! The anticipation of waiting for a swell is pretty cool. I've never had the opportunity to compete in an event like this so I'm super stoked about that! I'm most nervous about being in bigger surf on a race board—the fact that race boards have no rocker makes it really hard to surf them, especially when it's 10 feet or more. You will never feel fully ready for a race like this (and I don't do much racing). It's basically survival of the fittest.
Now that the distance part of the race is first this year, my strategy is to try and save my energy. I don't think it's smart to go all out on the distance paddle and then be tired for the waves at Ocean Beach. It's going to be gnarly so strategy is key but it's also anyone's game!
I am really looking forward to having the opportunity to compete in Red Bull Heavy Water this year! Of course I'm nervous, but I also am really looking forward to the challenge. Who knows what's going to happen but I have been trying to prepare in as many ways as possible. It's not going to be easy, in fact, it's going to be an insane challenge but I'm going to give it my best!
I'm really pumped that myself and other female athlete have been invited to participate in this year's Red Bull Heavy Water event. I can't wait to see all the girls who I know charge in the waves take this on and put on a good show for everyone.
I must admit, I'm pretty nervous. I've been preparing at home with a few big waves sessions while the swell has been up. Plus, I've had a couple breath, mind and body conditioning sessions with an experienced free diver. I'll also be relying on many years of experience as a professional lifeguard.
Terrence Black charging Sunset Beach. Photo: Iballa Moreno
But what also scares me is the cold water. One thing with the reversed course is that at least we'll be warmed up by the time we take on the waves but it'll also be very important to conserve energy. I've been talking to a bunch of the guys about what type of wetsuits to wear as it's going to be tricky going from being hot in the race to possibly spending a lot of time in the freezing water. Hopefully I'll get the chance to practice out there before the event.
I'm definitely nervous and excited but probably more nervous. How could I not be? The waves are big, the water is cold and there are many unknowns with how our bodies will handle the direction of the course this year. I'm not taking it lightly, that's for sure.
Hitting the cold water after paddling 6-7 miles is one of my biggest concerns—cold water takes your breath away. I've been doing a lot of swimming in the past few months, which has definitely helped my fitness and breathing. I'll continue to do more breath work leading up to the event. I'm also trying to dial in what I'm going to wear. It's tricky because the water is so cold but we do the distance portion of the race first and it's easy to overheat if you're wearing too much.
I think hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to the race because of the unknowns. I'm just grateful for the opportunity to participate and I hope that when race day comes it's within my limits. Going into this I have nothing to prove, so I'm just going to prepare, say my prayers and do what I can.
Growing up on Maui and spending my whole childhood surfing and being in the ocean I have always been attracted towards the races that incorporate surf into their courses. Red Bull Heavy Water will definitely check off that box. I spend almost everyday in the surf whether it is on a shortboard, longboard, foil board, SUP surfboard or raceboard, so I feel like every session has been preparing me for this race.
Annie Reickert knows a thing or two about big waves. Photo: Erik Aeder
Going into this race, part of me is nervous but at the end of the day I am going to rely on my training and take what the ocean gives me. Because RBHW isn't just a wave course there is going to be some strategy involved—before we have to battle monster surf there is seven miles of flat water. It will be interesting to see what everyone chooses to do, some people may hold back in the distance portion of the race to save energy and others may attempt to make a gap before the pack hits the surf. No matter what happens, it will be a huge day for everyone and a special race for all of the females as we will be the first women to race the course!
This event is definitely the hardest, most challenging event of all. I think it's important to do all sorts of training that can prepare you for any kind of conditions—although I believe there can always be something you didn't expect. What I find really exciting is paddling in San Francisco and waves will definitely make a big challenge for everyone.
I am feeling pretty anxious but excited leading up to the Red Bull Heavy Water event. I am excited that women were invited this year and have the opportunity to compete amongst the amazing men that completed the race last year. It's hard to get out in big waves on a raceboard but I feel pretty comfortable that my ocean skills have prepared me for the event. I will be going into the race confident and will 100% be competing if I feel I can handle the conditions at the moment. I never want to put myself at risk if I don't feel like I should be out there, but I also really want to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
I'm kind of nervous about the competition because Red Bull Heavy Water is the first SUP race event of my life! I've never competed in a race before. All the girls are super good and have won a lot of events; it's going to be tough to beat them. Otherwise, I am super excited to compete because this event is unique, they wait for the biggest swell of the waiting period to put the competition ON! That's the reason why I want to compete—it's a race with big waves, it's crazy! I train to surf big waves but I don't train too much to compete in racing, so I hope the waves are big on the event so I can have a chance!
The Open division at the 2018 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life is the heart and soul of our sport. These are the paddlers that don’t compete for sponsors, money or fame, but rather because of their love and passion for the sport. Whether they finished in first place or last, each paddler crossed the finish line with a smile on their face and was greeted with high-fives and hugs from their supportive competitors. To get a glimpse of the grassroots racing action, check out this gallery dedicated exclusively to the Open division.
Best photos from #PPG2018 Day One.
Best photos from #PPG2018 Day Two.
There were a lot of questions going into the Women’s Pro Technical Final at the 2018 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life . Would Fiona Wylde make good on her Distance win and get her first ever championship? Would the Doheny-trained youngster Shae Foudy fulfill her promise as a top pro? Or would Candice Appleby return to form and claim her third #PPG tite? The answers are all out there now, but if you can’t get enough SUP racing, this is one race worth reliving.
#PPG2018 Finals Day Photos.
The 2018 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life were another huge success as paddlers from around the globe gathered at Doheny State Beach for a weekend of paddling, racing and camaraderie. From the Pros to the Juniors, competition was at its highest level in event history and there were plenty of surprise story lines that caught our attention. From a dark horse stealing the show in the Pro Men’s category to a big announcement about the future of PPG, these were our top takeaways from the biggest weekend in SUP.
New Overall Winner in Pro Men’s Division
In the first three years of the PPGs, only one man had ever stepped atop the podium at the end of the weekend: Connor Baxter.
This year, that finally changed after a gritty performance from Australian Lincoln Dews. The Aussie started the weekend with a hard-fought victory in the Distance race and then secured the Overall title with a fourth place effort in the Technical Final following an memorable battle with Baxter, Guilherme dos Reis and Mo Freitas (Baxter scrapped his way to win the Technical Final in one of the best surf races we’ve ever seen).
Lincoln Dews put in a commanding performance to finish the Pro Men’s SUP Distance division with a healthy lead. (See also: overall title contender). Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
While stealing the PPGs crown from Baxter is impressive on its own, it also allowed him to leapfrog fellow Aussie Michael Booth and claim the inaugural Paddle League championship. Not a bad weekend — or payday — for Mr. Dews.
Brazilian Dark Horse Steals the Spotlight
Coming into PPG weekend, Guilherme dos Reis was far from a household name. While he has dominated the SUP racing circuit in Brazil with four national championships, he was relatively unknown outside of his own country. That changed this past weekend.
20-year-old Brazilian Guilherme Dos Reis pulled off the upset of the weekend by taking second overall in the Pro Men’s Division. Photo: JP Van Swae
Dos Reis started the weekend with a surprising third-place finish in the six-mile distance race and followed it up on Sunday with a thrilling second place effort in the Pro Men’s Technical Final. In fact, he was leading the race with only half a lap to go when a closeout knocked him off his board and Baxter pounced. Nevertheless, his second place overall was one of the weekend’s biggest surprises. It put the SUP world on notice that Dos Reis is going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
The Candice Comeback
At last year’s big showdown at Doheny, Candice Appleby did not seem like herself. She struggled in the races and ended up with a mid-pack finish, well below what we had come to expect from the Queen of Doheny. Some folks even began to wonder if she was approaching the twilight of her career.
Not a chance.
Candice Appleby felt the thrill of victory after winning the Women’s Pro Technical Race. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Appleby came into 2018 with a renewed focus and the results followed. But it was #PPG2018 where we truly saw that Appleby had returned to her dominant form. She took a second place in the Distance race and stormed back from a rough start in the Women’s Pro Technical Final to take a convincing victory. These results earned her a third PPG Overall title and a return to the throne.
APP sanctioning PPG in 2019
Once #PPG2018 wrapped up and the SUP community was still buzzing from the thrilling action on the water, some big news dropped about the future of the event.
The Association of Paddlesurf Professionals (APP) will be the sanctioning body for the Pacific Paddle Games for a three-year deal beginning in 2019. The biggest race in the sport will officially become part of the APP World Tour but also count towards the APP’s US Cup, which will feature the New York SUP Open and the Red Bull Heavy Water event in San Francisco.
Prior to the SUP Awards announcement, APP World Tour CEO Tristan Boxford addressed the crowd to talk about the exciting partnership between the APP and PPG in 2019 and beyond. Photo by Aaron Black-Schmidt
It’s an exciting move for both the sport and PPG as it represents a coming together of two prominent entities in the standup paddling world.
Huge International Audience on Facebook Live Stream
While we would suggest that the best way to watch PPG is from the beach, that’s simply not possible for everyone. But to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to see the action, we broadcasted the race live on our Facebook page for over 10 hours while thousands of SUP fans from around the globe tuned in.
Drone shots gave an international audience the bird’s eye view of the action. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Their enthusiasm was strong and we received nearly 3,000 comments as folks chimed in to talk about the race, support their favorite athlete and let us know where they were watching from. They were as diverse as they were was passionate, and were treated to some of the best SUP racing in recent memory and excellent commentary from the broadcast team of Chris Parker, Dave Kalama and Beau Hodge.
Positivity and Sportsmanship in the Open Division
While lots of focus gets placed on the Pro ranks, it’s the Open division paddlers that are the heart and soul of this sport. At #PPG2018, these everyday paddlers proved once again that SUP is one of the most inclusive and positive sports communities you’ll ever find.
Kristin Thomas (left) and Mel Wygal (right) cross the finish line together in the Open Womens Technical Final. Photo: Jack Haworth
The paddlers cheered on one another at the finish line as high-fives, hugs and pats on the back were shared among strangers and racers spent hours swapping stories and making new friends on the beach. And then they all joined to help us celebrate at the official #PPG2018 After Party.
Every year, the Youth paddlers just get better and better. 2018 was no exception.
Arguably the most exciting finish of the weekend came in the Men’s Pro Junior Final when local paddler Tyler Bashor stroked into a set wave out the back and rode it all the way to the beach — passing the race's two leaders and earning him a thrilling victory in front of screaming fans.
Jade Howson is on her way to the top. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
As for the ladies, Jade Howson dominated the Women’s Pro Junior division and also qualified for the Women’s Pro Technical Final. These performances were proof that the next generation of SUP racers isn’t just on the way, they’re already here.
Photo Gallery: Moments of Stoke from #PPG2018
Relive the #PPG2018 Men’s Pro Technical Final
As a two-time Red Bull Ultimate Waterman champion and one of SUP’s biggest stars, Zane Schweitzer is no stranger to the mental and physical stress of being in the ocean. While he was in the Big Apple for the New York SUP Open, Schweitzer sat down with NBC News BETTER and gave them some tips on how he prepares himself for life both on and off the water. Some highlights include his daily journal practice, mindful tapping and — the most Zane moment of all — his war cry prior to big moments. Check it out in the video above.
Read more from the interview.
Can we just fast forward to #PPG2019?
Standup paddling’s biggest weekend lived up to the hype and delivered two memorable days of competition and plenty of stoke. While an incredibly talented Pro field delivered a series of all-time classic races, the Open competitors kept the stoke level high by congratulating each other at the finish line and swapping stories about their race.
Of course, #PPG2018 wasn’t just all about the racing. The weekend also featured free fitness classes throughout both days, a SUP demo zone, food trucks, a beer garden and more. To capture the spirit of the PPGs — we put together this photo gallery featuring the smiles, laughs, tears and special moments that make #PPG2018 the best event in the sport.
The World Surf League (WSL) announced Monday that Erik Logan, current president of the Oprah Winfrey Network — and avid standup paddler — will be taking over as President of Content, Media and WSL Studios in January 2019.
Logan’s new role will encompass all content production, including live broadcasts, video production, the creation of WSL Studios, a direct-to-consumer membership offering and much more.
“I’m incredibly excited to join the WSL at this amazing time in its history,” he said in a release. “The League has come so far and is brimming with untapped potential. I am fired up to help lead the acceleration of the company’s evolution in content, expanding the WSL’s offerings, and engaging surf and ocean enthusiasts everywhere. There are countless stories and characters in surfing that are compelling, both within and beyond the reaches of competition, that we will shine a light on.”
More important to standup paddlers: we have one of our own on the inside of the biggest media company in surfing. What could that mean? More of a spotlight on the sport, new competition possibilities and another powerful advocate in the upper echelon of the surf world. Whatever comes of it, it won’t be a bad thing for the sport of standup paddling.
Read an interview with the man himself.
Read the full release.