THE MERRELL BLOG: WHAT'S NOW. WHAT'S NEXT. LET'S GET OUTSIDE.
'Sup with Stand Up Paddling?
Everywhere and anywhere there's a body of water, people are taking up SUP! What's so great about stand up paddling? Pretty much everything. If you had told me a year ago that there was a water sport I would love as much as ultra distance kayaking, I would have told you "no way". But beginning with my first SUP race this past December, "yes...WAY!" There is nothing not to love about SUP: Anyone can do it, you have an incredible view, you're generally dry, gear is easy to store and transport, you get to spend some quality time with friends (aquatic and bipedal), and most importantly, everyone in this sport extends their hand and welcomes you as "ohana" (family in the Hawaiian culture). Races become "gatherings" of friends who all support one another both on and off the water. After my first race, I literally had 5 new friends. In fact, I will never forget how friendly the first woman that I approached at my first race was: Out of sheer desperation, after seeing all of the buoys on the course, I paddled up to a woman who looked kind enough to help, and asked her if she could give me a quick lesson in going around turns. She quickly paddled up next to me, literally 2 minutes before the gun went off, and demonstrated the best technique to use to efficiently make tight turns on the board. Then she threaded her way to the front row of the starting line and promptly won the women's race. :). At the end, she waited for me and introduced me to all of the other women she knew in the race, invited me to join her training group, etc etc. I had never felt so welcomed in a new sport. And EVERYone I've met in the sport since then is just like her! Yadda Yadda Yadda, if you love being on the water but don't love lugging a kayak, and you want to make a dozen instant friends, then SUP is your next sport. Here's how to get started:
Choosing a Board:
SUP boards come in a few "stock" sizes, which also correspond to generally accepted race divisions: 12'6", 14' and Unlimited (anything over 14'). Lighter women generally like the 12'6" because it's easy to power. Bigger women (like me! 145lbs) and men generally dig the 14' boards because they're a little longer and, therefore, ever so slightly faster--they just require a bit more power to keep em moving. Construction methods and materials vary, but you have a choice of everything from teak/wood, to eps foam/epoxy resin, to carbon fiber, and even inflatable boards (great for travel!). The board you choose will depend on your budget, goals, and stomping grounds. I.e. If you want a board to occasionally surf on as well as go longer distances, or you're dealing with a rocky coastline, you won't want carbon fiber. If you plan to play/race in mostly flat water conditions, a carbon fiber board could be a great call. Either way, play with a few types of boards before buying one. There are also tons of great deals on used boards as people continue to upgrade (check resources section below) .
Where to SUP?
SUP isn’t just for the ocean anymore! People are SUPing and SUP racing in every lake and river they can find. Where there is water, there is SUP. Believe it or not, people have already SUP'ed the Grand Canyon, The Colorado River 100, and the Missouri River 340 Mile Paddling Race. In fact, there's even a formal division for SUP in the Missouri River 340 because there were enough silly people who requested it!
Carbon fiber uber-long outrigger-type paddles are generally the norm in this sport, and are not too expensive. You can get an adjustable one or have one sized to fit you and your paddling style. The adjustable ones are nice if you are going to be using different boards or if you're going out with new friends who are not your same height. In terms of fitting the paddle to you, the "T" handle should be 8-12 inches above your head when the paddle is placed, blade edge on the ground, in front of you.
Reach, reach reach reach reach. That's pretty much what I heard the entire time during a recent stroke technique class I took from one of the inventors of SUP, Dave Kalama. For the most powerful stroke: feet are firmly planted on the board, shoulder width apart, and with your arms in a "K" position reaching waaaaaaay out toward the top of your board, rotate your shoulder forward to get the maximum reach, then bury the blade smoooothly and completely and pull with your core (in other words, think about pulling your whole body, as a unit attached to the board, to where the paddle is, vs. bringing the paddle to you). The blade should exit the water when it reaches your heel and go no further back. Otherwise, you're just picking up water. Then you propel the paddle forward again into the K position on that same side and repeat. There is no set number of times you should paddle on each side before switching. You'll get a feel for how many it takes on each side before you start veering off course. Start with 8 or 10 reps on each side and feel it out.
To watch The Pack SUP video with Pack Leader Brent Allen click here.
Here are some of my favorite resources for information about SUP events, races, equipment, etc:
www.Eatonsurf.com, www.SUPevent.com, www.DistressedMullet.com, www.yoloboards.com, Ohanapaddleboards.com, SUPthemag.com
For Paddling Technique videos, Google: Jim Terrel (owner of Quickblade Paddles), Danny Ching, Bark Paddleboards, Todd Bradley, Dave Kalama, and Candice Appleby
Happy Paddling, my friends! Let the SUP LOVE fest begin!