Just passing the local river seeing all the SUPs out there regularly got me thinking about the surge in popularity over the last 4 years. They are so popular down here in the Bournemouth area, that apparently they are a threat to the habitats of Swans. Don't really like Swans, so not to sure what to think of that. However, the accessibility of the SUP's does mean that a lot of people using them without having too much experience of the water ways.
I think it was back in 2007 when I first had a go at an SUP. I was always impressed at Laird Hamilton on this homemade, massive surf board, where he would just stand on it and paddle out in some pretty big waves on Maui, Hawaii. He was able to paddle in to waves early and into some that were way to chunky for surfers to get in on. It was very impressive watching some of the Pacific mountains he used to ride. Nowadays people like Kai Lenny and Bernd Roediger are paddling in boards barely bigger than a wave gun and getting in airs and all the contorted surfing tricks. If you are new to SUP and don't really get in the surf. I would recommend watching some on youtube.
The author having fun in the waves
Back to 2007. Laird was impressive on them. I met him once in Hawaii, he had come to Sprecks to do some downwinder wind surfing. Followed by a press entourage he stood in the shorebreak, muscles pumped and letting his toddler just stand on the palm of his hand, whilst the Paps, well, Papped! The wind not quite strong enough, he convinced us to just go body surfing in the shorebreak with him. It's Laird Hamilton, so we were hardly going to say no.
This was well before Laird had reinvented the SUP. When it came to the UK and European shores, most of us windsurfers didn't really know what to make of it. It looked a bit lame at first, not like us cool windsurfers - right.. It was never going to catch on!
That Summer a good mate of mine convinced me to give it a go at a West Wittering demo, needless, and typically obvious to say, I loved it. I went out on this huge, quite wobbly Jimmy Lewis. The sea was calm and I even caught and rode a few ripples. I came in and bought one straight away.
An Original First Jimmy Lewis, still a good allrounder now. Hard to carry!
It was a 9ft Gong, pretty bloody heavy and no handle. You had to carry it on your shoulder. Eventually there would be crappy little finger holes in the middle of these giant boards and slow evolution led to the proper handles that make them so much easier to carry.
Back to Bournemouth. I'm not sure many had seen them before as we went on paddle journeys, and ventured into the waves. Hooked on how easy it was to catch a wave and how much more time you could get on an open face. I've used my normal surfboards very little since. If you have not taken a SUP in the waves, then I highly recommend it. To me this is what they are mainly for.
Perfect for long rides on waves perhaps not suitable for a surfboard
Birth of the Inflatable
I'm not to sure what to make of the iSUPs. However, what an explosion onto the market it was. Much, much cheaper to import from the far east, less money for the consumer and also take up less space at home. A win situation, despite the performance initially being relatively poor compared to the composite versions. Even now I wouldn't recommend trying to surf them, however the good flat water ones are every bit as good as a composite. A couple of people have paddled round the UK on them. Many companies including APEX expeditions, run week long expeditions with them (as detailed in a previous blog)
iSUPs, the perfect option for exploring rivers
Another old friend of mine John Hibbard from the windsurfing scene was very much involved, and central to the RED paddle project as a satellite of the then Tushingham sails. The first editions, I thought, looked a bit dubious. But you have to start somewhere. From that they definitely have become up there with the best ones you can get. A lot of thought and detail gone into them. With iSUPs if you were to take my advice, I would definitely say you get what you pay for. I have a couple of OShea's, which are one of the premium brands and my particularly have been going strong for a good 8 years, they don't leak and are nice and wide and really stiff. You have to watch out for some of the cheaper brands that are narrower (a cost saving, as the factory can get more cut out to a single piece of P.V.C). To compensate for this, often they are thicker (taller), to increase the volume, which consequently makes them more roll more in the water and experience more windage. Other thing to watch out on cheap SUPs is that they are not thick enough and can't take the pressure. So bend in the middle! The difference in the amount of effort needed to make a good SUP glide compared to a not so good one is quite incredible. If you are thinking of using one for longer SUPs and journeys, then definitely invest.
Well that is our ramblings about SUP. The funny thing with all the excitement in this area of the last 10 or so years. When I first got one, my Dad was quite bemused. He then dug out a photograph of my Grandad on a wooden Standup Paddle Board, on the Red Sea whilst on a tour of duty in Egypt during the Second World War!