SUPGlobal talks to Chris Guts Griffiths about stand up paddle surfing, jimmy lewis and nasty habits ! Guts is seasoned professional surfer having won over a dozen Welsh longboard and master shortboard titles, winning the European pro longboard tour in 1997 and 1998 and having a top 5 year end ranking in the ASP longboard division in 1996.
SUPGlobal.com: So you’ve had a pretty good year in 2008 with stand up paddle surfing ?
Guts: Yeah, It’s been better that I expected really. As I say I’ve been stand up paddle surfing now for a year, I started last September and up until the first contest I went to In Gwithian, all my understanding of stand up paddle surfing has come from the internet. Just seeing what the guys are doing on the utube clips and this sort of stuff. Other than that I’ve been SUPing at home with a couple of the guys like PJ. Roger Bramell and a few others, we’ve just been doing our own thing.
Guts: We’ve been seemingly coming along nicely but not really sure cos we haven’t actually seen the likes of Adam Zervas and a few of the other guys around the country. So we’ve just been assuming we are going in the right direction, like I say but the direction is only what we’ve had from places like utube. So to turn up to Gwithian and see John Hibbard, Neal Gent, Elliot and alot of the other guys, after that Gwithian contest you could really put in into perspective where we were in the scale of things. Whether we were going in the right direction, whether people actually liked the way we were riding, or not!
SUPGlobal.com: It must be then as you got first in the surfing in that one.
SUPGlobal.com: And your son got first in the juniors. A bit of Welsh power coming through.
Guts: Yeah, it was really cool actually to have that father : son winning thing going on, It doesn’t happen very often, just made us feel quite happy with our progress, we are obviously doing something right. The result was good. To be fair with Gwithian, the surf was really small which, from my point of view would probably have been the worst surf conditions for me to have gone out in. I’ve never liked small surf being a bigger guy, so to get that good result in surf that wasn’t right for me was brilliant. Absolutely chuffed.
And the obviously, moving on from there The September Sessions last week, I got a great couple of results there. Even in the distance which was a real bonus there. My main thing is surfing and the distance is again, something that I’m just starting to learn about. There is a lot more technique to it than just standing there and thrashing yourself through it, there is a lot more to it than that. So yes, to get the double in the September Sessions has just rounded off a really good summer.
SUPGlobal.com: Yes, and we’ve got a couple more BSUPA events coming up, are you going to be going to those?
Guts: Yes, the plan is to do the Isle of Wight and the final one which I think is up in Wales?
SUPGlobal.com: That’s right Yes
Guts: Yes, Being that I’ve had such a good start to the season, it would be nice to finish up the year keeping that number 1 Ranking thoughout the year. The idea being crowned the British Stand Up Boarding Champion I suppose. As I said though it’s quite hard as there are a few guys out there who are really surfing very very well.
SUPGlobal.com: Yes, Elliot has really been coming up..
Guts: Yes, Elliot powers… at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you are a wind surfer, a long board or a short boarder, if your skill level is high, you will, with a little bit of practise, you will transfer that level to your stand up paddling. Because it’s a new sport and it does draw on good paddle skills and the windsurfers are used to having the boom in their hands and to be not just riding the board but using an outside source to get the power, ie the paddle. Then the surfers come with very good wave knowledge. But then you’ve even got people like my friend, a guy called Rob Pountney who was World Masters Wave Ski Champion a few years ago. His paddle skill is phenomenal and he started stand up paddle surfing same sort of time as me back in Wales. Although he hasn’t actually done any of the contests he’ll blow a few peoples’ minds with what somebody who comes from a wave ski background can do. So it’s just nice to see the different angles of people who come into the sport and how that differs with the way that they approach the stand up. It was quite obvious in that Gwithian contest who the surfers were and who the wind surfers were. And that’s not to say that one was better than the other, as it turned out in the Gwithian contest in the final there were two windsurfers, Neal Gent and John Hibbard and two surfers, me and Elliot. It was just the style of riding and how they approached their stand up paddling and I don’t think that one way is better or worse than the other. I just think it’s good to have all the different styles and there is room for how ever you want to ride yourself, it’s a personal thing and that’s good. It’s the first time in history that windsurfers and surfers are united at the beach together!
SUPGlobal.com: They are all getting on!
Guts: So yeah, that can only be good. The more influences you get from different directions, it gives you a better idea and gives you more to think about.
SUPGlobal.com: So how has the sport been going in Wales? You mentioned PJ who I remember from the Gower, is it still quite small? Is it growing, is there a lot of interest?
Guts: It’s growing a lot, it’s caused a big buzz as I’m sure it has on every beach you see SUP’s on around the country. I would say it’s been… you are always going to have a bit of negativity when you’ve got a massive board introduced to a crowded line-up or busy beach, the same as when longboarding came in. There are a few people there who just see the long board and assume you’re going to be a pest and you’re going to be in the way. But I’d say on the whole, any negativity I’ve actually seen towards any of the stand up paddling has come from the more useless longboarders, who are actually riding their long boards to get more waves, and they see that that’s going to impact on them. But the guys who are skilful short boarders or long boarders, I think they understand that it’s another way of surfing and it takes quite a bit of skill.
SUPGlobal.com: Yes, we’ve found this a lot, that there is a misconception that it’s easy and it’s for people who can’t surf.
Guts: When ever I come across anybody who poo poos it a bit, they see you out there and go
”what are you? why are you doing that? You can be surfing better on your short board or your long board or what ever…what’s the point of it?”
And you go “well…have you had a go?”
You get them to try it and instantly a few things happen…a. they find it ridiculously difficult and they go..
“oh right actually that’s a lot harder than it looks”
They generally end up coming off going
“where do I get one from?”
Because stand up paddling is 10 times more fun that it looks, you’ve only got to look around seeing how many crap surfers there are in the world, not dissing anyone for it. Surfing is the hardest sport in the world, you can spend 30 years doing it and still be no good! It doesn’t matter if you are the worst surfer in the water or the best surfer in the water, the enjoyment level is far and above anything that you can do in almost any other sport I’ve ever done. I think it’s just phenomenal. If you are a crappy golfer it’s a very frustrating day on the golf course, you are hacking out of the rough every time. You are tree putting. You go and have a crap day of surfing to any level that you are at and it’s still an amazing day. The enjoyment doesn’t disappear just because you are not very good and I think that goes again for stand up paddling, surfing, whatever the board sports you are doing. So I think it’s a fantastic way to extend your time in the water. You just need to be slightly realistic that if you are not that good, and this goes for short boards, long boards or stand up paddle boards, if you are not very good, don’t put yourself in a position where you are going to become a pest. Because you will become a pest quicker on a stand up just purely because of the size of the board. I think it’s down to a personal policing. Use your head and don’t go out in the pack line up if you are not ready or up to the task. Go for the softer waves. But exactly the same applies for whatever you are riding, just use a bit of sense.
SUPGlobal.com: So you are riding for Jimmy Lewis, you hooked up up with them earlier in the year, I think you took the new 12ft Gun out to Ireland. That’s sold as a big wave board but you’ve been riding it distance and you’ve been riding it in the smaller surf as well. How are you finding that?
Guts: Yeah, I love it. I’ve got this gun and it’s certainly been advertised as the board to ride mountains! Obviously when you live in Wales or the UK as a whole mountains don’t come around that often and not that many people want to ride 20′ or 30′. Like I say I’ve had it a month or so and I’ve taken it out in some really glassy days, sort of head high. The board goes great. It’s a fabulous, really cruisey that you can draw some nice lines on. It’s beautiful, got a lot of glide to it. You can use it in 2′ to 20′ It’s a very versatile board and obviously it was a bit of a revelation riding it in the distance race because we were up against half a dozen of the very expensive, very technical ruddered Starboards, the new ones and I just thought, the whole thing about doing that race was just trying to keep in touch with those boards because, as we saw in Brighton when Ekolu (Kalama) came over, he absolutely obliterated the field on his. So I just thought if I can keep in touch with the 3 or 4 guys on those, I would be doing good because what I’m on is a gun, it’s not a distance board per say . So then to find myself with 2 miles to go and I’m in the lead, I thought ‘Right Oh’ I mean John was on my tail, he’s a very, very competitive person as he’s shown over the last season, so I expected him to come back and thought he was playing with me a little bit and I thought in the home stretch he’s just going to come zinging past and I thought, well OK, 2nd. That’s job done but by the finish line I was still 4 minutes ahead and I won! So the gun is obviously a very good cross-over distance board as well. It’s a proper race board, it’s got the right lines for a distance board anyway, it’s very stable so really it..
SUPGlobal.com: Ticks all the boxes.
Guts: Yes, so if you want to go out on a cruise on a really small day on a really rolling swell the gun’s great. It can catch waves and you can get it 3 or 4 turns before the wave has even peaked and then if it’s flat you can take it out on a distance cruise and if you want to race it, put your foot to the floor and you can go some. It will do that for you as well. So yes, I’m really happy with the gun and I’m stoked to have hooked up with Jimmy Lewis because for me who’s from the surfing background, their wave riders are more like surfboards than most of the other brands. A lot of the brands are coming out with very wide short boards, stubby boards with big fish tails and I think that suits a lot of people. I think as a surfer, I get more out of the more classic looking surf board lines that those waveriders have. And obviously they seem to be working ok because I’m getting the results. I’m really happy with the whole thing.
SUPGlobal.com: So you’ve got the next BSUPA events coming up, but what’s next, 2009. Are there plans to travel with the kit?
Guts: I’m really looking forward to the winter, I’m never going to say I want to be the next Laird Hamilton or anything like that, I like decent sized waves but…
SUPGlobal.com: You haven’t got a death wish!
Guts: No lol I’m 42 and I’ve got some nasty habits and I love my surfing and sizable waves. I do want to take the gun and some of the waveriders out on some of the bigger surf we get round here and see how they go. The nice thing about standup is that it makes a 6′ wave feel like a 10′. it’s the size of the board and the paddle in your hand. When you get into the big surf there is a danger factor, with the size of the board and because you are in the wave early you’ve got a bigger scope on the wave and so that makes the wave feel a lot bigger as well. So I can’t wait to get out in 8/10′ surf and see how it goes. Who knows, it might be so enjoyable I want to get a bit bigger but I don’t know, it’s…the whole of this summer we’ve hardly had any big surf. I’ve had a couple of sessions out on the sandbar and Langland on solid 6′ waves. if that’s anything to go by 12′ is going to be an absolute scream, so exciting. So that’s my plans for the winter, to push my own boundaries for what we’ve got around here. The big problem we’ve got in stand up paddling with travelling, you’ve got BA and people like that who don’t even want to take surf boards so to travel with a couple of SUP boards may be a big problem so I think it’s more a fact of trying to hook up with boards out there. We could go to the Maldives and we’ve got some there already..
SUPGlobal.com: That’s what’s good about the wave boards being made for stand up, you know your shape is going to be the same with the Jimmy Lewis in Hawaii.
Guts: Yes, I’d love to try and get out to Indo or the Maldives, somewhere really pretty with great waves. It would be great to get into some nice tubes as well, you know? Well have to see how that goes so that’s the sort of plan for next year but excited about the winter that’s coming and we’ll see how we go with that.
SUPGlobal.com: Great, well thanks alot Chris. Good luck with the BSUPA events and we’ll watch out for your results.
Special thanks to Nick Newton Williams for all of the photographs