State of the Sport 2008/2009


Well the summer is but a distant memory and the winter swells and storms are amongst us in the Northern Hemisphere. It gives us here at SUPGlobal a chance to reflect on the state of the sport at the end of 2008 and the direction that it has travelled over the course of 12 months. There has been some really positive and interesting developments, and as with the ying and yang of life there have been some extremely negative developments.

In the UK the "summer of stand up" was never really realised with the constant South Westerly storm systems giving us too much wind (the windsurfer were loving it). In between the storms the dedicated (read people who were able to pull a sickie) managed to get some decent clean waves, but it felt a little "few and far between". The British Stand Up Paddle Association (BSUPA) managed to complete a series of compeitions, featuring all manner of world champions, European champions and national champions from sports such as windsurfing, kite surfing and surfing. The atmosphere at these contests was really good, and it became clear that the social aspect was just as important as the competing. The feeling of comradary between the riders was very rewarding for all involved, and it needed to be as the waves never really got going. The beauty of SUP is that is did’nt matter as we were able to run distance events and when we had a wave the surfing was fun.

Given the unfortunate conditions and the lack of corporate sponsorship SUPglobal decided to step in and sponsor the first UK national BSUPA Champions trohpys, and were pleased to see the UK wave champion Neal Gent, UK distance John Hibbard, Ladies Claire Blacklock and Bobbie Cooper, all of the champions from the South Coast. SUPGLobal also had a stand at Surf Shop 2008 – the surfing trade show in Exeter, which enabled us spread the word about SUP.

SUPGlobal had an excellent trip to California in May 2008 and it really felt like the scene was new and close knit. However reading in the surfing press and talking to friends over in California the expansion of the sport has bough conflict and bad feeling between SUPers, surfers and other water users. Coming from a surfing background myself I was all set to brush this off as just the rivalry that has always gone on with surfers, but it has become apparent that it has moved alittle beyond that. The most recent incident was at big wave location Mavericks in Northern California where Haley Fiske was run over by Tow Surfer Anthony Ruffo and suffered two fractured ribs (read about it here).

There does not appear to be such bad feeling yet in the UK, although internet warriors and the odd story crop up, there is very little bad feeling in the line-ups that I surf in, as a friend once said to me "a kook is a kook, whether they are on a boogie board, surfboard or SUP board". Wise words.

With the global credit crunch hurting wallets around the world it should be a grim out look for SUP in 2009, however, talking to my fellow SUPers the one thing that they all agree on is, despite the hard times, they will find a way to continue paddling, as that is what makes life worthwhile. I think a lot of retailers and manufacturers can take reassurance from that !

We asked some of our friends from around the world to give their take on the "state of the sport" and here are they are :

Neal Gent (UK National SUP Surf Champion):

We haven’t had the best year for surf at the comps but there have been some epic free sessions, especially in Ireland. At my local spots i can’t believe how many people are really getting into it.It seems like we’re all just as excited about SUP as when we started, and i’m still learning new stuff every session which keeps me motivated. The only down side is some negativity from some of the guys who haven’t tried it yet. On and off the water it’s a shame they can’t just accept it as a different way to enjoy the surf. The crazy thing is most of them are guys i’ve surfed short-boards with for ages!! I think we need to be really responsible surfers and not get greedy- we have such a massive catching advantage it would be very easy to piss off the surfers in the majority and end up getting banned from places. The other way round it of course is to head away from the crowds and check out that new spot you’ve always looked at but never bothered to paddle to!! Either way can’t wait to ride some new places with more new people. I’m gonna try to get all the boys on an SUP board this year and share the buzz!!


Ivan Van Vuren (Former Pro Windsurfer and South African SUP Legend):

S.U.P/ SUB / Paddlesurfing?? What would we call it? – Those were the early day questions. 5 years ago, paddling around San Diego people who had never seen it before would even come and ask me if I had invented the sport, now almost every stretch of water has someone “walking on water”.

As 2006 arrived SUP kicked in full force in Hawaii and the big question then was, “is this just another fad” – well 2 years later and having traveled around the globe doing photo shoots and currently testing boards on the dark tip of Africa, (the last place one would expect to find SUP) , where almost every 10 minutes a new request comes into our office from somewhere in the world with regards to getting started in SUP. What does this mean?

Growth- Yes. Controversy- Yes. Conflicts- Absolutely. As with anything new, be it the shortboard, the wetsuit, the windsurfer, the kiteboard (the list goes on) one can expect to encounter some resistance from the dominant forces that wish to maintain their ego status. SUP has been no difference- some love it- some hate it, that is until they try it and become the biggest converts. So where does that leave the future. Having been involved in the progression of both the windsurfing and kiteboarding movements, SUP is without a doubt only just starting as we see shorter 7 ft boards with straps, longer 16 ft boards for racing, more refined wave designs and accessories that will take the sport to new levels. Buckle up and hold on. Ivan van Vuuren

Nancy Emerson (Surf Champion and pioneer Woman’s World Tour competitor):

Well What I have seen is this. The Sport of SUP has been really good for people and their fitness building number one. And its a great way to enjoy the coast lines around us.

But in area’s like Currumbin, Queensland Australia & spots like Makaha, Tennis Courts, Queens and Pop’s some surfers think they own the spot and just have no manners at all period. If people looked at THE DUKE and would just take time to remember what kind of man he was and how polite and kind he was and shared waves, we would have better vibes for all.
There are so many waves and one can learn to share and be safe in the right location for ones ability.

Another important factor is to many companies are selling & renting SUP’s to beginners and NOT educating these people (the men) that they have no business out in the line up when they can not surf in the first place. There are excellent instructors out there that can guide the beginner in the best direction.

No one should be out in the line up thats not an excellent surfer to begin with period. We see guys who couldn’t catch many waves on a surf board, now they can catch heaps and don’t care who they run over. Its a joke and they know who they are, but just have no manners in the water or on land.

Todd Bradley (C4 Waterman Co-Founder and Hawaiian Waterman):

It would be my guess-timate that 95% of the SUPers I see on Oahu have picked the sport up as a health/physical training activity. The number of people actually riding the waves doesn’t compare to the recreational/flat-water paddler.

I’ve also noticed on the North Shore that there are probably more females than males actively engaged in SUP from day to day, and they are using it for fitness/social group/family activity with the kids, which I believe is the greatest potential growth area of the sport. There is no negative side to this type of participation.

The only negativity I’ve heard of comes from SUPers riding waves. Even then, there’s not necessarily any concrete grounds for conflict, just an aversion to another type of craft in the lineup, particularly given that it can catch waves easily.

Of course, there’s always going to be the odd kook or egotistical SUP ripper, but I think most people are pretty mindful of sharing and respecting in the lineup.

Seems some of the most vehemently aggressive objectors are middle-aged/older longboard males, who can’t stand the karmic justice of someone finally being able to out-catch them….

Simon Bassett (SUPGlobal and 2XS):

Paddle surfing in 2008 seems to have slowed up a little due to the poor weather in the UK, if you had a chance to get a surf between the wind fronts we have certainly had a pretty good time this year. In the UK we crowned the first British SUP champions, against poor conditions and some in the surf community who seemed to be against the idea of running contests in any sized surf. The demand for flat water and surf SUP gear on the South Coast still seems to be strong, as the surf conditions suit SUP riding. In my travels this year to Maui and Baja and California SUP seems to have a real pioneer feeling about it. People from around the globe are really stoked about the sport.

For 2009 I can only see paddle surfing getting better, there might be a few idiots who show no respect to other surfers in the line up, but there are plenty of peaks away from the crowds that make paddle surfing such a unique sport. Even with the gloomy financial outlook I certainly will be taking every opportunity to get on the water this year and will be teaching loads of new recruits how to paddle surf.

2009 looks to be a really exciting year for SUPGlobal, with a number of events planned, new clothing range, more gear tests and some surprises along the way.

Dave Parmenter (Pro Surfer, SUP shaper and Waterman):

The whole appeal of ‘beachboy-style’ surfing (yes, that was what we originally called it here in Makaha—— newcomers trampled our christening and replaced it with ‘SUP’) was first and foremost that it provided a vector in which one could escape crowds and conflict and The Beaten Path. It seems inevitable, however, that there will be newly fledged stand-up paddle surfers who think the thing to do is paddle plumb spang into the middle of a crowded surf break and start wolfing down waves like M & Ms. As one of the pioneers of this new sport, I have begun to worry that some day I will find myself feeling like Charles Lindbergh, an aviation pioneer who spent his life promoting commercial aviation, only to end up disillusioned and consequently denounce it in his later years. He had seen what he firmly believed to be man’s greatest achievement perverted, from Guernica to Vietnam, into a pitiless conveyor of winged death. Stand-up paddle surfing faces the same sort of crossroads: Does one employ our craft to promote brotherhood and pioneer the empty places——or instead rain down bombs upon civilian populations? When you head out into the sea, recall these words from Robert Brault, which I believe every stand-up paddle surfer ought to consider a holy oath: "Count no day lost in which you waited your turn, took only your share, and sought advantage over no one."