Words and photos: Tom Pattison
My name is Tom and I’m a stand up paddle boarder – there, I’ve said it!
In the kayaking industry, this statement generally gets you laughed out of the building. What I have come to realise though is that the people giving you grief have generally never had a go on a SUP and are yet to be enlightened about this new way to enjoy the water.
My first real exposure to SUP had been through videos of guys like Dave Kalama, Chuck Patterson and Laird Hamilton surfing waves. Having tried traditional board surfing and failed miserably, the idea of already being on your feet as you drop onto a wave really appealed to me. I’d always admired the gentleman surfers from back in the day on their long boards combining fancy footwork with riding waves and making it look effortless.
However, it wasn’t until last summer that the opportunity to finally have a go at SUPing presented itself. One scorching evening on Brighton beach and the gang at Brighton Watersports offered to lend me a board and paddle to go for a quick spin along the beach around the Palace Pier.
Coming from a kayaking background where you float around in an armchair, standing up on a SUP for the first time can be an interesting (and often hilarious) experience. Every ripple and every breath of wind will have you waving your arms around desperately trying to keep your balance before usually plunging head first into the drink – much to the enjoyment of onlookers on the beach.
Once you get over these jitters though, it is amazing how quickly progression comes and how rewarding SUP paddling can be. When you have found your balance, you feel stronger with each stroke of the paddle and your confidence on the board increases. Of course, the inevitable falls do happen but it’s all part of the package and just adds to the fun – I personally really like that split second feeling when you realise that you have just pushed it too far, lost your balance and are going for an early bath.
After this initial session I was hooked and headed straight back to the beach at the earliest opportunity to have another go. From here the descent into madness happened and I was quickly the proud owner of a second hand SUP board – cue the endless jokes and taunting from my kayaking friends.
The rest of the summer was spent playing around, exploring the Sussex coastline and figuring out exactly how to use the paddle to maximum effect. This may seem like a silly thing to say but it is amazing how much difference it can make having the paddle blade at slightly the wrong angle. There I was thinking that I was a seasoned kayak paddler and so would have no problem paddling and getting the board to go where I wanted it to go – but how wrong I was.
Higher centre of gravity
Because you have a higher centre of gravity, there is a lot more leverage transferred vertically into the paddle as it touches the water so you need to be a little more precise with your paddle strokes than in a kayak. Having the wrong blade angle as you put power into your forward stroke can cause the board to move laterally and your energy to not be used as efficiently as it could be. In addition to this, you should also be aware of your foot position and trim of the board – and that’s just the forward stroke!
The pearl in the oyster
After experimenting with different strokes for a little while I decided that it was time to get down to business, the real reason that I wanted to SUP, the pearl in the oyster – time to catch a wave.
Unfortunately Sussex is not known as the Mecca of surfing, so unless you’re prepared to travel to somewhere like Cornwall, you will need to be ready to wait a little while until the conditions are favourable. And wait I did, dreaming of charging down the face of a lovely clean wave, executing a sweet bottom turn just like I’d seen the pros do, all the while having the Hawaii Five-0 theme tune playing in my head. This time, the bikini clad babes on the beach weren’t going to be laughing at me, they would be blinded by the awesomeness.
The reality was a slightly different affair but nonetheless an enjoyable one. After paddling out into some fairly small but clean waves I spotted my peak coming in fast. With a nervous energy in my stomach, a few quick strokes had the board in position, the wave picked me up and I was off…for a swim! The grace and poise of the gentleman surfer was not running through my veins but I was undeterred. Paddling back out I spotted another wave coming my way and went for it. This time was a lot more successful and I quickly found myself sliding smoothly down the face, switching my foot position, leaning into a turn and it felt wonderful. It was exactly the feeling I had dreamed of but possibly without the style and grace. For the rest of the day I had the grin of a Cheshire cat that could not be removed from my face.
It has been a little too windy for me to get out on the SUP recently and with all the rain we have had over the last few months I’ve been back in my kayak and exploring white water rivers, but I’m itching to get back on the board as soon as I can. My plan for 2014 is to keep learning, improving my balance, surf more waves and above all have fun on the water.
I don’t know whether having some knowledge of paddle sports gave me an easier transition into SUP but I do know that my kayaking has improved because of paddling a stand up. Jumping on the board and going for a blast is also a great bit of exercise and beats going to the gym any day. I heartily recommend that everyone, kayaker or not, at least gives SUP a try once – but be ready to catch the bug because it’s very addictive…