Interview: SUP Mag UK
Photos: Marie Buchanan
Starboard SUP International and UK team rider Marie Buchanan is one of our best stand up exports. Smashing it on the UK SUP race scene, as well as mixing it up among international circles, Marie is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Giving plenty of men a run for their money, the South Devon based paddler recently got stuck into the gnarly Battle of the Paddle conditions in California. SUP Mag UK caught up with ‘Bu’ for a chat and to get the low down.
Tell us how you got into SUP? You were an avid windsurfer but seem to have been bitten hard by the stand up bug?
I just love being in or on the water and I am still very much an avid windsurfer, these days non-competitively. Before SUP arrived in the UK, I had competed in almost every windsurfing discipline over the years, including wave, slalom, speed, course racing and even tandem windsurfing! Early In 2007, I remember seeing the first SUPs appear in the windsurfing magazines. My first impressions were that it looked like a bit of a fad. Luckily, it wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to try and I was immediately hooked. Suddenly I had the perfect activity to get me on the water in every condition, not just when it’s windy.
What do you prefer – waves or racing? Every time we see social media updates it seems you’ve been missioning the miles but we know you love a liquid wall as well.
That’s a tricky one! I love both disciplines for different reasons. Racing fuels my competitive nature, I particularly enjoy the added challenge of technical races and racing in waves and love the social and travel opportunities that competing has opened up to me. Surfing is mainly just pure fun, expression and adrenalin. I find SUP surfing challenges me without the added pressure that goes with racing. SUPing in the surf is definitely the best and most fun way to keep fit for my racing.
What’s your usual SUP stomping ground and who do you normally train with?
I am very lucky to be based in Salcombe, South Devon with my partner Paul Simmons who is also a fellow Starboard SUP international rider and just happens to be my training partner too. Our local training water is the stunning Salcombe estuary and the many beautiful beaches, inlets and rivers that surround us here in the South Hams.
When did you realise you could mix it up on an international stage and what are your competitive goals moving forward?
My first international SUP competition was in 2013, at the ISA World Championships in Lima, Peru. After the difficulties we encountered travelling with our race boards to Peru, I chose to compete on an inflatable SUP. To my surprise, I found myself right in the mix finishing 6th in the 23km distance race and 5th in the technical race. At one point during the technical race heat, I caught a set wave from behind on my iSUP and overtook the top five girls taking the lead! Needless to say, from this moment onwards, racing in waves became my number one favourite.
Tell us about your favourite UK event and how you think the SUP race scene is looking at home?
In 2014 the UK race scene has really blossomed, thanks to a number of UK SUP clubs getting together to form the UK SUP Clubs national race series. In 2014 there were 10 races in total (five distance and five technical races) hosted from a variety of coastal and inland locations. The great thing about racing in the series is that you find yourself paddling in some amazing locations that you may otherwise never have experienced. It’s difficult to pick one absolute favourite as it often depends on race conditions and how I felt on the day. Personally, I prefer the variety and challenge of technical racing on the open sea – the rougher the better!
Who is your main rival (male or female) when it comes to home grown SUP? Anyone make you groan when you face off on the start line?
The ladies competition in the UK has grown massively this year, both in quality and quantity, which is fantastic and really great for our sport. For the first time this year, we had a separate female start line – much fairer and probably less intimidating for newcomers. I always get nervous before a race, no matter what the conditions, how big or small the race or who I am lined up against on the start line. As the start approaches I will most likely be wearing a serious game face. It’s not directed towards anyone in particular, it’s just my way of dealing with nerves and focusing on the race ahead.
What’s your best UK and best international result to date?
I was thrilled to win the overall National SUP Clubs Series title on my 12.6ft race board. This was my third year of winning a National SUP Race title and my third consecutive year qualifying for a place in Team GB to compete in the ISA World Championships. My best international achievement was winning the gruelling 220km SUP 11 Cities race in the Netherlands, in 2013. Without a doubt this was the longest, toughest endurance event I have ever completed.
You recently returned from an epic Battle of the Paddle event in Cali – how was it? What’s your highlight from Salt Creek? Any big take downs?
Yes, I loved it! This was my second year competing in the Battle of the Paddle, California. Last year at Doneny, conditions were a lot less intimidating and a perfect introduction for me. Conditions at Salt Creek were much more challenging and took me way out of my comfort zone! Fortunately, apart from getting nailed at the start in both the elite and distance races by big sets, I avoided any collisions and both me and my board remained intact. I witnessed plenty of carnage and takedowns during the men’s heats. The highlight for me was watching the men’s final from the beach. Awesome!
Who was your main competition at BOP?
In the elite race, I came 22nd in a very close race with Hawaiian, Morgan Hoesterey. I hadn’t really been particularly aware of her presence for most of the race as I must have been in survival mode. We had an exciting race to the finish, sharing a final wave into the beach and then a head to head sprint across the finish line. For the distance I had to race in the open category as I didn’t have a 14ft board to use. The open category was still very competitive and I was delighted to finish 3rd out of 19 women and to win my age group.
Tell us what you think in general of women’s SUP? It’s a growing area with more ladies coming into the fold each year. Do you think this upward trend will continue?
The accessibility and versatility of SUP has definitely captured the female imagination. It’s not just about surfing, racing and downwinding. With the growing popularity of SUP fitness and Yoga, manufacturers are now producing boards specifically aimed towards the female paddler. With more SUP clubs emerging and offering social paddling and fun racing at a local level, I’m sure even more woman will be inspired to take up SUP and hopefully try their hand at some racing.
Talk us through your prep before a big event like BOP. What’s your routine and which areas of your paddling do you focus on most during the lead up?
In the final eight weeks leading up to a big event like the BOP, I focus my practice on race specific skills and conditions. For the BOP, my on water training concentrated on beach starts, beach transitions, paddling in and out and manoeuvring and generally feeling comfortable in the waves. In the two weeks immediately before the race I taper down my training and use this time prepping my kit. This includes everything from leash system, hydration pack, PFD, recovery food & drink, board & paddle grips and sponsors logos.
What equipment are you riding at the moment and why?
I mainly race on a 12’6 race board. Thanks to support from Starboard, I have a couple of race boards to use for different conditions. The Starboard Ace is my choice in the wind and chop. It absolutely flies up and downwind, it’s almost like cheating! For the BOP I used the Starboard AllStar for both the elite and distance races. It’s great for catching and riding waves and has fantastic speed on the straight, flat sections between buoy turns – it enabled me to work my way up the fleet after my terrible start! For surfing, I have two Starboard surf SUPs; the 7.4 and 7.7 Carbon Pros. My 7.4 is my go to board if conditions allow. With only 80litres of volume, there becomes a point if it’s windy and choppy where I am falling in more than I am floating; then my 7.7 comes into its own!
Do you have any plans for the winter – either travel trips of personal SUP goals? Are you planning on taking a break from SUP and doing anything else or will you push on?
At the time of writing, we are just about to embark on a three week trip to Australia and it will of course be including some SUP! This is my first trip to Australia and my first downwind races; we’ll be entering the two well-known downwind races, the Dr Race and the King of the Cut. On our way out to Perth we’ll be stopping over in Abu Dhabi for a few days to see the Grand Prix, which should be epic! Following our week of downwinding and surfing in Perth we’ll be heading to Sydney to visit my brother and his family. It should be one amazing trip, I cannot wait!
What would you say to any women reading this, thinking about stepping up and competing? How would you encourage them to enter an event?
Hook up with your local SUP club (the UK SUP clubs website can help with this), some will run local races throughout the year. If you haven’t got your own race board I would suggest not rushing into buying one, but try to borrow or rent one first to find a size and shape of board that you feel comfortable and fast riding. If you are keen to invest in one piece of kit to help your racing, I’d strongly suggest buying a good, lightweight paddle – preferably carbon. This will maximise the efficiency of your stroke, whatever board you’re riding. While you may move onto narrower, more challenging boards as your technique improves, a good paddle matched to your physique should stay with you for years.
Give us three words that sum up stand up paddle boarding for you personally?
Energising, challenging and limitless!
Any final shout outs?
Yes please! I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who supports my racing; Starboard SUP and Starboard UK, Tideford Organics, Unit 6 Cross Fit and especially to Paul Simmons whom I love sharing this healthy SUP addiction and lifestyle with!