Reuben May is Fatstick owner, manager and all round man behind the scenes of the brand. He’s a larger than life character with plenty of tall tales from his long life in watersports. Here Reuben waxes lyrical about all things stand up paddle boarding, Fatstick and life in general.
Before paddle boarding I was a long time surfer. One summer in my late teens my best friend and I went down to Newquay for some drinking and lady chasing. On the Saturday with a huge hangover we were chilling at the beach and I saw people surfing. I thought to myself that looks like a bit of a laugh and went along and hired a big foamy. I paddled out into the water and managed to catch my first few little waves. As soon as I stood up I was completely hooked and ran back to my friend on the beach and told him what an amazing activity surfing was; in addition it also cleared away my hangover quite nicely. I later moved down to Newquay from Bournemouth and became a beach lifeguard and surf instructor. I would spend summers guarding Cornish beaches and teaching surfing then in winter I would go searching far away for uncrowded perfect waves.
I have so many incredible memories of my time surfing. The main memories that stick in my mind are: when some close friends and I stumbled across a wave in Nicaragua. It was a perfect left-hander and offshore every day. We stayed in a shack on the beach and surfed everyday; just the few of us. It was just a special time in such a beautiful part of the world filled with much laughter, good waves and good rum. Actually whilst we were there one of my best mates got stung by a stingray- that was quite a sobering moment. On another day I was sat out back on my surfboard when I felt something bite my foot. I screamed out loud and fell off my board; everyone looked at me worried that there had been a shark attack. It turned out to be a huge turtle that just came along and had a little nibble of my big toe. Another vivid memory was my first stand-up barrel that happened down in Panama. I was surfing my mini-mal not my shortboard. If I have been on my shortboard I would’ve raced the line of the wave too fast and missed the barrel completely. It was a surreal moment I just remember this huge wave turning over my head and everything going in slow motion – it seemed to last forever.
Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning and Andy irons are heroes of mine. I even managed to see them in real life when I went to France to watch the WCT. I was pretty shocked when I heard of Andy Irons’ death. I had been away living in Africa in the middle of nowhere and had heard nothing in the media. Back in England years later I saw a RIP message somewhere with Andy Irons name next to it. I quickly Googled his name and found out he died a couple of years before; I couldn’t believe it! A great shame.
I enjoy going around on my electric skateboard and also land paddling. I also love paragliding, especially soaring above cliffs looking down at the water. However, I now have a young child and paragliding for me right now is a little too dangerous (though I still have the odd flight now and then).
I first saw paddle boarding in 2006. I was on a surf trip to France surfing a reef that picks up loads of swell. You end up getting a huge fat wave that peels for hundreds of metres. It was a really long paddle out on a surfboard and would take quite a while. I remember sitting out back and suddenly seeing a French chap with a big beard standing on what looked like a big longboard with a paddle in his hand standing up; even better was that he had his shortboard perched on the nose of the paddleboard. When he made it out back he anchored his paddleboard to a buoy and then surfed his shortboard for a bit. Then the next thing I notice is that he’s paddled his shortboard back to the paddle board, anchored it and was now surfing his SUP. I remember thinking that paddle boarding was an interesting concept and looked great fun. It was ideal for the reef we were surfing that day as he could get on the wave nice and early as set himself up. Years later when I came back from travelling I was back in my home town of Bournemouth down the beach and I saw paddle boards everywhere in the water. I chuckled to myself that this strange thing I saw in France many years ago had actually caught on!
I never intended on creating a SUP brand. I just wanted to get myself and my wife a paddle board and not have to pay loads of money for it. I guess I was lucky in a way because back then as far as I could see nobody else was offering a cheaper alternative. In terms of the surfing vs paddle boarding divide I had been out of the surfing game for a while due to a chronic back injury. In my naivety I didn’t realise surfers disliked SUPers so much. Maybe if I had known I wouldn’t have purchased a paddle board.
From my surfing days I knew surfers would often called their boards their “stick”. I thought that most paddle boards are huge compared to a surfboard, therefore came up with the name Fatstick.
I guess in terms of change within the SUP industry I’ve noticed boards getting smaller, particularly in the surfing genre. This is a great move as it allows the rider to perform more radical manoeuvers. However, from my own perspective there eventually comes a point where the board is so small you lose a lot of the benefits that a SUP gives you. Then I think I may as well go back to my surfboard. I’m a very heavy bloke and I need a big board to float me, it doesn’t really bother me being on a big board; at the end of the day as long as I’m having fun and catching waves I’m happy. Another change in the sport is how many differing genres there are nowadays. It’s fantastic seeing things like SUP polo and giant SUP racing which is turning an individual sport into a team sport and may appeal to more people.
In terms of evolving Fatstick we recently got into producing inflatable paddle boards. Many people love the practicality inflatable boards offer them and it can give some a great way of entering the sport even if they don’t have the space for the rigid SUP or a vehicle that can transport it. We are even producing giant inflatable boards that can float around six paddlers. These are a great option got a family or club as they don’t have to invest in lots of single boards. They can just get one huge one and everyone can jump on! On the surf side we are now producing innovative shapes such as the SUPSkate. This is a short, wide but very manoeuvrable board that can still be surfed by the average paddler due to its very large dimensions. In the future we wish to become better known for out surf SUPs. I think currently most people just think we are a company only catering for beginners and intermediates. The fact is we produce pretty decent surfboards and it’s a bit of a shame not many seem to know about it.
From our experience we don’t tend to have a most popular piece of kit. There isn’t a “one size fits all” for SUPers. Everyone likes to have their own piece of unique equipment and also something that often pleases them cosmetically.
In my own quiver I have a 10.6ft Red Ripper. I enjoy the sport because it does so much. If there is no service I can go for a nice sweep down the river or coastline. If there’s a wave I can still have a good surf; catching the wave early and turning the board pretty effectively. I also now use one of the 9.5ft SUPSkates for surfing as despite its shorter length it still floats me well being a heavy guy and it’s super loose on the wave and reminds me of surfing a standard surfboard back in the day. I have a 12.6ft Open Ocean Tourer which is great for distance paddling and exploring the coastline or catching the odd small wave and love the classic bamboo look. You can tell so much craftsmanship has gone into it. I’m very lucky for living in a area that can offer so much diversity.
I went for a family holiday to France last September and had an amazing time SUP surfing and exploring the nearby lakes. In the future I want to surf the Severn Bore and score some waves at Surf Snowdonia. In terms of going further afield I would love to go to Bali or Australia and New Zealand, however, with a young family this may be difficult at the moment.
My dream destination? Well, that would be anywhere with sunshine beautiful beaches and decent surf with my family being at my side.
As I mentioned earlier surfing the Severn Bore is a burning ambition as is surfing the Snowdonia wave. I also generally want to improve my paddle surfing skills and be able to perform more radical manoeuvres on the wave. I am also an occupational therapist so it would be great in the future to combine my therapy knowledge and SUP knowledge as an intervention for people with disabilities.
I think generally I’m just so lucky to have been able to make a career out of something I love so much. I never wake up in the morning thinking: ‘oh no I’ve got to go to work!’ I also enjoy meeting lots of new people and introducing them to this fantastic sport.
Big shout out to all my FatStick team riders- you know who you are and thank you for training or getting pictures on those cold miserable days when the rest of us are tucked up warm on the sofa. Thanks to the FatStick dealers who work hard doing free demo sessions and chatting to people about our kit. Also thanks to Nick Kingston for his support with the business and helping the SUPSkate project go from being an idea to a reality.