Words: David Tidball (Tids)
Pics: David ‘Tids’ Tidball, Icon
Downwind SUP is generally thought, by the wider global SUP audience, to be the ultimate test of rider skill. Yet those who practice DW in the UK are still few in numbers. We caught up with David Tidball (Tids), organiser of the Icon’s (downwind SUP race) stand up paddle section, to get his thoughts on the event and UK downwinding in general.
Why organise a downwind event?
When I started downwinding no events existed. I’m not driven to paddle round a lake and most racing is like that. I wanted a challenge. I knew surfski paddlers were the apex predators in the ocean. Mark (founder of the Icon) used to come into my shop and over the course of a year we chatted. I kept pushing I wanted to race in the event. Finally he agreed. I could nominate seven others with sufficient skill they would not need assistance. Then I was made to paddle the race alone with the top end of a force 6 blowing. There was one spotter shadowing me but when I showed Mark my time he was encouraged. Two weeks later in 2014 we raced and I did the safety from my open ocean SIC 14. With decent times from the likes of Marie (Buchanan) and Ollie (Shilston) he was excited and put me in charge of the Lee Bay launch. Three years on we now have over 100 competitors in all craft downwinding!
Where do you see the Icon’s SUP division heading over the next few years?
I don’t really see it in that way. It’s a fun journey, some call it a race, but we all share the success of travelling as fast as we can on that stretch of ocean. So long as the winner is on the beach clapping in the last then the spirit of this race will grow. I’ve been offered similar options now with the race in Looe – a test race. (At time of writing there should have been a test race completed). The legacy of the Icon will be to make more races multi-craft and multi-participant. There have been talks about making it a paddle weekend as well. I like the Icon’s current lack of commercialism though. We’ve got it about right, but we do want more prone paddlers next year.
Do you think it could eclipse the other disciplines?
It has its place. I think it’s the peak of skills paddling in open ocean environments. So not eclipse but give those who think they are good the opportunity to understand there is still room for personal growth and improvement. The Icon tends to make riders humble. It eclipses egos.
How does a DW SUP race differ from usual?
The start is always relaxed. I ensure this by getting all the safety right BEFORE we go. The race location is beautiful and wild. The spirit of the race is respectful. There are some great athletes out there who have humble hearts. Post-paddle food is always a great chance to meet and share. There’s no drafting and there’s plenty of dunk time!
Many paddlers still don’t get DW. How would you convince them to try?
Hard one. One time I set out to DW with seals at the departure and arrived to rainbows. I sat and watched a Red Arrows display during the middle section and the sea was empty. I was alive and alone. If that rings bells then DW could be for you. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea as it’s an internal experience really.
What about logistics? Any tips to make it a smoother operation?
Good weather, good safety and a good caddy with like-minded friends is a good start. But you must go with someone who is experienced!
Do you need specialist equipment – if so, what?
Not really. Our first boards had cost £1000 for BOTH! I am saving up for a 17fter. The problem is that a 12ft race board will NOT work when it’s good. Trust me, I train on an 11ft to develop skills. Originally I used my 12ft Munoz but it was limited to smaller short chop swells. I’d recommend a 14ft SIC Bullet, the best allrounder and cheapest access shape. Maybe we’ll get some stock in Europe for this DW season during Sept- December.
Tell us why you think DW SUP hasn’t caught on as widely in the UK as elsewhere?
I think it gets media but paddling canals and slow flowing rivers is what the majority do.
I don’t believe many have the skills (yet). A few pockets exist with Charlie Grey, Ian Phillips and Paul Burgess doing a bit in Wittering. Now I see there’s a Welsh and Scottish crew developing. I’m hoping to run kit down to Tenerife next February for a month. People can come and DW and develop their skills and be ready for the following September.
How would you advise paddlers to get into DW?
Know yourself firstly then go with a trusted mentor who will guide you along the right path.
Any final thoughts on downwinding or the Icon in general?
Thanks to those who loyally turn up each year. It’s a great honour to have Ollie Shilston, Paul Simmons and Marie Buchanan (apologies to those I’ve omitted) getting into the spirit. Thanks to Mark Ressel for being open minded enough to make it possible. The world needs more people like him. I think downwinding has given my training a reason and kept me excited on SUP 10 years in. I am still interested and intrigued by where SUP can take you. DW may never be very popular but I get on the water to get away from the land and those who dwell on it. I’m never more focussed than when I’m downwinding. I’d prescribe at least one dose for everyone who thinks they’ve got SUP nailed.