Five minutes with the women of SUP
Many thousands of years ago (as religion would have it) Eve ate that forbidden fruit and it changed her life forever – now women are eating all the fruit from the great big bowl of sport and they are loving it and if SUP was a fruit, the bowl would be so full and many, many women would be dipping their hands in to take a bite.
Such is the explosion of SUP in this country and the rest of the world. However, what does this mean to women in particular, as it is blatantly clear that we are different, no matter how anyone tries to make us the same?
Having spoken to 20 or so passionate paddlers, be they amateurs, elite, adventurers, surfers or social paddlers – here are some of their thoughts. They are not right or wrong, they have opinions but are not opinionated but one thing that binds them together is the love of their chosen sport.
Q: How do you feel about the women you have met through SUP?
Across the board the following words flowed – friendship, welcoming, amazing, supportive, inspirational, refreshing, awesome, motivating, strong, positive, kind and caring.
“The women I have met through SUP have been incredible, thoughtful, kind, caring, fun, genuine and generally bloody brilliant” was a direct quote from Kerry Baker. Kerry has raced and surfed for many years but is now putting her talents into the next generation of paddlers with a new club Island SUP.
Sonya Brotherton who has come from a very different but athletic background said, “I have found the ladies to be welcoming, encouraging, supportive, friendly and accepting of my enthusiastic nature with a passion for SUP. To watch at events and through social media I see determined, driven women with commitment and flair.”
Women seem to want it all with SUP and whether they race or not, they love a good adventure especially when shared with friends. Whether they have a sporting background or not, they love SUP with a passion. Many are happy to paddle on their own – as long as they are safe – and really feel it helps with their mental wellbeing. So important in this day and age with our fast moving, whirlwind world with the pressures of social media bearing down on us to post and promote ourselves as having that, “Wonderful life.”
When women have had a long day, or want to free themselves from the stresses of work or the family, they get out there no matter what time of day and train hard or just chill out on the water. If they are married or have a partner nothing pleases them more than if that person joins them on the water – there are many couples who have found that they can enjoy this sport together.
Jayne Lake gave this honest response, “I took the sport up to get over a water fear then I fell totally in love with the views, being in nature and that indescribable feeling of freedom. I wouldn’t be over emphasizing when I say SUP saved my sanity and just the thought of being at one with the ocean (hopefully on top of it!) makes me feel calm and happy.”
Not all of our lady paddlers belong to a club but this seems to be more of a logistics issue rather than not wanting to. Those who do have a local club really appreciate the support and care that is given to them and this is where the social side can really kick off. Be it help in training for a specific race (Bray Lake prepping for the Head of the Dart) or clubs like Frangipani who are BSUPA registered, have growing HUBs for their paddlers and instructors (SUP Senoritas, SUP Fit and SUP Race) and the fast-growing Northern SUP race team, who are pushing forward with drive and commitment specifically with racing.
Q: Who inspired these women in their early days in the sport?
Believe it or not it is all the other women who do that, be they lone figures charging their way to be the very best or working mums who are constantly juggling their lives. I think it is worth mentioning specific names (some males in here too) as most of them resonate with me too. Fran Blake, Ryan James, Nik Baker, Marie Buchanan, Phil May, Andrea Richardson, Lizzie Carr and from further afield Seychelle, Fiona Wylde and Yuka. Be proud you lot, you inspired and continue to do that to many, many paddleboarders!
Q: Who do women like to train with?
Again because of locality, some have no choice but to train alone and a lot don’t mind that at all. It keeps them focused and in the words of Fran Blake, “Paddling with someone is a bit anti-social anyway if you’re on a race board – you can’t and don’t chat until the coffee after!”
Otherwise, they are happy to train with men and women alike, some to be pushed by that faster paddler and some who have just found that wonderful friend. Here’s what Anna Little from the Northern SUP Race Team said, “BOTH. I love training with the strong faster men as they push me, but I also need the women too. I need the encouragement from the women and support.”
“I love training with anyone I can learn from,” said Samantha Rutt from Barefoot SUP and Fitness, “I’ve been hugely lucky to train with some of the best paddlers around – it hasn’t made me faster but it is giving me a deeper understanding of the sport and technique but I also learn from people new to the sport as well. I love being pushed out of my comfort zone and paddling with the faster girls.”
Now we have noticed over the last 18 months how many women paddle but don’t convert to the race scene. Not all of the ladies I have spoken to race. Some are on personal journeys due to health issues, some are raising environmental issues and some are into the more extreme sport of endurance. Alison Rennie, who often paddles on a tandem board with Allistair Swinsco and lives in Cumbria said, “When I started, I would NEVER have thought I could paddle 404k!” They have travelled all over the world with SUP and Alison does not class herself as a racer – she struggles with nerves on the start line – but she and Allistair are achieving so much whilst keeping themselves out of racing.
GBSUP recognised the lack of women racing even though there are hundreds all over the UK paddling, teaching and running superb clubs. “It would be nice to see more women racing” said Sarah Perkins. “The clubs and social SUP sessions are full of women, but many races have a male-bias. I’m not sure why that is, but new initiatives like the GB SUP challenges are a great taster for anyone thinking about racing.”
GBSUP brought in the Challenge Tour last year to enable men and women to join in all the fun but without having the pressure of being in a race. This year may see many convert to the race series (or possibly the other way around!) – it will be interesting to see the stats, particularly relating to women, at the end of the year. Luckily, all of the women I spoke to had heard of the leisure fleet – some will be using it this year whilst recovering from injuries – a great way to feel involved, catch up with their SUP buddies and get the mileage in.
One of our brightest young talents in the UK Holly Pye said, “Yes, the leisure fleet is the biggest fleet in the UK which is amazing! It’s the main way of increasing the awareness of SUP and the racing community.” All of her short career in SUP has been about the racing (blame the family) and here she is recognizing what we need to encourage paddling.
Final thoughts? What changes would women like to see in SUP?
Andrea Richardson: “Just to see more equality in how women are portrayed, sponsored and paid.”
Sam Barfield: “The politics – sometimes it just ruins things.”
Sasha Chisholm: “I’m all for inclusivity and accessibility.”
Jayne Lake: “I am no expert but one single governing body and better guidelines on training qualifications would be great.”
Wilma Zwikker-Killgallon: “If I could change things then it would be politics, that always gets in the way of fun.”
I will leave the last word to Ashley Allen, “It would also be great if everyone had the same positive attitude during this development stage of the sport, appreciating the opportunities that are arising. Everyone has a responsibility for how the sport develops, so respect and positivity should be embraced.” Hear, hear Ashley!
Thank you to all the inspirational and incredible women who helped build this article with their thoughts and gave their consent for me to use their photos.