History lesson – UK stand up paddle boarding 10 years+ on

Words: Adam Zervas, Charlie Grey, Chris Kenyon, Dave Adams, Joe Thwaites, John Hibbard, Jay ‘JSUP’Manning, Maff Wall, Mark Slater, Matt Argyle, Matt Barker-Smith, Nick Watt, Pete Holliday, Simon Bassett, Tez Plavenieks, SUPM.

Pics: Bob Berry, Joe Thwaites, BSUPA, BaySUP, Dorset Surf Photography, Adam Zervas, Central SUP, Dave Adams, Tez & Fi Plavenieks, Chris Griffiths, Red Paddle Co, Jay Manning, Starboard SUP UK, Simon Bassett, Steve & Mandy West, Charlie Grey, Georgia Wharton, Dave White.

It’s been 10 years plus since SUP first landed on UK shores. In fact, it’s been 10 years since stand up took off (officially) globally. Our humble beginnings can often be eclipsed by what occurs s across the pond and while Laird, Kalama and co are undoubtedly the catalyst for modern day SUP as we know it we’ve no shortage of pioneering paddlers in this neck of the woods. What follows are comments and observations from some of those who’ve been involved in stand up paddling since the early days. By no means conclusive the following article should give insight to where UK SUP’s come from and where it might be headed.

Adam Zervas – stand up paddle surfing pioneer

I think what attracted me was the escape and the challenge of trying something that was different. Coming from a lifeguard/longboard surfing background I revelled in the thought of experiencing another wave riding vehicle to master.

My first SUP session was on a 12ft foot tandem board I was looking after for a friend while he was moving house. I have never been so frustrated in my life, I thought it would be super easy. Not defeated I purchased a carbon paddle from Todd Bradley and had it shipped over from Hawaii, meanwhile I got the late Mark Neville to shape me a giant 11ft longboard. We kept nearly all the thickness of the blank. Mark put quite a performance drawn in squash tail on it, which came from a tandem board template that he had. All this was totally experimental. I would paddle out at Watergate and everyone would wonder what the hell I was doing. I always kept away from people as I was concerned that I would kill someone if I hit them accidentally!

The learning curve was steep and quick. I was not intimidated by the board’s size and seemed to progress quickly. I loved the perspective and the challenge – just getting out through a 4-5ft foot beach break waves was a challenge. It rekindled my love of surfing and turned me into a frothing grom again. I was obsessed by SUP, it was all I thought about and did.

Four years ago everything slowed down after getting a prolapsed disc in my neck. For nearly a year I could not do anything including turn my head to the left. This left me super frustrated and sat on the side watching things move on. Through a lot of treatment I am back in the water and loving all aspects of surfing step by step. I am not obsessed by it anymore. I choose what I want to ride every day on what I feel like and love the fact that I have options.

Over ten years of stand up paddle boarding have flown by, each aspect of the sport has exploded. It’s drawn talents from so many different fields and I am looking forward to seeing where it will go.

Charlie Grey – competitive paddler and UK shaping guru

I first picked up a paddle in 2007/2008. Unlike a lot of people I came mainly from a surfing background with a little windsurfing on the side. Back then there were only a few people in the area with a SUP and only two or three designs to choose from. We did everything on one board. Around 2010 the first race boards started appearing and I got heavily in to the that scene. After going through the whole sponsorship thing I found I was not riding the boards I wanted to and not enjoying myself so I cleaned the slate and started shaping boards for myself, friends and customers. I have a hole list of paddling things I still need to tick off along with a number of boards and products I’m developing which will raise the bar and step things up a bit. Competing at the ISA Worlds in Fiji was a highlight though!

Chris Kenyon – Central SUP Club founder

My Involvement with SUP started just before 2010. To my knowledge there were only two SUP websites you went to for paddling chat. There was virtually zero social media and no SUP clubs. Imagine that compared to now! A big driving force back then was John Hibbard who not only told me the wise words of, ‘ you have to grow the SUP scene in your area ‘ but also pioneered the Coke bottle race series. Such a simple format but what a great way to get people interested in the sport.

Not long after myself and Scott Warren started the Midlands 5ive Winter Series which became a huge turning point in the development of Central SUP. Incidentally I came up with the name Central SUP whilst sat on the toilet!

Training wise there was not much either. I think BSUPA and the ASI where emerging and I still have very fond memories being in Norfolk with the legendary Steve West learning the finer points of paddle technique in freezing cold hail. A few key clubs would talk and share ideas which often involved making something new as it just wasn’t there yet and the scene just grew and grew.

Central SUP has gone from a handful of paddlers to 99+ members and still rising. What I think has been really interesting is the mainstream influx of people into the sport. My first lessons where to inland surfers and water people. This summer it’s more often than not been somebody’s first experience of watersports. That’s where I think the future of SUP is. The growth area to me is beginner and intermediates with all-inclusive events and adventures. I hope that we continue to consciously develop and offer a high standard of lessons and instructor training so that people can paddle safely and respectfully on the water. In addition to that the junior scene is a very exciting part of the sport that I love being involved with. As for Central SUP we shall keep on doing our thing and loving being on the water.

Dave Adams – pioneering white water paddler

Endless waves…? That was the plan anyway, and it worked. In 2010 I decided to bite the bullet and spend 600 quid on an iSUP.   Already time served in similar disciplines, surfing, kayak and canoeing, there was no way I was gonna faff about getting used to the craft on the flat!  In at the deep end, straight to my  local ‘playwave’.  A standing wave that does not move and is formed by the water coming over an obstruction, usually concrete or rock, and makes the perfect watery quarter pipe.

I knew deep down that an iSUP was only going to satisfy my river surf needs. Soon after  I had a solid board – Big Easy. I decided that after a two year break from prone surfing because of serious ear problems – stand up would allow me to hit the surf again without ear problems. Also, those tiny non surf-able waves that we get so often are now totally on offer and actually can be shredded.  Making sections that were never possible without a paddle. Wow SUP Surf could be the pinnacle!?

Having already done loads of over night multi day canoe expeditions, it didn’t take much of a push to get me back on the multi day stuff again, but this time standing. The Inner Hebrides were my first SUP expedition. 80 miles island hoping in the wilderness. Perfection! Big thumbs up to Nick Watt for helping me get started in Expedition SUP.

This obsession with ocean trips pushed me to upgrade my kit. That added another angle to my SUP exploits. Downwinding. Of course I had done a few downwinders already but never really had huge success, until i got the finest down wind machine on earth! A hollow customs made SIC Bullet 17v2. WOW! The board is also kitted out for multi day trips with everything built in. This thing really has enabled me to push my performance envelope further than ever. The rudder means I can now deal with otherwise deadly seas in the wilderness. My next plan is to paddle the entire length of the Scottish North Coast. Around the infamous Cape Wrath and the even more scary Duncansby Race.

Joe Thwaites – Loco brand owner and early adopter

Casting my mind back almost 10yrs the credit crunch had killed off my financial services head hunting business while I was away windsurfing in Dahab so necessity forced a change direction. I remember rush buying a van and then swung by Roger Tushingham’s off the beaten track home to collect some boards in the pitch black. Always keen to try new kit I blasted down to Seaton to meet my brother the next day with a couple of the boards and some very basic aluminium paddles, fins in, suits on we were both stood up and out back in about 10mins flat. Maybe it was the next big thing?

Teaching at Tynemouth in my first season wasn’t necessarily what I’d first dreamed of in Cape Verde. Detailed risk assessments and standard operating procedures didn’t really exist we just used common sense and refined how and what we taught as we sussed it out ourselves. Stand up paddle Surfing DVDs were our lifeblood and trying to emulate those early moves was what we did.

Over the next couple of years we saw some slightly shorter and narrower generation two designs which worked with varying degrees of success. From a demanding rider perspective there still wasn’t anything that jumped out at me so I bit the bullet and started Loco. My sessions have certainly become a lot more fun since I’ve taken more of an active role in R&D and testing the boards in Fuerteventura, Morocco as well as here in the UK has really given me an insight into what’s possible.

Currently there’s a variety of vastly improved hard boards on the market from what I can see. Some brands do everything well others have their specialist field. The iSUP market seems to be growing year on year for the recreational side of the sport. It seems like the tech is finally catching up with hard fins, hard edges and improved stiffness and it looks like things will move forward quickly.

Looking forwards I believe we’ll see more boards that are made from new lightweight, innovative constructions as well as more responsible materials as customers err towards green purchases. With prices going up in the Far East I think we’ll also see more production being done locally either under license or just with higher pricing for better quality. In terms of designs we’ll see more surf shapes challenging what was thought possible in terms of ridable volumes and in racing we’ll see more brands investing in hydrodynamic software to optimise the R&D process.

It’s an exciting time to be in SUP as a brand and as a rider. The future certainly looks bright so we look forward to being part of SUP’s evolution.

John Hibbard – founder of Red Paddle Co and SUP pioneer

I started paddling in 2007. Initially I was pretty sure that SUP was going to be a surfing and racing focussed sport. I was having so much fun mastering the art of handling a SUP board in the surf and loving the flexibility it gave me to ride different waves. My competitive lobe was being fully satisfied by racing. Hot off the back of my pro windsurfing career I had basically just swapped one competitive board sport for another. That was all well and good but it did dawn on me after about two years that there was so much more to SUP. The social aspect was missing for me. I can’t say the surf scene was exactly stoked to have me stroking through the line up – I promise you that I was not stealing waves or taking more than my share but it was more like walking into a fiercely localised pub than hanging out with a bunch of mates!! That didn’t put me off the surfing side of things it just made me think there was probably a way to get something more out of the sport. That was around 2008-2009 and one of the main reasons for starting Red Paddle Co. We just wanted to provide brilliant kit that was easy to use and ticked all the boxes for the recreational paddler who were more likely to paddle up the river than take off on a 6ft hollow left hander.

I did still think though that SUP surfing would explode and we’d see stacks of paddlers out in the waves. In my mind this hasn’t happened. I don’t know why really, but there has not been the uptake of surf SUPping I had anticipated. I still love it but I also love going for a cruise with friends and family along the coast or down the river.

That’s where I am at now. I surf, I cruise and I am super excited about the concept of team racing on the Red Dragon board. I really think it can inject some new excitement into the world of SUP racing.

Jay JSUP Manning – all round SUP enthusiast and Fanatic brand ambassador

It feels like I’ve been paddling for decades but only 10 years ago stood on a SUP for the first time after  accidentally  coming across it at a local windsurf spot. I remember taking a board out for a play and coming back saying can: ‘I have this!’ Being from a windsurf background I was hooked on this new sport and it felt natural. I had a 12ft Cruiser Starboard and was super stoked with it at the time. Before long I started to hit my local windsurf beaches and dudes would give me some strange looks and make comments. I think it was about eight months later I joined Facebook and used social media to look for other paddlers.

It was hard finding any info – certainly not like today. I remember my first SUP social in Littlehampton and meeting a few bods there. A year and a half later BSUPA held their first SUP comps. I think there were four events? It was fun meeting up and seeing new faces. Mark Slater was one my first SUP buddies with more coming to the group as SUP grew.

My first four years paddling I was sponsored by Starboard and Blue Chip. With social media growing I spotted a way to get my name out there even more. That’s when I coined the nickname JSUP. I then started to really push things. In 2011 I joined Fanatic which propelled me further into the sport. The rest, as they say, is history.

I would like throw a big shout out to Stu Ord-Hume who helped me during those early years. We did some crazy stuff on paddle boards to help spread the stoke. I’m still very passionate about SUP and get a buzz every time I hit the water.

Mathew ‘Maff’ Wall – early adopter and SUP racer

SUP for me started back in early 2008, I was walking along the beach with my family when I saw three people out on boards,  having never seen it before I was curious and when they came up on to the beach I got talking to one of them. This is when I met Tids from our local surf shop and he was about to change my life! Now I didn’t have any watersports background but he told me of a club he was starting and that I should come along and have a go. Well I did, and it kind of snowballed from there.

We were paddling several times a week (Tids, Big Keith, myself and others), exploring the local bays and river, with Friday nights being club night. Devon Paddle Club grew quickly and the whole family would paddle, we would surf the sandbar if there was a wave about, and we would be introducing new people to the stoke nearly every week. The evening would end with the kids sat around the BBQ while we sunk some beers watching the sun go down.

My first event was at Hayling Island 2010. Three races around the creeks behind the sailing club. I’ll always remember that first one. It was cold, the wind was howling and I put a wetsuit on. Big mistake! I did literally cook myself but I was hooked on racing from then on. Then in 2014 the UK SUP Clubs Championship was started – it’s what we were waiting for. A series of races where points scored at each one went towards the championship.  I sold my surf shapes to buy a newer race board and prepared for the year ahead.

2016 has been great and very busy, what with UK SUP, Frostbite Series, Summer Series, N1SCO championships and SupBikeRun. I think it’s just shy of 30 odd races I’ve attended. Whether one mile or 10 mile they’ve all been great fun, with great people, in great places.

What will next year and beyond bring? More of the same I hope. I fancy some longer distances. I’ve followed the 11Cities for years and would like to do that and maybe a European comp or two. Whether I do remains to be seen. I need to get a new surf shape and get some more surfing in also but I’ll continue with the UK SUP Clubs series for sure!

Marie Buchanan – UK’s best female SUP racing export and Starboard team rider

Starboard rider Marie Buchanan is one of the UK’s finest SUP racing exports – she’s not bad in waves either. Having put on fine displays of paddling speed, both domestically and overseas, Marie demonstrates an initiative and dedicated love for stand up and all it represents. Being also a successful windsurfer Marie heard the call and quickly switched the majority of her attentions to stand up. While still dabbling with sail power, from time to time. ‘Bu’ is most commonly on the brine with a paddle in hand which shows in her results.

Mark Slater – ultra distance nut and early SUP racing pioneer

Stand up paddle boarding for me started summertime 2006. I can’t remember exactly where I heard about it, but I think like most in those early years it would have had something to do with the big man himself, Mr Laird Hamilton.

I purchased a 12′ Custard Point from Tim Mellors in Newquay and for my first attempt I thought I’d have a go surfing Boscombe in some stormy, wind blown and mushy waves, suffice to say, I spent very little time stood on the board and zero time actually surfing it. So, second time out I thought it may be better to try some slightly calmer conditions. Now I’m not sure whether I had a lightbulb moment, or read about it somewhere, but during those early flatter water practice paddles it transpired SUPs could be used as a form of transport/exercise machine. And with that in mind I decided to attempt to paddle from Poole to Weymouth (around 30 miles) on my birthday in September of that first year. I did end up having a little extra assistance as I got picked up by a military boat at Kimmeridge and dropped off by Lulworth, due to the army firing range being in operation!

Another paddle that year, while attempting to round Portland, saw me getting caught in the tidal race. No matter how hard I paddled I made no headway whatsoever. Eventually, after about an hour, a friendly fisherman came to my recue and gave me a ride in his boat. While talking to him on the journey to drop me off in calmer waters, I realised, if attempting to distance paddle in the future, which involves some fast flowing tidal water, it may be worth timing it to try to get those currents working in my favour, rather than setting off and just hoping for the best…

Early in 2007 I heard an organisation called BSUPA were holding their first event at West Wittering, which was all very exciting. It meant I could actually go meet and compete with some fellow paddlers – stand up paddling had been a very lonely affair for me up until that point. Then wham bam, after a few events and challenges, nine and a half years fly by and here we are in the present day.

I still look forward to getting out on the water whatever the conditions. I try and attend as many events as possible and have a few ideas for personal challenges, although unfortunately in the last few months (2016-early 2017) the elements haven’t coincided with available time slots to attempt anything special.

I am very thankful for the help, support and sponsorship provided by Fanatic, ION K-66 over the past 4 yrs. As for the future, ummm, let me think, yep, more of the same please: water, waves, races, adventure, good times and good friends!

Matt Argyle – paddle surfing addict and early SUP media guru

I spent my early years surfing, windsurfing and skateboarding around the UK, finally heading to the beautiful Gower Peninsular in South Wales to study and to get more water time. After I completed my degree I spent a couple of years in Canada, allowing me a chance to do a lot of snowboarding and surfing cold perfection on Vancouver Island and all the way over to Nova Scotia (with a couple of California trips thrown in to warm up). Upon returning to the UK I found myself first of all in London, then down on the south coast at the Witterings. I switched to longboard surfing as it allowed more water time on the Wittering waves.

In 2006 I saw Laird Hamilton stand up paddle surfing and decided that I should give it a try. Andy Cooper (who ran a surf shop called Air Head) got me an 11ft Jimmy Lewis board and taught me the basics. The next person I bumped into on a SUP was Neal Gent, future UK SUP Champion, surfing at Bracklesham. With my good friend Simon Bassett, Neal and Holly Bassett we spent the next couple of years going to contests and adapting to new SUP equipment as the boards got shorter and narrower.

I set up a website called SUPGlobal and also spent two years as chairman of the British Stand Up Paddle Association, helping to get permission for paddling on British Waterways and helping to develop training qualifications. In 2010 I was part of a relay team that crossed the English Channel – an experience I will never forget. In 2014 I moved to North Devon and then had a very difficult year with my wife being diagnosed, then losing her battle with Leukaemia. Throughout this time stand up paddling was very precious (as it was scare). It allowed me time to myself to begin rebuilding my life.

In 2016 I decided to return to competitive SUP surfing and managed to come 3rd overall in the masters category of the BSUPA National Series. Now I am more focused on bringing up my children and introducing them to surfing and SUP. I love to take my distance board out with my daughter sitting on the front. I am pretty sure that soon she will be paddling me around! I also occasionally teach SUP to beginners and help to coach intermediate SUP surfers to improve technique and have more fun.

SUP in North Devon has really started to grow in the last couple of years, with inflatable boards bringing it to a mass market. I see more people out there every summer, however, it is still low numbers compared to the south coast of the UK.

There are so many beaches, canals, lakes and waterways to explore in the UK, SUP is still very embryonic, so there are plenty of opportunities to find new waves, crossings, downwind routes and most importantly have fun!

Matt Barker-Smith – ex-UK paddle surfing champ and stand up retailer

I remember my first go; falling in a lot but the ‘glide’, the feeling of ‘I can go anywhere’ and surf anything hasn’t changed it’s just evolved. Over the last few years I’ve had a new focus in my life (my son Oscar) but I’ve still managed to hold 3 consecutive BSUPA National SUP Surf Championship titles.

Competing for Team GB was a pleasure but hard work. The ISA Worlds in Mexico was fun but my mindset was not as focussed as it has been. I suppose your priorities change. The amount of time you get to do what you want to do certainly does with a young family!

Stand up paddling is still my life but more so now servicing other people’s desires rather than getting my own fix of waves is the norm. I find myself getting in less and less as The SUP Hut gets busier each year. I only managed 2nd at 2016’s Nationals but considering how much water time I get nowadays I’m still stoked, and also delighted for Aaron (a deserving champion).

It was a hard decision to turn down my ISA place in Fiji but 6th at the Europeans SUP Champs wasn’t bad. Onto 2017 where I believe SUP will really start to forge its way into the fitness scene, changing perceptions and analysis on core stability exercises and rehabilitation for strength training. The year SUP is seen at the Olympics looms ever closer in my opinion and hydrofoils are another way to harness the ocean’s power and allow us a different form of ride. It’s quite inspiring and a platform we’ll almost all certainly be on , no matter how hard it could be! Waves, wave and waves – there will always be waves, with us on them, in them, or on top of them.

Nick Watt – BaySUP club founding member and SUP retailer

I bought my first SUP in 2008 when I moved to Bournemouth from Jersey. Within a year, I did some racing, started a club and an online retail store. I was hooked by the sport which was only meant as an activity to keep me sane when there were no waves on the south coast. Things progressed quickly and the sport started to really take off with the club growing and more races cropping up everywhere. I can remember at my first race, which was round Brownsea Island as part of the Animal Windfest, paddling on a 12ft all round with Matt French on his 11.2ft surf shape. And get this, Ryan James on an 11.4ft all round, thinking that 4.5m was an insane amount of paddling! We did it and were extremely chuffed with ourselves. John Hibbard turned up with a raceboard which was a 14.8ft Starboard Point. We were a blown away as it was, and still is, an incredible piece of kit.

Within a year of that first race I joined the Starboard Race Team which really kicked off racing in the UK and have been competing ever since. After a couple of years things started to get more club related where the Frostbite Race Series was born. This is still going strong in Bournemouth, now in its 7th season.

I still enjoy racing as much as did in 2009, although after every tough event I always say to myself that I’m giving up but before I know I’m registering for another. It’s the same as having that shocker of a hangover and saying you’ll never drink again!

SUP has a bright future in the UK and clubs will always be key to our growth. The UK SUP Clubs series is growing each year, communities are being created and friends made. Junior paddlers are progressing, which was a pleasure to see at the 2016 British SUP Clubs Champs – an incredible event growing in numbers each year.

Support your local club and try as hard as you can to get involved and help out.

Pete Holliday – SUP racer and OC nut

I started SUP paddling back in 2009 and my first race was round Brownsea Island on a 12ft surf shape! It was a baptism of fire. I think both Ryan James and I were beaten by Jay ‘JSUP’ Manning (although he was on one of those fancy pointy race things).

In 2010 the ever innovative John Hibbard at Tushingham put together the first UK SUP racing team and I got a spot. I got a bright yellow 12’6 Pin, aka the banana. It wasn’t much good at anything but it got us all racing.

I got to attend my first international event in 2010 – the Hamburg World Cup. Winning the novice distance division got me properly hooked on racing and competing internationally.

Back in those early days there were some great athletes in the sport, sadly we’ve lost them over time, for various reasons. Bobby Thatcher (Olympic rower), Rich Morton (track cyclist), Elliot Dudley (World Champ Longboarder & general athlete beast), Mike Ellicock (Ex Para triathlete nutcase) and Steve West (Multi World OC champ) to name a few. There was a pretty big gap between the front few and the rest of us!

During 2012/13/14 the scene really developed and I raced as often as I could, attending all the main UK events and several international races such as Battle of the Paddle, St Maxime, 11 Cities and Lost Mills. Alongside my SUP racing I also developed a passion and skill for outrigger canoe, the catalyst discipline for paddle sports and SUP.

After the best start to a season yet, breaking a 6 year course record at Head Of The Dart and feeling in great shape, I picked up an injury in April 2016 which put me more or less out of the whole season and unable to train consistently. I’m still paddling and still pretty fit though. I came out of hibernation to represent BaySUP at the British Club Champs and got some pretty solid results so there’s life in the old dog yet!

I have to say timing wise the injury at a good time. I’d competed solidly for 6 years and it was really time for a break. The fire for competition has started to die, now I love nothing more than training with the local crew whether it’s Outrigger or SUP. It’s a really social group. We’ve smashed out a 2hr session and are sat sipping Cortados before most people have got out of bed!

It was interesting to see a few of the elite paddlers taking a bit of a stop gap in 2016. I think we’ve all got to the same point. I even heard two interviews with top international paddlers at the recent PPG who echoed the same view: ‘I love training more than racing these days’…

During winter it’s surf, surf and surf.

During 2017 I’m aiming to qualify for the World Distance Canoe Champs in Tahiti. This will be racing Va’a (one man rudderless Outrigger Canoe) and OC6 in the birthplace of canoe paddling. It  will be a totally amazing experience representing GB, I cannot wait!  It will also be combined as my honeymoon so I’m super stoked about that.

I guess the future for me is in general waterman skills and sports, whether it’s downwind OC1, Va’a, SUP, freediving, ocean swimming, longboard surfing or shortboarding. I just enjoy doing it all.  I think my value to the sport will be passing on some of the skills I’ve learnt over the years the hard way (we really didn’t have anyone to show us and we had to work it all out). Skills in paddle technique and skills in how to effectively train. That’s why Ryan James and I set up PaddlerTraining.co.uk to help pass on this knowledge to anyone that will listen.

You never know we might turn into paddle sport ranters like our guru Uncle Steve ‘Westy’ West!

Simon Bassett – BSUPA founding member and SUP retailer

I started getting into SUP in 2006. I first heard about SUP when Laird Hamilton crossed the English Chanel as part of a run from London to Dover then ride from Calais to Paris to raise cash for a charity. It sort of inspired me to try it.

At the time no one made boards in the UK so I bought a Surftech Micky Munoz tandem surfboard and shipped a paddle from Pohaku Hawaii.  Timo Mullen recommended the set up, and soon we got into SUP at West Wittering. After a few windy and choppy altercations we got the hang of it and quickly started flat water paddling and riding small waves.

There can’t have been more than 10 people on SUPS in the UK at that time –Adam Zervas was one who I bumped into but it was the pioneering days of a new sport in the UK.

In 2007 Neal Gent, Matt Argyle, Paul Burgess and Holly Bassett all started to get involved with SUP.  I realized very quickly the fitness benefits and the opportunities for flat water and surf. Having been a diehard windsurfer since the late 70s SUP gave me a new lease of life and activity for windless days.

We started teaching early on as so many people liked the idea of standing up on a board, but either didn’t have the balance or the paddle skills.  John Hibbard organized an event at Watergate. The September Sessions combined wave and distance. We met all crews from different areas and it was a good comp. I came in 7th on the surf side riding an 11ft all round Jimmy Lewis.

BSUPA (British Stand UP Paddle Boarding Association) was born out of that Watergate event and an idea from Olaus Mcloud – an early pioneer in SUP from Cornwall. Bill Fitzhugh, Grant Winter, myself and Matt Argyle started BSUPA in the winter of 2007 at West Wittering.

Neal Gent and I flew out to Marseille to meet the zen SUP master Patrice from Gong to look at his boards and get an update of their very advanced SUP technique and gear. The sport in the UK started to grow – Andy Gratwick, Matt Argyle, myself and others developed the BSUPA teaching scheme and I ran with a BSUPA event team, the first UK National SUP series in surf and distance (Neal and Matt helped sort rules/formats for comps).

We made lots of friends in the early days – it was more social event for most of us and only competitive for a few at the top end.  Since then SUP has taken me to lots of places. Channel crossing with Matt, Jock and Elliot Dudley, downwinders in Maui, ISA  SUP Worlds in Nicaragua and Mexico with Holly Bassett and the Team GB crew plus SUP trips to Sri Lanka and Baja.

Ryan James – SUP race champ, outrigger addict and surfer

Another BaySUP founding member (Bournemouth/Boscombe is a hot bed for SUP talent, if you hadn’t already guessed) Ryan James has consistently placed at the top of race podiums since discovering stand up paddling all those years ago. A protege of Steve ‘Westy’ West (see below), and lover of short (board) shorts, Ryan has spent considerable time working on paddle technique and now delivers coaching courses through his and Pete Holliday’s PaddlerTraining.co.uk and in conjunction with SUPFit.

After switching sponsors Ryan helped develop Mistral’s race line of SUPs (Vortex and Equinox) and has crossed over to paddling outrigger canoes as a com;oiment to his stand up routine. Loving nothing better than a few bumps, either rolling ocean swell or full on waves, RJ is happiest when immersed in the ocean.

Steve West/Mandy West – paddle sports coaching gurus and Mistral brand president

Steve West comes from a long history of watersports; first with windsurfing back in the early days, where he and Mandy were some of the first UK pros, before switching to paddle sports after moving overseas. At first it was outrigger, and over time Westy has built a rep as one of the ‘go to’ authorities on the subject. Having moved back to the UK pre-2010 Steve and Mandy had both seen SUP and taken up arms. In a short space of time both had cemented their reputations within the UK scene. Following the publication of Westy’s ‘SUP Bible’ book the pair were called upon by many to give insight and coaching to those wanted to push on within the fledgling sport. A love of downwind paddling and warmer temperatures has since seen the pair shift locations once again while refocusing attention on building the Mistral profile as paddling company, albeit with a keen eye still on windsurfing products.

Tez Plavenieks – SUP surfer, watersports nut and SUP media type

Back in 06 I broke my ankle and on the advice of a windsurfing friend decided to try SUP as a way to rehabilitate myself ready for a return to full power windsurfing. It was actually my wife who stepped aboard a SUP before me and she took to it easily. My first forays weren’t as successful… Thinking it would be a doddle I spent a short period of time standing up and falling straight back off. Soon I threw my toys out of the pram and gave the kit back to Fi. Watching her paddle off easily (again) I wasn’t about to let a girl beat me so persevered and eventually got the hang of it. Soon after my wife, a mate and myself were out on Hayling’s (now) infamous sand bar surfing the peeling swells that reel down the edge of the bank. SUP suddenly made complete sense and is now a huge part of my life.

Over the years I’ve worked on various SUP media projects. Starting by editing/moderating standuppaddlesurfing.co.uk which was owned by John Hibbard. This was one of the few places online fellow paddlers could hang out and discuss all elements of SUP in the forum. Moving on from that I subedited SUP International magazine before setting up (along with Pete Tranter and Anne Egan) this very magazine: SUP Mag UK.

SUP has come a long way in a short space of time and as much as across the pond is where many think it all happens we should be extremely proud of the UK’s scene. Stand up may be a niche activity but we have our own domestic crop of awesome racers, kick ass surfers and those who are keen to promote and spread the stoke of SUP. I can’t wait to see how the sport and UK scene evolves – it’s cracking to be part of!

Other noted pioneering paddlers –

Guts ‘Guts’ Griffiths – paddle surfing guru and all round wave warrior, ex-Euro longboard surf champ.

Martin Downing – original Scottish paddle surfing guru.

Nikki Graham – distance paddling pioneer.

Roland Gurner – owner of Fen Paddle Co.

Neal Gent – UK waterman and former UK paddle surfing champ.

Andre Le Geyt – former UK SUP surf champ.

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6 Comments on History lesson – UK stand up paddle boarding 10 years+ on

  1. Marc Evans // March 13, 2017 at 5:20 pm // Reply

    Might I had my bit! ..I started paddling SUP In 2008 in Oban Scotland! I bought a Werner Spanker and jumped on my Kona Long Board which I used for Windsurfing! Not much info in the uk, so I looked on US sites like SUP Connect! My Kona One served me well, I explored most of Loch Etive and Circumnavigated The Isle of Kerrera, which was kind of crazy, but I’d done it a couple of times in a kayak, so how hard can it be.? it was a hard slog that took 8 hours with breaks and a lumpy sea!!! That and speaking to Steve West of the ASI I was hooked!! It wasn’t until 2011 that I got my first dedicated SUP board from Tushingham! A Starboard Big Easy! I know live in Wales and continue to SUP, enjoying Down Winding on my Jimmy Lewis M14!

  2. The September Sessions – Still makes me smile thinking about Brian Talma is the lineup shouting “Action” as he mingled with the locals 😄

  3. This is nice to see (thanks MAFF). The DPClub was bigger than BSUPA- but this article has forgotten to mention Pioneers Olas Mc Cloud ( first to paddle Cornwall to Scillies) and Bill Fitzhugh first chair BSUPA! Personally thanks to Adam Zervas for showing me this sport in 2007/8. It was those pioneers who did it for the love not the do$h. Who remembers The September Sessions? The Gul Nightsurf? John H “snipershots”
    JaySUP “EELS!” -and then the boards with pointed noses arrived!

  4. Apologies …..I see Simon “mentions” them…..

  5. Dead chuffed to be in the list!! 😀

  6. Amazing to see where everyone’s journey started. I was fairly late to the party but my journey started at Club Ventos in Jericocoara, Brizil in 2009 when there was no wind on a kitesurfing trip. My racing started only a few years later with Scott, Chris, Stacey and many others in the February of 2003 at Central SUP. Amazing what’s happened and how many friends we’ve made since.

    Great article!

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