By Sarah Thornely of SUPjunkie (https://www.facebook.com/Supjunkie.co.uk)
When I met Jen at the SUP Nautic event in Paris ten years ago, she handed me a Live Love SUP wristband – I have been following her and her family’s adventures ever since – I am therefore delighted to be able to bring you the story and the passion behind this homegrown stand-up paddleboarding brand.
Jen, can you let me know how and where you first came across Stand Up Paddleboarding?
Oh my, it’s been 14 years! It was love at first paddle back in 2009. I tried it while visiting California, and we had moved to Abu Dhabi, which is surrounded by water and upon my return, I told my husband, Nick, stand up paddling is going to be our new hobby! Little did I know it would turn into so much more than just a hobby, it has become our lifestyle and huge part of our life for over a decade now.
What was the original idea when you set up Live Love SUP?
I suppose it was early days, but I wanted to just document our SUP travels through a Blog (on Blogspot!) mainly of photos, way before Instagram, and called it Live Love SUP. After a summer spent promoting SUP in Switzerland in 2011, I knew I wanted to make Live Love SUP something more, something worldwide as we spent eight weeks visiting different countries in Europe on weekend side adventures and met people who, like us, were falling in love with SUP too!
I had an idea what if we could join across the globe as paddlers and help fundraise for clean water? We enjoyed this sport and had access to clean water unlike so many who don’t, and it was a way to give back as the SUP community. In 2012, Nick and I launched Live Love SUP as a brand with a logo designed by his best friend in Australia. We started with some hats and t-shirts to sell, but the focus was selling a charity wristband that would go towards providing clean water through charity:water uniting paddlers worldwide.
Being based in the UAE, with homes in Michigan, USA and Sydney, Australia and summers to travel (we both worked full time jobs at universities), we were able to promote Live Love SUP across continents and share the love that was continuing to grow for SUP.
How has your brand developed over the last ten or so years?
What started as a big passion project, we fundraised over $14000 for charity:water, has turned into a dedicated SUP apparel and goods brand spreading across the globe to SUP lovers from Uruguay to Japan, Australia and the UK, just about every corner of the world as stand-up paddling really has exploded over the past ten years everywhere!
The brand turned 11 years old in June and it’s been quite the journey learning and growing this small business from the ground up and figuring out how to run a business online from the UAE, having it based in the USA and selling to customers internationally.
One thing I have been most proud of is not giving up on it especially during COVID! Having kids, a full-time job and the many ups and downs of life, this has still been a north star and something I am so passionate about.
The last five years I have concentrated on our bestselling SUP Paddle jewellery, and I’m looking to expand the range this next year. It’s honestly my favourite thing to wear and always get so many compliments on it. While jewellery, hats and some other products are warehoused in the USA, we had to switch to a custom on demand model where we make all apparel when ordered. This includes our legging and rash tops, two very popular products for paddlers. My first pair of leggings I had made in 2018 are still going strong and are my go-to pair when out for a SUP!
I am lucky enough to own some of your SUP apparel and jewellery and absolutely love it – when did you decide upon this route for the business?
Yes! Thank you! This has been a big part of the business and gets me excited to do more of it. To be honest, I really wanted something that I could connect myself to SUP off the water, that when people saw it, it showed my passion and said, “I SUP”! Now, I haven’t taken off my ring or necklace for years, I wear it on the water, in the water, the shower, etc. I have diamond necklaces from my husband that haven’t gotten as much wear as this SUP jewellery!
I also thought jewellery would be the perfect gift for that paddler in your life. It’s always hard to think of ideas for gift giving, especially for women, but if she SUPs, a paddle necklace, ring or bracelet just might be the perfect choice.
Can you let us know more about the charity donations you have made since the launch of your brand?
With the sale of wristbands, we donated over $14000 to charity:water in the early days and since then continue to give back to communities with sup merchandise as well as time through sharing SUP via free intros and lessons. We have held and sponsored events that fundraise for leukaemia and cancer foundations and continue to support organizations near and far the best we can.
You now have two children to juggle alongside Live Love SUP – how has this changed the dynamics of business and family life?
Our kids were on their first board before their 1st birthdays and now at 6 and 8 years old are on board for our family adventures or paddling on their own SUPs. We used to be able to travel to races to participate and set up vendor tents quite easily, but with two kids in tow it’s been more of a challenge over the years, but it wasn’t impossible!
We just had to change and slow down the pace. We have focused more on social paddling and adventures with the kids instead of racing personally too. Now that they are older, my daughter enjoys coming up with new ideas and is my little model for products her size! Everything is about balance, and we still haven’t quite figured it out perfectly, but we’re making it happen the best we can and having fun along the way.
You and Nick are from the US and Australia originally – what prompted the move to the United Arab Emirates?
We were living in Japan and had planned on heading to the US to settle down. However, the GFC happened, and we weren’t sure about jobs at that time in 2008. Nick’s friend got a teaching job at a university in Abu Dhabi, and said they were hiring! We didn’t even know where Abu Dhabi was, but we went for it. We spent 14 ½ years in Abu Dhabi, travelled around the globe, had two kids, worked at universities, started the Abu Dhabi Stand Up Paddle Club and paddled a ton. It was a great place to live, to raise our kids and exciting to be a part of huge growth in the country.
We love the Destination Map on your website – you have paddled far and wide around the world – do you have a top three and why?
This past year we added our 30th country to the list: Montenegro! We have been so fortunate to travel and since 2009 we have always thought about places to travel to with SUP a priority. Early days it was hard to find a board in some destinations, but now even though we typically fly with an inflatable, finding a SUP to hire is quite easy. From cities to beaches, lakes and rivers we’ve paddled on all sorts of water.
Traveling around the world to destinations to SUP has allowed us to meet so many amazing people and make connections that we are so fortunate to have and keep to this day. From individuals lending us boards to joining SUP clubs and communities for events have been the highlight of our travels to other countries. We have endless stories to share and memories that will last a lifetime. This is the power of SUP and it’s been an amazing journey.
Top three is always hard, it’s more like top ten. However, if I had to choose it would be the following: I’ve chosen an ocean destination, a lake and river destination and a canal destination. It’s not always about the destination though, but also the experience, the people and the adventure!
- Downwinding Maliko.
It’s something that we had never done and after two weeks of many runs down Maliko, it was by far the most exhilarating paddling we had ever done. Paddling down the face of open ocean swell, seeing the backs of sea turtles underneath, being humbled by the ocean and the need to improve our skills was incredible. Having a few days on the water with pointers by Kai Lenny, Connor Baxter and Suzie Cooney as you watched them effortlessly glide down the coast was incredible.
We paddled so many lakes and rivers, but doing an Aare river trip was always such fun. Lake Brienz with its amazing turquoise water and Lac Leman in the summer with the French Alps as a backdrop was stunning.
- Amsterdam & Venice (I couldn’t choose)
In Amsterdam we hosted with M&M SUP the most magical Friday night summer paddle for charity:water with over 150 paddlers cruising the canals one beautiful evening. Seeing Amsterdam by SUP is one of the best ways to visit the city! Then there was Venice! I took a tour with SUP in Venice and again navigating the canals, giving way to the Gondolas and just cruising the city by board was such a fantastic memory.
Other favourites would include Paris, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, UK, Costa Rica, Fuerteventura, Maldives…. the list continues. As a departing gift to myself from the UAE, I just did a 10-day SUP Surfing Trip with Moon Tours that was coached by James Casey in the Maldives in May. It was a bucket list trip, a few years in the making and was such an amazing experience. I hadn’t been SUP surfing since I had kids 8 years ago and have wanted to get back to doing more, this trip filled me up for months to come.
We know that you have recently moved to the Sunshine Coast in Australia – was this move back home always on the cards?
Yes, we are now in Australia. I think we knew that we wanted to settle down in Australia, just didn’t know exactly when it would happen. We have fallen in love with the Sunshine Coast and couldn’t be more excited to start our next adventure, lay down some roots and enjoy all that this area and the country has to offer, especially for SUP! It’s been a big move, we lived in Australia 20 years ago and now it’s time to make it home for our family.
I cannot imagine moving lock, stock to a different country – can you shed some light on how it went physically and emotionally for you all?
We’re only two months young in our new home! It’s been a whirlwind and we’re still waiting for our container to arrive. I know it will take a bit of time to get all set up and feel at home. This has been a dream for a while, living close to the ocean to surf, being in nature more and having the freedom to adventure in a way that I think we always longed for in our previous home.
Obviously, things don’t happen overnight, and you must be patient in re-establishing yourself in a new place, making new connections and friends. Moving across the world with two kids and all your belongings, physically is tiring of course, but more emotionally difficult. You’ve left friends and family, a bit of your identity behind and while it’s super exciting, you feel a bit lost! Starting over is hard, especially when you’ve lived somewhere for so long. When it comes down to it, it’s the connection, community and purpose that we long for and these will take time to develop again here on the Sunshine Coast. I’m giving myself lots of grace now and know this time next year our family will be thriving, hopefully business too!
Have you found some great places to paddle in your new home?
We have gotten on the water only a bit since we arrived, but we’re surrounded by just such beautiful places that we can’t wait to explore more. I was just SUP surfing at Coolum Beach, nearby, paddled at Cotton Tree on the Maroochy River and we even live very close to a lake in our neighbourhood that we can get out for a quick paddle. I can’t wait to get more connected with the SUP community here, explore our backyard and even further away places in Australia, this is a paddler’s paradise for sure!
Do your children paddle?
Yes! They have paddled since very young and usually just plopped them on board as we would go out to paddle our local mangroves or bay. Our daughter did her first little SUP race last year which obviously we were quite excited about. Someone was selling a used pink kids Jimmy Lewis board and I just couldn’t resist getting it for her as well. Sometimes, they don’t want to go for a paddle with us, but if there’s a promise of gummy bears on board or ice cream after, usually they’re keen to come! It’s a great way to spend time as a family, no distractions, no phones, just us in nature and enjoying the water. I can’t think of anything more I love than this!
Do you take part in SUP races?
I got bitten by the race bug in 2010 when I first raced on a 12-foot Laird Hamilton allrounder at a first race in Michigan. I raced a lot in the early days including a few SUP World Series events, the SUP Nautic in Paris and the first SUP Swiss Championship. I also planned many of our races in the UAE and Abu Dhabi over the years and always love participating in the Midwest Paddle League events when I am back in Michigan for the summer. Since having kids, I haven’t raced as much, but now that the kids are older and we’re here on the Sunshine Coast, I look forward to training again and getting out there, racing and more importantly enjoying the community that sup race events offer!
What plans do you have now with Live Love SUP?
I’m super excited about Live Love SUP and its future. I get to dive into it full-time and put my focus in it in a way I have yet to be able to. I get to grow it here in Australia and still must figure out logistics, registering the business here and whether I keep warehousing in the USA. For now, I’ll continue to sell online worldwide and I’m working on new jewellery designs that will expand product offerings. I can’t wait to get a calendar of events to promote and sell. The goal would be to still travel internationally to promote Live Love SUP too!
I’m also looking forward to growing the Live Love SUP community side here in Australia. Hopefully soon I will be offering women’s SUP lessons, workshops, adventures and retreats. I did this in Abu Dhabi including a SUPer Woman program that I developed and would love to keep sharing the SUP love. It’s something that I really enjoy doing alongside the brand and can’t imagine not teaching or getting more people hooked on SUP.
Live Love SUP has been a labour of love since its inception and I thank all those past, present and future for their support! One thing about SUP is that even 14 years later I still enjoy paddling just as much as I did when I began. I love so many parts of paddling from exploring and adventuring on rivers and lakes, enjoying time on the water with my kids, racing and the SUP community. My goal for the future is to start downwind SUP foiling and keep just living the SUP dream.
Thank you so much Jen for this great insight – I love that you still retain the passion for all things SUP and that this journey has carried you all around the world – please do check out all the Live Love SUP products, especially that stunning jewellery, on their website www.livelovesup.com.
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