Saturday, December 21, 2019

2007 - 2012: My First 5 Years in SUP - The People, The Sessions, The Races, the Camaraderie

I was recently nominated on Facebook for the 10 Day Paddle Photo Challenge - to post a paddling photo a day, for 10 days, and nominate someone each time to do the same. The goal is to spread the stoke of paddling and "connect the tribe" so to speak. I'm not very good at these social media challenges but I love good photos and stories, seeing other's people's stoke on the sport, and I love to share the stoke as well. Seeing other folks' paddle challenge posts got me thinking about how and when I got into paddling (SUP, then outrigger)...the people I started out with...and all of a sudden I got really nostalgic. SUP has connected us and made us one tribe - a common thread for so many people with varied backgrounds, interests, and opinions. And it's produced so many great experiences and memories.

So I thought I would break from the actual challenge and do something a little different - bring back some memories of that early SUP period of 2007-2012.

This is where this blog, which I started January 2007, came in very handy. This was a few years before I joined Facebook and was how I connected to the water tribe at that time. And now, I have a record of most of the great sessions on the water that we had. And it's been fun looking at the comments after some of those old posts. I've linked below some of those early days of paddling sessions, stories, people, and races. Many of you reading this were a part of it!

Brief background: Even as a kid who grew up in the NC Foothills, my water sports experience dates back to the 70s when I first started sailing with my dad on local NC lakes, and swimming in the ocean on our annual family summer vacations, then into the 80s when I crewed for my Dad in sailboat regattas across North Carolina. I first learned to windsurf and water ski during this time in the 80s. My windsurfing history is a whole other story on its own and I still love to do it to this day. As far as paddling, I had been kayaking off and on on the lake and in the ocean since my teenage years as well. I first Stand Up Paddled (SUP) back in 2007 on an old Original Windsurfer board on the lake, using a double bladed kayak paddle. I did this after seeing a picture of Laird Hamilton SUP'ing. As someone quickly approaching 40 years of age, I was like "what is this!?!" and immediately recognized the benefits - higher aspect viewing of the water, core strength, great overall exercise, and another way to enjoy the water when the wind wasn't blowing.

I paddled that old Original Windsurfer on Lake Norman a lot back then. Then in early 2008 during a windsurfing trip to Hatteras Island, Rob, Mark, and I rented SUP boards from Wave NC/Hatteras Boardsports and paddled in the ocean for the first time. Those boards were quite large and heavy, and the paddles, although carbon fiber, were relatively heavy back then too. I purchased that heavy carbon fiber paddle (made by SouthPoint) on the spot and took it home to use with the Original Windsurfer board on the lake. I still have that old and heavy paddle to this day.

It was around this time in Spring 2008, that Clay Fleeter (former publisher of several windsurfing magazines) published the very first SUP Magazine. It started out as StandUp Surf & Sail Journal but after a couple of issues, it settled in as StandUp Journal. The broad stoke had begun!

Then that summer of 2008, I visited Hilton Head Island a couple of times and SUP'd with Glen Barroncini, a local surfer turned SUP'er. He let me try out a couple of his SUP boards. One of them was the Sean Ordenez Shape (SOS) 10'10" Big Blue board. This board was one of the very first production SUP boards to hit the market and also has a mast insert option for light wind wave sailing (Sean Ordenez was a professional windsurfer and now shapes boards on Maui for many athletes including Kai Lenny for his big wave boards). On that 2nd trip to Hilton Head Island, Rob and I tried it in the ocean in small waves and had a blast. It turned out one of Glen's friends, Jesse, wanted to sell his so I went home with a real actual (used but new to me) SUP board. I still have this board today as well.

I continued to paddle and surf the SOS board in waves whenever I could both on Hatteras Island and at Carolina Beach/Fort Fisher areas. By this time, both Rob and Mark had also bought early used Starboard SUP boards. Then in May 2009, Rob, Mark and I decided to try our hand at a SUP race. We traveled to Wrightsville Beach and entered the May "SUP CUP" put on by Jeoffrey Nathan of Coastal Urge. We had a great time, learned a lot in our first race, met several people who would also become SUP fixtures in the area for a long time to come, and we went to Carolina Beach for more SUP surfing time on the water. 

From l to r: Mark, myself, and Rob - with our first SUP boards - Spring 2009

Here is a video from that May 2009 Coastal Urge SUP CUP race:

Intracoastal SUP Cup 2009 from Coastal Urge on Vimeo.

It was soon after this that my daughter took an interest in SUP and would join me in paddling on the lake.  and more SUP days on Hatteras Island when Ralph started joining in on the fun with us and we were practicing in the waves....we definitely paid our dues in the ocean at that time. And soon SUP became a family outing thing. Around this time, Rob and I discovered there were some other SUP paddlers on Lake Norman. We began to have group paddle outings and un-official fun races together on the lake. Ralph soon became a fixture with our local windsurfing and SUP surf crew and that began his love affair with both sports and Hatteras Island.

Then in January of 2010, 7 of us Lake Norman paddlers traveled to Wrightsville Beach for the 2nd Annual Cold Stroke Classic. This is where I met John Beausang of Distressed Mullet for the first time, as well as a host of other paddlers from far and wide. I still remember how cold that race was. Here is the video from that infamous race:

2nd Annual Cold Stroke Classic from Coastal Urge on Vimeo.

That May 2010, my daughter (at 11 yrs old) did her first SUP race and I paddled with her at the Coastal Urge May SUP CUP in Wrightsville Beach.  Here is the video from that race:

2nd Annual Intracoastal SUP Cup & Waterman's Challenge from Coastal Urge on Vimeo.

July 2010 was the Mullet Run race - probably the first ocean surf SUP & beach run/chicane race on the east coast.  I learned then that I wasn't a big fan of the running on the beach thing for each lap of the ocean race course.

August 2010, my wife, daughter, and I traveled to Lake Tahoe for the famous Ta-hoe Nalu race. Unless I'm mistaken, this race a couple years prior was the very first official SUP race in the country. And now in 2010, it was the largest SUP race in the country. This was the infamous windy race that people still talk about to this day. One of the most challenging races I've ever done because of how windy it was. My daughter also competed in the kids race...what a trooper she was that day. This was about the time that Danny Ching started competing in SUP races and was blowing everyone away. Slater Trout was a teenager. I met surf legend Mickey Munoz, and hung out with Chuck Patterson, Dave & Meg Chun at the Kialoa tent. Kim James also made the trip from the east coast and competed as well. Scenes from this race appeared later in the "Stand Up Paddle Movie" and both Kim and I make an appearance in the movie.

We used SUP as a different way to have fun on the lake - the early days of wake surfing on SUP boards.

and SUP continued to be a great way for my family to connect and be together to enjoy the outdoors...as well as experiencing the wildlife. It also became apparent that SUP was a year round sport and that winter was a great time to be on the water. And the SUP surfing continued whenever the wind wasn't blowing.  Rob Bennett opened the local My Aloha Paddle Shop on Lake Norman and started having races on the lake...and the Lake Norman SUP growth began.

2011 was when I started doing well at the races - 2011 Cold Stroke Classic, the 1st Annual OBX PaddlepaloozaShem Creek Shootout, and the Golden Isles SUP Classic. It was around this time that the first My Aloha SUP races on Lake Norman started. The family would travel with me and the kids would do the kids race or shorter distance course. I was still racing the 12'6" division at that time and eventually transitioned from the shorter distance courses to the longer distance courses. I actually won money (and it wasn't small change either) at the Shem Creek Shootout (the joke being that now I was a professional....but not really!). This was where I first met many of the Charleston locals that I now paddle with when I'm in Charleston. Look at the names on the race participant list from that race, and they are all still active paddlers in the area.

The 2012 Cold Stroke Classic was another one for the ages....another race that we all still talk about to this day. My podium success was short lived as the sport grew and more athletes from other sports joined in the fun. They figured out how to train, paddle technique improved, and new faces starting taking over the podium. Those were fun times watching the growth of the sport, meeting new friends and racing against them, the camaraderie, we were all learning so much with new board designs and paddle technique, and the races were always fun...podium or no podium.

In March 2012, Rob, Matt, and I became the first people (as far as we know) to SUP the length of Lake Norman. And we did it on 12'6" boards. We launched just south of the I-40 bridge and the distance was just over 27 miles. A few months after this, our friend Ken Teeter launched just north of the I-40 bridge and just below the dam and paddled the length of Lake Norman at just over 30 miles solo on his 14" board.

Our family then raced in the 2nd Annual Carolina Cup in April 2012.  By this time, it had supplanted Coastal Urge's May SUP Cup and had become the largest race on the east coast, soon to be one of the biggest races in the country.

May 2012 was the 2nd Annual My Aloha Cup SUP race on Lake Norman. and the 2nd Annual OBX Paddlepalooza event.

SUP surfing continued through that summer at the Carolina Beach/Fort Fisher area.. ....and that fall on Hatteras Island.

September 2012 was either the 1st or 2nd Lake Murray SUP Classic and was when I transitioned to the 14' division, and the pivotal race where Jeremy Whitted started kicking my tail on the race course and never looked back.

So that's the first 5 years of my SUP history. There's much more and much of it is chronicled on this blog - continuing on the 14' race board in many more races, racing the Graveyard Course at the Carolina Cup, more SUP surfing both locally in the Carolinas and other places such as California, as well as downwinders in the ocean, lake, and the Columbia River Gorge. The Chucktown Showdown race in Charleston became a regular annual event for our family and we started to spend more time in the Charleston area starting in the fall of 2014, which continues to this day.

I don't want this to sound like those were the good old days and those days are gone. The good old days are still here! If you're new to SUP and the SUP race scene, welcome! The sport is still great...and it has changed in a lot of ways. The serious athlete side of the sport seems to have plateaued. There are still great race events out there and some of these races keep growing. Some of us who were a part of it early on are still doing it, but many of us are also branching out into other disciplines such as outrigger canoeing or surf skis. Our young kids from those early kids races grew up, graduated high school, and left our nests. Some people had shoulder issues (overuse or poor technique, etc) and moved on to other things. For new people to SUP - this is a good learning lesson in proper recovery methods and learning proper paddling technique to reduce your risk of injury.

Some of us have gone back to the sports we were doing before SUP. And some of us just love to free paddle....whether its downwinders, surfing, or casual flat water. And some of us are doing it all including SUP. I personally like to mix things up...always have. I don't race nearly as much anymore. I added Outrigger Canoe paddling but still love to SUP too....as well as Windsurfing/Windfoiling and Mountain Biking. And SUP foiling is on my list of new goals.

Most importantly, it's been about the people and our connection through the water. It still is. You can't put a price on the experiences we've shared on the water over the years with family and friends. I have very fond memories of all those shared experiences and I hope you do too. I look forward to many more!



1 comment:

mark said...

Great job of chronicling your experiences, Mac! I'm glad to be a part of it and I hope there is no end in sight to new adventures. Who knows what new innovations and inventions are in store for the future. It may be time for me to dust off some of the pre-SUP archives and put together a timeline video of what got us into this awesome sport.
Mark