Several years back I read an article about Laird making an appearance at Malibu presenting a sight unseen for many decades, standing tall on a large tandem board using an elongated paddle as his propulsion tool, elegantly sliding down the exceptionally large waves coming through. Cool I thought, that’s different and who better to show the rest of us what the next ocean experience will be than Laird.
It’s been several years now since that photo tickled my thoughts. Living on Florida’s Central Gulf Coast the wave time here is limited. Our good days are flat days any where else in the surfing world. So how does one stay in surfing shape with such an unfortunate location in regards to wave consistency and quality? My surfing experiences at home were always leaving me wanting more; waves, water time, and a good physical work out. Since the gym is not my cup of tea a I wanted something which would keep me fit and yet connected to nature and specifically the salt water.
After one, intensely physical, surf trip to the Dominican Republic I came home so worn out that my joints popped for over a month. Upon returning home I was stoked to have brought my, behind the desk and computer, body back to life. Knowing the work I had put while in the Dominican Republic to kick start a different path of health, something would have to be performed close to home to keep it going. As with many who give themselves a goal of getting in shape the actual doing was the hardest. I first began taking out my eleven foot noserider for long distance prone paddles in the Gulf. This began to work well into a routine. Sometime after finding my local fitness groove I received a phone call from Felipe Pomar to fly down to Peru and travel with him and company to document the countries ancient surf culture. While on the trip Felipe’s physical fitness and current big wave riding strength was incredible for someone sixty three years of age. His daily routine of staying in shape inspired me to push myself even further. At one point during our trip both Felipe and his friend Rick, both living in Kauai, began sharing about stand up paddle (SUP) and how it’s the THING everyone’s been getting into back home with a group of guys charging big waves. With some more probing of their experiences I made up my mind and was going to give the SUP thing a go once back in Florida.
I began my search for a a moderately priced board which would allow me to see if I dig the whole stand up thing. A quick look onto craigslist.org produced slim as this activity is still fresh enough to not have a decent selection of used boards. After calling several surf and windsurf shops I found a Mistral Superlight which fit the bill. The Superlight measures in at 12.5’x27” at it’s widest, funky old school sharp windsurfboard rails, square tail and semi planning hull. The guy who sold me the board said one thing before I bought it, “Don’t break the fin or it’s box as spare parts are hard if not almost impossible to find.” No problem I thought, what could damage such a beast of a board? As Murphy would have it the very first time When I took the Superlight out the wind was howling and blew it off my trucks roof, onto the ground, shattering what? That’s right the fin and the box. The fin some how managed to break into three pieces. Amazing. As I stood there grinning with the salesmans words buzzing around my head I grabbed my phone and put an immediate order into Fins Unlimited and had them ship out a standard longboard fin box. Several days later I was out on the water with a George Greenough Stage 6 fin and a new found stoke.
Since my novice start into SUP a couple of months ago my imagination has been running wild. With the aid of the large SUP board I can get to locations others won’t bother surfing due to distance, accessibility or wave size. The SUP Paddle gets you moving faster than single person sit down canoes and kayaks and the view from the higher perspective is always interesting. I’ve completed several longer multi hour paddles and more are certainly on the way.
SUP has been a blast and the physical work out it provides is probably the best work out I’ve ever received. From the back of my head to my toes I’ve been feeling completely worked out. My legs don’t quiver as much as they did when I first started which helps me out when surfing long points. When occasionally switching to prone on the SUP to give my feet a rest promotes better endurance when out paddling for waves on my surfboards. I lost a good bit of weight since starting SUP and feel like I’m on a natural high from the results and want to share them with anyone who’ll listen. For example, my wife who doesn’t surf and considers herself a beach bunny wants to give SUP a go. This is an aspect/hybrid of surfing which will certainly pull in people who don’t surf out onto the water. Oh no, more people in the line ups. On the contrary. Most people who’ll get into SUP on flat and calm water will probably stay there and use it as a work out only never taking their boards out into the waves. Then there will be the life long surfers who want to get out of the line up and stand further out, get to hard to reach spots to get some solo waves and of coarse for the health aspects. This will help everyone out as it will thin out the crowds and create new surf spots for those seeking alternative bipedal pleasure.
As the cost for SUP equipment is still far from the reach of most surfers the number of participants will remain limited until costs are reduced. Recently a conversation with legendary shaper, Juan Rodriguez, confirmed the large wave of SUP boards currently in production from various manufacturers ranging in size from ten to over twelve feet costing between $1,200 and $1,800. And with a large supply theoretically the cost should drop and allow for more people to experience this old but yet new stoke.
What does it take to get started now? An old windsurfer comparable to the Mistral Superlight I picked up for around $200 and a $40 seven foot wooden canoe paddle which can be acquired from any boat store. Sure my board isn’t the best at flat water or wave riding but it does both ok. Will it keep me stoked until I acquire a real SUP board, sure. Will the wooden paddle work for awhile before spending the over $350 price for a SUP specific paddle, the answer for me was, no. I picked up the Pohaku Carbon Fiber Paddle after researching my options and find it light in weight while providing good torque. With good torque my stability increases making my reinstated windsurfboard a good option before dropping oddles onto a real deal SUP board.
I’m stoked over SUP as well as the funny looks I get from the people watching from shore as there is currently no one else here in my doing it. The health benefits are remarkable and most importantly when out on my next surf I know I’ll be able to surf with the stamina of a Navy Seal, well, so I’d like to believe. Having a reason to be in nature and witnessing it’s simple pleasures is always rewarding for the soul and keeps the stoke to come back for more all while standing tall.
Check back for updates on my SUP experience and I’ll hopefully see you standing tall out in the water.
Also check out the other blogs here on the Surfers Path WebSite regarding SUP. Alex Dick-Read on his blog entry titled “The Ox Files II: Laird, High Priest of Paddle.” has an interesting interview with Laird discussing SUP, check it out.
My name is Arsen Brzostek, born in 1973 in Kozle, Poland and raised and living in Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. I’m married and have a teenage son who also has been bitten by the SUP bug. I’ve been riding waves in Florida since seven years of age, traveling for surf to Costa Rica, Peru, California, Dominican Republic, and Mexico. I’m also passionate about producing documentary surf films through my creative outlet, Arsen Productions (arsenpro.com) such as Jungle Juice: Surfing Adventure In Costa Rica’s Jungle Breaks, Going With The Flow: Classic California Soul Surfing and coming soon Going With The Flow: Surfing Costa Rica’s Jungle Breaks, with more to come!