Confessions of a Stand-Up Paddle Surfing Addict - Surfer's Path

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Confessions of a Stand-Up Paddle Surfing Addict

My name is Olaus McLeod. I am one of the first Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Surfers in the UK. I first learned about this fantastic new form of Surfing last Summer, with the news that Laird Hamilton had just paddled across the English Channel on a Stand Up Board (SUB), as part of a major endurance challenge.

Laird actually cycled from London to Dover, paddled the Channel, then cycled to Paris. This incredible achievement immediately attracted me to the concept of SUP Surfing. After a short time scouring the ‘Net, viewing amazing pictures of Laird and other such pioneering watermen, charging Hawaiian bombs on SUBs, I rapidly sold my motley collection of “conventional” surfboards and bought myself a Surftech Laird 12’1”. Overnight – and by default – I had become an SUP Surfer – of sorts!

I was initially without a paddle, waiting for a state-of-the-art Carbon Fibre one by Pohaku – – to arrive from Hawaii. To tide me over, I bought a budget Canadian canoe paddle and adapted it for SUP Surfing, itching to get on the water.

Olaus at Marazion, Cornwall, UK – January 2007

On taking to the sea on my oversized board and make-shift paddle, I was instantly hooked! SUP Surfing has a reasonably steep learning curve – balancing on your board with your feet parallel, facing forward in a “ski-stance”, can feel slightly peculiar at first – even on flat water – but the rewards are so great! Also, whilst honing my Stand Up skills in the Cornish surf, I immediately began to realise just how versatile the SUP concept is. Laird had shown that, way beyond the surf-line, SUBs also serve as great craft for long-distance endurance paddling.


Deeply inspired by Laird’s achievement – and always one for a challenge – I started dreaming up ideas for a voyage on my own SUB. As Laird had already “done” the Channel, I looked closer to home for something equally epic. Paddling from Sennen, Cornwall, 35 miles to Hell Bay, on the Isles of Scilly, seemed the obvious choice! And whilst on the Islands, why not run a marathon too? And I might as well paddle back, while I’m at it!

And so To Hell And Back – as I named the challenge – was born. Please visit for full details – and feel free to make a donation to my two worthy causes – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust! I followed a published training plan in preparation for the marathon; however as endurance Stand Up Paddling is so new, there were no training programs for me to follow. Hence, I simply decided to mirror the progression of my running programme, for my paddle training – and hoped for the best!

During my training I paddled up to 25 miles at a time, taking about 9 hours. I completed most of my paddle training on my Laird SUB, but quickly became aware that I was going to need a craft more suited to voyaging than playing in the waves. So, I approached Escape Surfboards of Rock, Cornwall – – who shaped me a fantastic 14’ custom speed machine, made with Epoxy Glass over an EPS core, with Carbon Kevlar reinforcement.

Leaving Land’s End and the Longships Lighthouse – 20 April 2007

When the big day arrived, the weather was absolutely perfect! Calm seas, sunny skies and a light North-Easterly breeze sped me on my way. I set off from Sennen at dawn, supported by a 5.5-metre RIB, skippered by Lee Whitehead, an extremely able boatman and professional marine photographer –

We rapidly settled into an hourly routine. Every hour I consumed 1.5 litres of energy drink, then briefly paused to replenish my Camelbak, take a quick ‘physiological break’ and gulp down an energy bar. My task was simple: just point my board in the right direction and keep paddling, at a comfortable, metronomic pace. Lee was crucial to my success, navigating our little flotilla through busy shipping lanes and making sure that we used some of the UK’s biggest tidal currents to help us on our way. I genuinely couldn’t have done it without him.

And so, 9 hours and 10 minutes later, I landed at Hell Bay on Bryher, Isles of Scilly – way quicker than the 12 to 15 hours I had estimated, based on my training paddles on the Laird. I was the first person in the World to Stand Up Paddle this route. I waved goodbye to my support boat and enjoyed a warm welcome from the staff of the gorgeous Hell Bay Hotel – – who kindly put me up for my stay in the Islands.

After a day’s recuperation, I ran the annual Tresco Marathon in an extremely leisurely 5 hours, 20 minutes; and then prepared to leave Hell Bay on my SUB, bound for Sennen.

The next morning I awoke to thick fog – of immediate concern at the prospect of crossing the shipping lanes in poor visibility. I met up with my second support boat, skippered by Mike Ashton, another experienced boatman, who had already been right around Britain in his 8-metre RIB – After discussing the Shipping Forecast, we decided to “give it a go”, and set off, in a freshening breeze, clearing Scilly in an hour or so. Soon after, however, the sea state began to rapidly deteriorate and the wind sprang up, making for increasingly difficult paddling conditions.

In these confused seas, I fell off my board with frustrating regularity. The Coastguard Agency then gave us a Gale Warning over the radio, confirming that the situation was going to continue to worsen, without respite, for the rest of the day. This didn’t bode well for my prospects!

After a brief chat with my support boat crew, we decided that the only sensible course of action was to abandon the challenge and run for cover. So, with regret, we pulled my board in to the boat and blasted through building seas back to Cornwall. I was bitterly disappointed at not being able to complete my To Hell And Back challenge – and I firmly intend heading back out to Scilly, as soon as possible, to make a second attempt on the paddle from Hell Bay to Sennen – by way of “closure” on the event!

I did, however, return from Scilly, totally fired-up for all things Stand Up! I am now planning a number of other endurance challenges on my board, including a Channel crossing and a world distance record for Stand Up paddling. My journey To Hell And Back was made for three reasons: (1) as a personal challenge – exploring the boundaries of my own capacity for endurance; (2) to raise funds for two worthy causes; and (3) to raise awareness in the UK about this fantastic new sport of SUP Surfing – particularly as an exciting endurance discipline. On the back of the publicity I raised, I now have two other major projects under way: a National Stand Up Paddle Association and a specialist SUP Surfing company.


I am in the process of setting up this organization – possibly the first in the World – for a number of reasons. SUPA has already received the full support of the British Surfing Association, and will serve as:

1. the UK’s premier portal for information – for the media and for individuals – on
all aspects of the sport of SUP Surfing

2. the “voice”, representing the interests for all SUP surfers in the UK and
Channel Isles

3. the regulating body for the sport, defining how the various competitive
disciplines of SUP Surfing should be conducted

4. the organiser of a series of SUP competitions, throughout the UK, throughout
the year

5. the promotor of home-grown SUP talent, through coaching and funding,
allowing talented SUP surfers from the UK to compete at a global level

6. the source of a campaign, lobbying the International Olympic Committee
(IOC) to consider the obvious applicability of SUP Surfing as a future Olympic


The sport of Surfing, in its’ wider context, has already been accepted by the IOC for consideration as a possible future Olympic sport. Even as a lifelong Surfer, with a vested interest in the sport, I am skeptical about its’ applicability for the Games, however. After all, just how many land-locked and “lacking-surf” countries are there in the world?

SUP Surfing, however, presents far more plausible possibilities, as an Olympic discipline. Sure, SUBs perform fantastically well in the surf – and some of the biggest, most notorious waves in the world – such as Teahupoo and Jaws – are now regularly being SUP Surfed. However, it is the potential for SUP Surfing as an exciting new endurance sport which I believe holds the key to this sports’ inclusion in the Olympics. Through this endurance aspect, SUP Surfing far transcends the wider sport of Surfing as a sport for all. As well as in the waves, it can be enjoyed on lakes, reservoirs, rivers and inland waterways; and will thus appeal to fitness and watersports enthusiasts who have never before stood on a surfboard. This correlates exactly with the Olympic ideal of sport as a pastime to be enjoyed by as wide a swathe of the population as possible.

SUP competition can be held over a variety of “approved” distances, along the lines of flat and open water canoe and (knee) paddleboard racing. I envisage races over a variety of distances, from sprints – possibly to be held on rowing lakes, to maximise spectator support – to marathon-type endurance events over open ocean / lakes / waterways. The possibilities are endless!

I have already spoken to the IOC in Switzerland, who advised me that an application for a possible Olympic sport must come from a body representing a sport which is already enjoyed by a significant amount of participants in as many countries as possible; and that international competitions must already be held, between such countries. To that end, the establishment of SUPA will be the first step – in this country at least – towards my Olympic goal. SUPA will co-ordinate and “formalise” the sport, giving it the sort of credibility that the IOC is looking for. SUPA will also be able to act as a “blueprint” for other such emerging organisations, around the world.

For more information on Stand Up Paddle Surfing in the UK – or if you would like to become a member of SUPA – please e-mail {encode=” ” title=” “}- or telephone +44 (0) 1736 758220 / +44 (0) 7884 387408.


The second thing SUP Surfing needs in the UK is a company that meets the needs of the SUP Surfer in full; a company that can, with authority, advise newcomers and old-handers alike on the full range of SUP equipment, currently available on the market.

As with the birth of any new discipline, there are two things prevailing in the sport of SUP Surfing in the UK, at the moment: a lack of information on what equipment actually works; and a continuously evolving notion of what is considered the best kit for the beginner, intermediate and advanced paddler. Thus, I have set up SUBCULTURE – – the first specialist SUP Surfing company, certainly in the UK, probably in Europe and possibly in the World!

SUBCULTURE stocks the widest range of SUP equipment anywhere. Whether you are a die-hard wave warrior, a tentative newcomer, a fitness freak or an endurance junkie, we’ll be delighted to offer you unbiased advice on the best boards, paddles and equipment for your needs; on Stand Up techniques and training regimes to optimise your paddle-time – in the waves or on the longest endurance events.

Furthermore, we have a wide range of demo equipment available – so, if you can get down to Cornwall in the South West of England, we’d love to get you on the water and share the stoke!

Please feel free to drop us a line via, or call us on +44 (0) 1736 758220 / +44 (0) 7884 387408. We’d love to hear from you!

So, as you can see, these are exciting times for SUP Surfing! This is just my own story, so far. If I can do what I’ve done, imagine what you might be able to achieve!

Now go, try out some kit, buy some for yourself and join the Revolution!

Olaus McLeod

05 June 2007

You can read an interview with Laird Hamilton, Olaus Mcleod’s inspiration, about stand-up paddling by clicking here.


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