Having been involved in the SUP race scene for many years, I realise it may not be for everybody. Before I tried standup paddleboarding, I had not had any experience of sport or competition as had been involved in other things, bringing up a family and running my own business.
Once I stepped on that board though I was, like many others, hooked and soon purchased my trusty second hand Red Paddle Co Race board having used it at my club previously.
I was soon encouraged to “have a go” at racing and went with it, with my friends and those I got to know pretty quickly. In my first competition, I was encouraged to hang back from the start line (very good advice!) and just enjoy the experience and keep out of others way. I did just that, enjoyed the experience and at prize-giving received a couple of very unexpected gongs for racing – in the inflatable category and age related – who knew there was such a thing? Suddenly, my competition diva emerged and I immediately purchased a second hand Starboard Allstar. Winter ensued and I prepared myself for a season of racing. I was thwarted for two seasons due to an emergency operation and a nasty virus but finally, finally I managed to do the season. Every start line I would think, “what am I doing – I can’t do this” full of nerves and talking myself down all the time. At the finish line it was more positive – “wow, I did it and I loved it”. The best thing (apart from the podiums which I loved!) was the friendships I made, I still have those friends today from back in the day and we have all witnessed the speedy growth of the SUP racing scene over the last few years.
In 2017 I jointly won the National Championships at the age of 58 and promptly retired! My back did not enjoy the number of races I took part in that year and I took some time off. The next year I got involved with volunteering with the GBSUP National Series – I was to help with Event organisation and encouraging newcomers to get involved and feel comfortable. What actually happened was very different and I soon started to help with media presentation, live feeds and interviews.
So, having experienced SUP from both sides, I have come to realise over the last couple of years that racing is not everybody’s cup of tea, people like me who love to race will always encourage others to “have a go” but it has been appreciated that some may not feel comfortable or may be full of nerves, just like I was.
SUP has grown massively over the last few years and 2020 has seen an explosion of “social” paddlers, those enjoying it for what it is – some don’t even know there is a race scene – it’s a choice every paddler makes when they invest in their board – touring, having fun on the water or perhaps challenging themselves more to adventure further afield or even race.
If you do think you want the latter, there is a wealth of knowledge out there for you – old and new hands who will give you the best advice with no pressure and huge amounts of support. Clubs which have sprung up all over the country, many of which have a race division, will guide you and make it the best fun. You can even race but not race, with the Challenge Tour which was devised by GBSUP as a way of encouraging people to take part, meet new people but just challenge themselves against themselves – it’s been a huge success.
My racing days are over, the odd sprint race might bring me back but I am loving seeing new paddleboarders emerge all over the country – it’s exciting seeing what they are up to, racing or otherwise – it’s the most wonderful sport, there is so much potential on a SUP and the world literally is your oyster.
I’m also excited to be part of an organisation like the Water Skills Academy – their passion for the sport is out there for all to see and I can’t wait to further my new found love of adventure paddling – there is lots to learn to stay safe but continue to have fun.
I still have those two old boards, they continue to bring me joy and have some great memories attached to them – if you happen to talk to me about racing, I will still say “have a go” although yes, I realise it’s just not for everybody!
Words and Photos: Sarah Thornely