It is no secret, SUP has something of an identity crisis, a situation neither helpful or constructive for the would-be participant. If you recognise SUP for its most basic attributes, it is no more than a plank-like craft upon which you stand, propelled almost exclusively by use of an extended canoe paddle by any other name. As simple as this analysis may be, the industry and many first of type users, have since the early days, insisted stand up paddle boarding is ‘surfing’ first and foremost, beyond any other reasonable consideration or rationale, regardless if learnt and participated for the most part in the complete absence of waves or whether 100 miles inland.
The basis of this mind-set, was due in part to a belief it was the best way to promote the sport, regardless of any rationale definition, or of its complicated nomenclature. Promoted as part of surfing, the sport would have an instant association with a Bohemian laid back lifestyle, sun tans, fit bodies, aloha shirts, tropical locations, peeling waves and sun kissed beaches; everything a brand could want in order to fast track and win over customers to a somewhat eclectic sport.
In the maelstrom of the maturation years of SUP, some facts remain in situ and are irrefutable. Critical to the learning phases of SUP, is the learning of paddling technique, the variants of paddle strokes and knowledge as to how a paddle works in theoretical terms, both hydro-dynamically and bio-mechanically.
Knowledge of variants of designs and applications, in addition to ensuring the paddle is of the correct length and blade area and shape for your personal use. Knowing its anatomy and the differences in materials and perhaps some history of their evolution and the variants used for different paddle sports, will have you embracing the paddle, not just as a means of propulsion, but indeed serve to strengthen your connection to its powerful symbolism, the very defining item of the sport itself; without which, the discussion as to whether more or less a surf or paddle sport, would become a moot point, being as there would be no discussion to be had. It could be said at this juncture, while the association with surfing has served its purpose to kick start the sport and make easy to sell, in terms of inbuilt inherent sex appeal associated with surfing, the time has come to recognise a very much broader, wider and readily established gene pool of would-be stand up paddlers, all but ignored from the growth process; that of canoe and kayak paddlers.
It is with no sense of irony, that during the learning process of SUP, an experienced canoe (or kayak) paddler will be better able to guide you with instruction than say a surfer, in relation to paddle skills and indeed access and use of flat waters up to and including safe practice, dynamic risk assessments upon inland waterways and sheltered waters, rights of way and more besides. With this in mind, it may seem counter-intuitive to put your faith in a surfers knowledge base, to teach you something they know little about, from the mechanics of paddling to the complexities of inland waterways, whose core interest is surfing and where their associates are largely not for SUP, but indeed against it. This is in juxtaposition to those experienced paddlers already aligned with canoeing and kayaking, who understand paddling theory and skills and are versed in inland waterway rules and regulations and whose associates embrace stand up paddle boarding as a transition from sitting to standing while using a paddle.
If you’re not already aware, some of the leading exponents of the sport of SUP, hail from an outrigger canoeing background and as we move further into the sports maturation, it seems fitting the focus for growth can and must now manifest from those currently involved in other paddle sports, where their gravitation towards SUP would benefit every sit down paddler across all competitive and recreational paddle sports, bio-mechanically and holistically speaking.
It is this relatively untapped and vastly larger gene pool of paddlers over that of surfers, who will ultimately come to define SUP in a new and emerging way, to the benefit of the sport as a whole, sending a broader clearer message of the sports benefits and ease of access.
Moving into the future, there can be no question, if at any point SUP were to become remotely viable as an Olympic sport, the craft which competitors would use, would almost certainly by more canoe-like than board-like, where stand in boards permit faster hull shapes, affording improved balance by lowering the paddlers centre of gravity. Indeed such design concepts are not just a figment of imagination, but are now in use, contradicting in no uncertain terms SUP has ever-growing powerful associations and appeal to those who already paddle, representing a very much larger gene pool than those who already surf and while racing should not define SUP per se, the learning phases and the central skills acquisitions certainly should. Our Vortex SD1 is a classic example of this evolution.
Mistral is a brand without barriers and we are not beyond seeing the big picture or understand our ability to influence or act as visionaries for the sake of encouraging true growth and longevity of a sport that deserves to be more than it is.