My story is not just about becoming a stand up paddle boarder but also a journey to fitness and a community. It all began with my coach and mentor, Melina Cherry. In August of 2014, I moved to Miami with my pregnant wife and really knew nothing about stand up paddling. My job at the time permitted me to work from home, which along with having a pregnant wife, didn’t really lend itself to going out and exploring our new city and meeting people.
In December we had our son and then of course there was even less time to do any of that. A few months later I learned I would be losing my long time job. I also found myself very overweight do to a combination of factors, including our recent move, the new baby, and the accompanying stress of the situation. At that moment I decided I needed to make a change, and loving the water, I decided I wanted to give stand up paddling a try.
Fortunately for me, Melina Cherry had her studio, SUPtheworkout, within walking distance from my house. I figured the best way for me to learn would be to go and give her class a try so I would have some idea of what I was doing before I tried it out on the water. That decision completely changed my life.
At the studio I found a class that I enjoyed and needed as well as a coach in Melina who wanted to create paddlers and grow a stand up paddling community. After going to a few classes she mentioned that her race team was going to the Orange Bowl Paddle Championship and I should come and check it out.
Before going to class I had no idea there were races and I knew I had to go see it for myself. I had been a pretty good athlete at one time but with a very bad knee a sport with any kind of impact was out of the question. I thought this might be something that would be great for me.
After the race was over Melina had me go out on the water for the first time. I was instantly hooked. Shortly thereafter, I told her I’d be back and racing next year. The problem was that at 6’3″ and around 290 pounds, finding a board to float me was a challenge. I know many people kind of scoff at the SUP ergometers, but for me they were kind of a necessity. They allowed me to work on my stroke and my mechanics while dropping some weight as we tried different boards that would get me out on the water.
Eventually I started with a yoga board that we dubbed the SUPmarine because I was half under water when I paddled it. It was big and stable, yet it was still a struggle, especially when conditions were not ideal. I quickly became the falling specialist on the team and would give new paddlers tips on falling, e.g. fall away from the board.
There is a mangrove island not far from where we launch that really helps to block the wind and chop and create a nice area to paddle, most of the time. And that is exactly where I spent most of my time! So much so that Melina would call it the “Mattgrove”. With the continued help of Melina, as well as support and encouragement from the SUPtheworkout race team, and the SUP community, I improved and became more comfortable on the paddleboard. In November of 2015 I entered and finished my first race, the Nish Pombo Memorial. I completed the course paddling my SUPmarine.
Orange Bowl Paddle Championship
With my eyes still on the Orange Bowl Paddle Championship and my fitness and comfort level getting better we decided it was time for a board upgrade. We went to Indigo SUP and ordered a 14’ custom race board. I continued to work on and off the water while the board was being built and even became a certified PaddleFit coach. There was a bit of a learning curve once I got my new board. It wasn’t exactly like starting over, but there were times when I missed the stability of the SUPmarine. That said, it was a lot more fun to be on a much faster board.
By the time the Orange Bowl Championship came around again I’d lost around 50 pounds. I now had a 14′ race board and felt like I had found a place where I belonged due in large part to Melina, my SUPtheworkout teammates, and the stand up paddling community as a whole here in Miami. Though I felt like a paddler the first time I got on a board at the 2015 Orange Bowl Paddle Championship, the feeling was really cemented when I finished the race in 2016. I now feel I am a true part of the community here and even help to introduce new people to the sport, which is one of the most rewarding parts of my journey to stand up paddling.