Ben Marcus’s book The Art of Standup Paddling trumpets that standup paddling has arrived. Until now, SUP books seem to suffer from trust issues. That is, publishers weren’t sure that this new sport was going to be a thing so whatever they published got limited support. They get small print runs and only black and white pictures. In this media-rich environment, they’re squirming for the surface for attention, fighting for shelf space with better marketed books.
But no more. The Art of Standup Paddling is a 21st century publication. Lavished with full color photographs, this glossy book champions the sport with confidence. Each two-page spread boasts at least one color photograph or an aqua background behind the text. It’s almost as if this book is aware of the dynamism and vibrancy of the Internet and seeks to replicate it. This is the mostly visually compelling SUP book published so far.
The book covers all major aspects of the standup paddling world like yoga, racing, fitness, whitewater, surfing, and cruising with plenty of detail. It shows its very modern roots with a breezy style and photo essays that are very much like social media posts. For people new to standup paddling, the detailed photo sequences are very helpful, showing the sequence from a demonstration of stance to that first wave.
One of the things that a guidebook on a sport does is define what the sport is. For example, Nate Burgoyne’s book is an excellent book on SUP surfing, but it also inadvertently defines the sport as a surfing sport because of the book’s focus. Ben Marcus’s book has a several sections on SUP surfing, but it also spends time with all the major ways to practice the sport. Especially appreciated are the sections on SUP yoga and fitness, both growing specialties. This is important because while catching waves will always be a vibrant and important part of the sport, the majority of standup paddlers are on flatwater.
Kudos to getting out of the usual haunts of Hawaii and California. While the sport mostly began in these surfing meccas, it’s global now. It’s great to see paddlers from Mississippi, New York, New Zealand, Mexico, and Toronto between the pages. Even better are the interviews with people from these regions. These sections might be the most interesting for advanced paddlers because of the details of how their local geography changes their relationship with the sport. Urban paddlers use certain boards and have specific risks. Whitewater paddlers even more so. No matter where, underlying all this is how adaptable standup paddling is. Pretty much wherever there’s water, you can find people in it, standing on boards.
I discovered this book on my dining room table. My wife had bought it as a present for her sister. I then proceeded to annoy her by reading it, refusing to let her wrap it. (It was great fun to read, at least until my wife wrenched it from me!) So then I had to buy my own copy, which in just a few months has become pretty dogeared. I love a good guidebook, and this one is an easy choice for anyone interested in standup paddling. Younger readers will be drawn to the splashes of photographs and the in-the-moment writing style and interviews. We grownups might learn quite a bit about history of the sport. Pretty much everyone will gain tips about the less-traveled areas of standup paddling such as yoga or whitewater, especially if you haven’t tried them out. Like me, you’ll also be drawn in by the critical mass of SUP techniques, tidbits and factoids.