The question is simple enough. Why do people stand up paddle? The answers to the question are as diverse as the day is long. Some do it for the fitness benefits. Others gravitate towards racing and frequent any number of events now held around the world on any given weekend. SUP is fun, easy to pick up and it can be a great entry-level activity to introduce people to the wonderful world of paddlesports.
One can stand up paddle on any body of water, in any climate anywhere in the world. From exploring the cityscapes of Europe to cruising along the rugged wilderness of North America. White water, flat water, open water, downwinding, surfing. It has even spawned a trendy new form of yoga. These factors and undoubtedly more all play into the broad appeal of SUP.
Although the aforementioned factors each play a role, the single most defining characteristic of the relatively young sport is the sense of community among stand up paddlers of all ages and walks of life which exists to a degree not found in other recreational sports. Turn up at a SUP event and it is like going to a family reunion with all your favorite aunts and uncles in attendance. Sure there are some serious racers, but more often than not the overwhelming majority of paddlers are not delicately dancing on top of tippy, round-bottomed raceboard with 24 inches (or less) of width. They are happily cruising along on a veritable mish-mash of colorful stand up paddleboards. Regardless of who they are, where they come from or the length of time it takes paddlers to finish, everyone cheers and slaps high fives when the race is complete.
Outside of events, paddlers tend to congregate with one another or at the very least smile and exchange greetings with others as they glide past. The sense of community is analogous to drivers in rural Midwestern States who wave at everyone when they pass on the region’s gravel country roads.
The SUP community is much more than a lifestyle. It is a sense of belonging – one of the defining characteristics of a community. And the community is still small. Within a particular region, everyone knows or likely recognizes one another, if not by face then by the board they paddle. Among regions, at least in the United States, there is always that one person who everyone knows and likes. They are the connectors. Perhaps that person is you. Perhaps that person is Kristin Thomas.
No matter who you are or where you come from, choose a board, grab a paddle and join the community of SUP.
All photographs accompanying this editorial were shot by the talented Southern California photographer Chris Aguilar at the Adler Paddler on March 12th, 2016 along the Belmont Shore in Long Beach – a fantastic community event.