Randall Barna: Insights and Imagination

My education and 17 years in the classroom provided me with the title of “teacher” for a great part of my life.  As all good teachers know, the best learning often comes (surprisingly?) from the students.  Last week I took an early morning paddle through the Old Mill section of the Deschutes River in Bend with Randall. We talked about teaching. My first week as an SUP-er I met Randall as my husband, Ed, and I were launching our boards in the river -full of beginner trepidation and wonder.

Randall and his family happened to be paddling that evening as well.  Off went Ed, Cristina and Bella while Randall hung back and gave me 2 miles of coaching, SUP stories and exactly the confidence I needed.  It makes good sense that when we talked for this article that teaching would be a topic we discussed.

Growing up in Oregon, Randall much of his youth in, around and on the Columbia River and then during college he moved on to surfing.  His move to Bend in the 70’s did little to dampen his enthusiasm for surfing. Winters were busy with work in his ski shop, summers were constant trips to the coast for waves or up to Elk Lake for some great sailing. In time, work (as it seems to love to do) took over as a full time endeavor, so Randall sought a way to continue  his summer “surfing” without so much driving to the coast.  Luckily for him, windsurfing (which became sail-boarding) had hit the Pacific NW.

No one seemed to be leading the way in Central Oregon so Randall added sailboards to his inventory. Unlike SUP which can be taught in a few minutes – at least enough for some good fun – sailboarding took quite a bit of training. if Randall was to ever sell a sailboard he was going to have to teach each customer the skills they’d need for fun. That was usually a 5-6 lesson challenge. Sharing his enthusiasm through teaching is a constant. Randall became a certified instructor, developed curriculum, racing opps and solid community around the sport out in our high lakes. He enjoyed racing and honing his skills – so much so that he sailed in three Nationals and gained both friends, skills and a community built around another watersport.

What Randall learns from his students is that in these sports people like to gather in groups, talk story, refine skills and build a community. While Randall has the competitive drive and ambition to race, he realizes that many SUP-ers simply like to gather – building community more than building a shelf full of race trophies. You will not shake the “racer” out of Randall though. From his early days of sailing, then on to surfing, he has learned that the best way to home your sport skills and be the safest participant you can be, it pays to compete. Not to win, but to better your own level.

Randall Barna cruising to a win on his 60+++ birthday
Randall Barna cruising to a win on his 60+++ birthday

One thing Randall hopes to see more of in the community-building potential of the SUP race scene is a balanced focus on both the high-level racers and the social-just-for-fun racers.  Trophies, yes! Ranking, of course! But just as important is a great after race gathering, some opportunity to eat, maybe share a beer and story as part of the event. One example of a “race” that built community and was a powerful good time was the Bend Paddleboard Challenge. More recently in July 2013 was the 33rd annual Odell Lake Race with its own “SUP community” flavor (read more here).

Benefitting the Bend Parks and Rec’s Recreational Scholarship Fund and the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance’s efforts to raise money for the Colorado Dam Improvement Project.  It included a 2 mile short course for beginner racers and a 6 mile long course for serious racers.  It was part of the WPA NorthWest Regional SUP Race Series. What isn’t mentioned in the blog was the months of community-building, sponsor-developing, enthusiasm-building efforts of Chip and Lainey.  Take a look at the array of local sponsors who came together to make this as much fun for the families and spectators as it was for the racers.  Winner, losers, speed-racers and cruisers alike had a blast on and off the water. We all sport our shirts with the cool logo, we all (almost) won some sort of door prize, and we all gained a few new paddling friends along the way.

Randall imagines more of this for a sport that can bring almost anyone out for a few hours enjoying the natural resource that our lakes, rivers and ocean provide.

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