Showing Up – Make it Matter

By 2 PM on Saturday, July 28 2012 the winds across Odell Lake (Oregon) were cranking. White caps (big for a lake) were hammering the shore alongside our campsite. And the downwind race was over hours before.  Just after 11 am, the red calico flag waved the casual start of the 32nd year of this annual event in light winds that assured safe passage for all competitors from canoes to SUP race boards to kayaks. The spirit of this race is all about the group. While the standup paddlers were wishing for a start the coincided with the predictable afternoon winds and waves to glide on, John Milandin (the race organizer) enthusiastically ushered us into the water as he has for 32 years. And we all had a blast.

Odell Lake Pioneer Cup 2008

The light winds for the first 30 minutes or so, gave way to a more steady breeze and some fun on the growing white caps as we approached Shelter Cove for the finish.  During the race on my 11’3″ Amundson surfboard I had plenty of time for reflecting on past races since all the other SUPers were far ahead on an array of sleek 12’6″ to 14′ race boards.  I paddled hard and tried to stay with the pack, but just didn’t cut it. So with my sweat and heavy breathing came thoughts of past years and friends we miss. The first time I paddled Odell Lake with Randall, Cristina and Isabella Barna we were joined by my husband, Ed and friends including  Eddy Miller. It was just a casual practice paddle that day, a cold windy August that found us all falling in and laughing often. By the time the 2008 Pioneer Cup came around we were way more prepared. We sorely miss the joyful love of life and adventure Eddy shared in everything he did through a life cut way too short.

Over the years we all have changed, standup paddling and boards have changed, but the consistent spirit of the Odell Lake Pioneer Cup stays steady. Each year no matter where we place or what the conditions, we all know that a BBQ on the deck of the lodge will be delicious. Some years a front of the pack ribbon was part of the take-away for me. This year it was quite the opposite. After all the awards were given out John turned toward me with a mischievious grin and said, “Each year we hand out a questionably prestigious award, the ‘sightseer award,’ to the person who just sticks with it and finishes the race no matter how long it takes.” 

Me: GULP! A little embarrassing to be dead last, but when confronted with John’s pure joy in handing out the award I couldn’t help but grin. After all, I regularly write about the joy of the process of honing skills and training for more than the race results. Thinking back on how it felt to dig that last paddle stroke at the finish (woooohoooo) was pretty cool.  Like in life, simply showing up is a big part of what makes us who we are. John is one wise person to consistently celebrate that “showing up” and sticking with it to the end.

Photo by Ed Shasek

Can’t wait for next year! In the meantime, there will be plenty of training days working on getting more fit. There will be lots of camping trips and paddles with friends and family. There will be trips to surf, watch beach sunsets and wait expectantly for the “green flash.” More than that there will be plenty of opportunities to embrace life, show up, look around and make a difference. In life I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by so many people whose spirit, love of life and people in that life continue to inspire. For those of you who read this, you know who you are!

Big Winds Connecting Generations

Steve Gates of Big Winds in Hood River Oregon has a philosophy that resonates with Elder SUP, ” I am inspired by everyone who is trying to make our planet a better place for everybody.”

Connecting with the younger generation and providing them with skills and a community focused on those values is about the best way to insure a “better planet for everybody.”  Steve Gates enthusiastically shared his commitment to Team Big Winds in a recent phone conversation. There was no denying how cool he thinks the kids are and how impressed he is with their dedication to acquiring skills for their sport.

Team Big Winds showed up in force in early July at the Willamette SUP Cup in Lake Oswego, Oregon. The eighteen member team made up almost a third of the entire fleet! The challenging course had a nice variety of tight turns, long straights, current, breeze, showers and sunshine. Something for everyone!

Team BW placed 4 in the top ten in the men’s Elite, with Ben Grodner in 5th, MacRae Wylde in 6th, Rob Dies in 9th and Steve Gates in 10th (Steve is there in the center of the picture at left). Ford Huntington won the Rec Class in his first ever SUP race. Fiona Wylde just edged out teammate Alyson Fromm (a mere 5 seconds!) as the girls went 1-2 in the Women’s Elite. And, Team BW coach Steve Gates won the Men’s 50+ Class.

It was great fun for the whole team, with many participating in their first SUP race!

Now the training continues in preparation for the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge, August 18 and 19, when Team Big Winds will try to defend its home turf as the best racers from all over world descend on Hood River for the spectacular paddling conditions of the Columbia Gorge.

I am both excited and a bit intimidated about participating in my first Paddle Challenge in Columbia Gorge. When my daughter and son-in-law eagerly made reservations to come watch me “swim with the sturgeon” my tummy did a flip flop. Seriously?

I am counting on a training run with Karen Wrenn and advice along with some great equipment from Steve and Big Winds to be a big part of my enjoying the event.  Steve has an extensive background in water sports, with over 30 years of windsurfing, kiting and SUPing. As he inquired about my skills, experience and goals for the race (safely completing it) he reinforced the need to have the right equipment. I am really looking forward to using the Naish 12’6″ Glide that is 30 inches wide (stable and easier to ride at my level).   It’s great to recognize the enormous spirit of sharing and support around the sport of standup paddling, and among the team at Big Winds.

A Sense of SUP Play

I had an amazing time at the Elk Lake Resort -Gerry Lopez Race Series kick-off race on July 14. With both KIALOA paddles and StandUp Paddle Bend as sponsors it was a true “hometown” event. Armed with my cool Pipes KIALOA paddle and a sweet Hobie 12’6″ raceboard borrowed from Chip Booth at Standup Paddle Bend, I was eager to get to the water. I’m still quite a novice at turning the bigger board around the race buoys. Luckily, Gerry Lopez was on the shore and quickly tossed a few stance and balance tips my way just before the start (Note to self: Need a LOT of practice!)

The weather was stellar. Sadly, I was the only woman competing in the race. “Competing” is a loose term – because I was simply out on the water on my board paddling hard to get my technique and endurance a little bit better.  I came in last place after all the men – but “won” first place for women. It would have been a lot more fun with some other women to laugh, paddle and race with. I have a laid back outlook on competition as a community building glue for the fast growing legions of standup paddling families and friends. I have a notion that the format of competitive racing may have limited the number of people participating. It was not a WPA sanctioned event, it was meant as a fun race – but still, the format was “race.”

We often point to competition as a tool to bring out the best in people. You will run faster or work harder or fight more ferociously if there’s someone breathing down your neck or a record to be broken.

The problem with competition for a great percentage of most people “playing at a sport” is that it holds them back from leaping into the “game.”  For many, competition takes away the plain old playful fun, the invitation to invent your own method, to find a new way. Competition is great for gathering energy, audience and refining our skills to new levels. But if a huge momentum of new participants in events is a goal, there might be a complementary opportunity for race directors and organizers.

When you have competition, it’s the pack that decides what’s going to happen next, participants merely try to get (or stay) in front. Elder SUP will be designing a new addition to the standup race menu of choices.  We will design 15-30 minute SUP-Ventures, game-like short quests on the land and water for all levels and abilities of standup paddlers.  Generating lots more “race” and event participants, providing an entertaining extra show for spectators, involving more people while building a strong standup paddle community is our goal. We’d love to hear your ideas and comments on this topic.

Meanwhile, as we design and plan new ways to flatwater SUP play, enjoy this smile-generating video – the joy of SUP play!

Don’t Run a Marathon in Flip Flops

Some background: I am just a regular person doing a little surfing, touring, racing, and recreational paddling.  I could get one paddle that is versatile enough to do most everything, or I could start to build out my quiver of more specialized standup paddles. The size and shape of the blade, length of the shaft are just a few things to consider when choosing a paddle. Choosing a board is even more complex and one size for all types of water and surf or purpose gets complicated. I always go to an expert for advisement when making a decision about sports equipment and SUP equipment is no different.

Sometimes people ask me, “I am just a recreational SUPer. Why do I need an expensive paddle?” First of all, “expensive” is a word that’s not easy to quantify in terms of comfort, freedom from injury, pure enjoyment, efficiancy and “feel” while enjoying your sport.

I usually answer, but it is a silly answer, “You don’t run a marathon in flip flops. Sure flip flops are the ultra comfort shoe, but not for running or even for much all-terrain walking. The $100 shoe you get for hiking, running or walking is “expensive,” but it is a huge value. The same goes for paddles.”

Being up on the right board is so much better than being dunked with a “faster’ but maybe less stable board choice.

I was talking to Steve Gates, owner of Big Winds in Hood River, Oregon a few months ago. We were discussing which Naish board I should use for an upcoming down winder on the could-be-gnarly Columbia River. We discussed balance, ability, glide and surfing.  He advised me to use the Naish Glide 12′ 6″ which is forgiving and competitive (even if I am not so much). I had wanted to try the Naish Javelin (14′) like a friend has and one I have enjoyed in the flatwater. I thought that the faster the better was a good idea.  Steve explained that I would be more stable and endure fewer swims – and therefore enjoy the race more and probably be faster with the Glide. Great equipment and great advice make all the difference for an enjoyable experience no matter where you finish in an event. Either way, Naish was the hands down choice.

When out on the water, talk to others who share your interests – even if their abilities far surpass yours (for now). Try their equipment. If you have a heavy, poorly designed paddle prepare to get paddle-envy.  If your paddle is not the right length, prepare for a huge “aha” moment if you try a paddle better suited to you. If you have a few members of the family who’ll be sharing one paddle, why not get a top of the line adjustable paddle that will be exquisite fun for all? The KIALOA  Pupu paddle is a fine example.

So why am I about to add to my quiver of standup paddles? I have  one paddle I dearly love. For 5 years it has taken me over lakes, streams, oceans, bays and rivers – but like any piece of well-used sports equipment, it could break at some point. So I went shopping. Don’t ask me about square inches of blade size, blade shape, shaft length or blade design – I leave that to the experts.

Discussing things with the team at KIALOA (awesome customer service and rich online information) I learned that for my size, age and skill level I might find the KIALOA Pipes to be a great downwinder and flatwater paddle. It was fun to learn that many pros – even big strong young men – love the Pipes as well.  There is plenty to learn about getting equipment right – again, I always defer to the experts.

My current paddle, with a shorter shaft and larger blade size can still be my go to paddle for surfing. For my down winders and probably most races I may be better off with the Pipes. I tried the Pipes on the same 5 mile training run I have been doing for about 6 weeks, maybe 3 times a week.

In my last race I noticed that my heart rate was a full 20 BPM more than I wanted. I decided to do some training closer to my “fat burning” zone, topping at 136 and some segments in my  “aerobic” zone – which tops at  154 BPM.  I have been doing my 5 mile loop with my older paddle so I know my speed per mile and my average heart rate at that speed.  Yesterday when I used the Pipes my heart rate was easy to keep in the 125-140 BPM range. My fear was that the “feeling easier” paddling would result in a slower average speed per mile.

Holy cow! I use Nike+ to measure my miles and gather my splits per mile – I was 12-18 seconds faster per mile – a full minute faster for the total 5 miles while the entire workout felt easier. It was also actually easier – as demonstrated by my reduced heart rate. For a 63 year old chick just playing at being an athlete this is both fun to explore – and an incentive to get that Pipes in my quiver very soon. The only tough decision remaining is which of the beautiful graphics do  I choose – the blue or the green plumeria? Maybe blue to match my cool new Sweet Waterwear paddling top or my  Hawaiian blue Tiare Tee.