Do It! – Your Bucket List SUP Event

Have you got that SUP dream, that event that fuels your dreams and motivates your training? Do you have what it takes to make it happen?

Got a dream? Let's talk story with Steve Gates, GM Big Winds and coach

Got a dream? Let’s talk story with Steve Gates, GM Big Winds and coach

We’ve heard it before, “Access to success is through the mind,”  – but for Steve Gates access came through the heart, spirit, absolute grit and gumption, as well as the mind! I had a great conversation with Steve, GM of Big Winds in Hood River and coach of the JET team, yesterday. We chatted about his recent three-person team crossing of the Ka’iwi Channel at the 2014 Molokai2Oahu (M2O). Rob Dies, Gregg Leion and Steve made a plan to do the Molokai to Oahu – and they did it! But let’s back up just a bit.

I first met Steve, now a strong, tall, fit guy sharing smiles and stoke, in August 2012 at the 2012 Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. That event was his baby. A health issue had him terribly underweight but he was working hard and cheering on his JET team even though he was almost too weak to stand. By December he was fighting for his life. In June of 2013, about six months after Steve had been frighteningly close to death’s door,  we went to Hood River for a down wind clinic with Jeremy Riggs. As we grabbed our glides and rode the 8 miles of Columbia River from Viento to Hood River there was an “energy bunny” paddling ahead and back, from paddler to paddler, joining Jeremy in on-water coaching with relentless grins and technique tips – Steve Gates.

According to Steve, “I was still denying the physical limitations of my body and was running on enthusiasm and joy just being out on the water and paddling.” And here’s the story  too cool not to share. Six months before, in December of 2012,  when Steve was too weak to either hold a paddle or stand he articulated a dream. As we rang in 2013, Steve shared his dream of doing the Molokai 2 Oahu in 2014 from a hospital bed while continuing his battle with a dire health situation.

Big Winds JUnior Elite Team (JET) loving their tough practices and huge stoke

Big Winds JUnior Elite Team (JET) loving their tough practices and huge stoke

As a life long water athlete and coach, Steve never asked others to do what he would not do. Ask any JET team member and they will tell you that they didn’t mind the early morning summer practices (well, not too much) because Steve was always there and he did what they did. He sweated with them and panted after a tough interval – and he made it fun. Steve always asked his team to follow their dreams and aspire toward what they really want – and so he did the same.

In early 2013 Steve, Greg and Rob were making plans for an escort boat, for local support they would need for M2O and for a training plan that would let them reach their dream.

A powerful moment - Photo by 808Photo.me

A powerful moment – Photo by 808Photo.me

There were plenty of ups and downs. One bout of dehydration nearly dashed all hopes for Steve to get to the physical level of strength and endurance he’d need. “Access to success is through the mind, ” and in Steve’s mind he was at M2O – and by July 2014, he actually was there.

According to Steve,”The morning flew by and before we knew it we had finished all preparations and were at the start point on the beach ready for the start.  Soon, I was in the water, sitting on my board next to Connor Baxter. Neither of us knew what the day would hold.” For Connor it was a record-breaking win, for Steve and his team it was the culmination of a long journey from the start of a 32-mile paddle across the challenging and treacherous “channel of bones.”

Rob Dies, Gregg Leion and Steve Gates just before the start of M2O

Rob Dies, Gregg Leion and Steve Gates just before the start of M2O

The conditions did not deliver the usual tradewinds and nice push toward glides the paddlers dream of. In fact the swells were smallish and every glide was the result of hard work, sometimes against both wind and current.

Greg Leion getting a glide Photo by 808Photo.me

Greg Leion getting a glide Photo by 808Photo.me

Steve, Rob and Greg made their changes in and out of the escort boat. Their escort boat captain, Jeremy Wilmes and his helmsman and first mate Josh made everything possible. Steve shares, “You couldn’t ask for more, these guys are as good as they come.”

Rob Dies making his way past the China Wall

Rob Dies making his way past the China Wall

The hours flew by and they were at the China Wall and final legs of the race.  Rob Dies put the hammer down and pounded past the gnarliest area of the race. The changes came more often and before Steve realized it was his time to jump in, get on board and paddle to the finish.

We all watch events and the competitors launching toward the finish. Sometimes we wish that we were competing or accomplishing some long dreamed-of adventure. Imagine, if you can, the enormous wash of emotion, satisfaction, happiness and awe that had to encompass Steve as he made his way across the finish line for the team.  The journey had been long, and often seemed impossible.

A happy Steve Gates crossing the finish line for the team at M2O 2014

A happy Steve Gates crossing the finish line for the team at M2O 2014

From that day when simply standing was a challenge to this moment paddling strong across the M2O finish line. Steve was standing, tired and beat, but never beaten. Got a dream, got a goal? Think it is impossible? It’s there for you if you put your mind, heart, spirit and the support of friends and family into the mix. Now – GO FOR IT!

 

Positively Kai: Family, Attitude and Aloha

The Lenny family enjoys a close connection to the ocean - and to each other. Aloha, dreams, hard work and smiles.

The Lenny family enjoys a close connection to the ocean – and to each other. Aloha, dreams, hard work and smiles.

Martin Lenny told me a story once, it was a story that started with family – a family connected to the ocean.  In the early days as Martin and Paula were working double jobs while raising their family, they recognized that their son Kai was active – super active. Kai, whose name means, “ocean” in Hawaiian was happiest in the ocean.The best way to feed his need for action was to top off each day with time at the beach – doing whatever ocean sport was suitable for Kai’s age.

Fortunately, his family recognized that Kai had more than just a love of the ocean, he also had a passionate dream. Kai learned how to surf at the age of 4, windsurf at 6, stand up surf at 7 and kite surf at 9. Learning how to do these sports all happened naturally, and from it grew his love affair with the ocean and the waves. Mentors have been integral to Kai’s ability to soar toward his dream.

The early days’ mentoring from Robby Naish has evolved into a lifelong friendship.  Few his age have enjoyed training with not only Robby, but also legendary watermen like Laird Hamilton,  Dave Kalama, Buzzy Kerbox and Chuck Patterson.  Kai eagerly adopted just about every sport that involved water, wind and waves.

Traditional prayer circle lead by gerry Lopez before the Positively Kai Grom clinic - huge turn out

Traditional prayer circle lead by gerry Lopez before the Positively Kai Grom clinic – huge turn out

A common thread among his mentors and his family has inspired Kai as he has become a champion, a leader himself: Give back to the next generation by mentoring and consistently sharing aloha. It was exactly this sort of mentoring and inspiration that helped Kai continue his life journey toward his own dream. It is very obvious that the entire Lenny family lives this commitment to sharing with the next generation of standup paddlers.

In the spirit of mentoring and giving back, Kai has created a series of clinics for groms (young surfers) called, “Positively Kai.” Yesterday in Hood River we enjoyed watching the free clinic supported by sponsors (Naish, Hurley, Red Bull, Nike, GoPro , Turtle Bay Resort, Vertra, MFC and others).

DSC02549The clinic began with a prayer circle created by three concentric circles of hundreds of groms, family and friends holding hands and following the words of Gerry Lopez. Soon afterward, the groms were organized by age group and taken for more land instruction by the Big Winds JET team riders and many elite standup paddlers like Connor Baxter, Kody Kerbox, Chuck Patterson, Noa Ginella, Riggs Napoleon and more.DSC02666

DSC02723 DSC02696Age group races were an exciting part of the clinic but the real stories happened on the beach! One group of 8 year olds pow-wowed on the sand as the one more experienced paddler shared confidence and some words of wisdom to his peer.

A mom sent her 5 year old out into the windy bay with a grin. Why? She explained, “When she was 18 months old she began going paddling with me, sometimes napping on the board and sometimes falling off. But she has always loved being on the board with me. Now that she’s 5 she begged to come to this clinic and learn to paddle on her own.”

One exceptional paddler, Estani Bori age 10, had some obvious experience, skills and maybe that same passion that once fueled Kai when he was 10. He flew around the race course, then ran down to the beach to help collect the boards from the other racers as they finished. He was on the water doing tail turns and sprints all afternoon. I caught up with his father, Pablo.DSC02704

“Why did you travel all the way from Tahoe for this clinic,” I asked. Pablo didn’t hesitate a bit, “Once I saw that Estani lives and breathes this sport I had to help him follow what he is passionate about.”

That sounds like something Martin Lenny said, back in the day.  Pablo continued, “Estani goes to sleep watching his SUP heroes and he wakes up wanting to paddle, paddle, paddle. Once he started doing races it was great. The travel and the paddling is something we can do, father and son.”

Again and again all day long that is what stuck – the number of kids and parents, entire families smiling and sharing the stoke that is SUP. The energy of more than 400 people through the dance-off, the dinner of yummy burritos (Kai’s favorite) and the awards was stellar.

We ended with this from Kai, “I am inspired and stoked to see so many groms of all ages charging and having fun. You are the future of SUP and this is the best time to be a standup paddle athlete. The sport is young and has room for you to make your dreams happen – in SUP or whatever it is you dream. “DSC02670

5 ways to Build SUP Racing Confidence

bopstartjudy9If you want to be a writer – write! If you want to gain confidence in racing – race! Here’s a short list that can help, especially if you live far from the sort of water you’ll be racing in and if you will need to rent top-quality equipment for the event.

1. Practice on the  equipment you will be using for the event  – I went from using an 11’3″ all round SUP board to using a 14′ Naish Glide (the 2013 27 1/4″ wide 14.0 foot Glide). I got to Maui 6 days before the 2013 Olukai Ho’olaule’a and went directly to the Naish Maui Pro Center where Coach and Jay listened to what my husband, Ed, and I wanted to do. With every type of SUP surf and race board available for rent, they analyzed our skills in order to match us with what we could handle. A half hour later we were headed to the water with the 14′ Glides on the roof of the rental car. boo3

Hours of practice on that equipment gave us both an eye-opener (27 1/4 inches demands a new balance skills!) and time to gain confidence on the boards we would be using in our Maliko run event. (see the story that explains why I chose the Naish 12’6″ Glide for the down wind event this year and why I will be riding the newly designed Naish Glide 14.0 GX or GS for my down wind events moving forward).

We had a hundred questions and they had both the answers and the patience to share with us even though we were in town for just a week. Find the local team with that degree of customer service and expertise.

2. Plan ahead and talk to experts you can trust – The moment we completed our practice “fun” short Olukai Ho’olaule’a event in 2012 we began planning for the full 2013 event.  Completing that event let us know where the “holes” in our skill set were.  We started planning for the 2014 event immediately. Having the resource of Steve Gates and the team at Big Winds in Hood River, Oregon is awesome. We participated in their downwind clinic with Jeremy Riggs and gained more time on the 14′ Naish Glide.

Elite racer (and overall women's winner) Fiona Wylde and friend ready for Naish ONE fun

Elite racer (and overall women’s winner) Fiona Wylde and friend ready for Naish ONE fun

At the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge in August 2013 we were able to try the Naish ONE, the inflatable 12′ 6″ SUP board. Thanks to Charlie Burwell and the Naish team members on site, particularly Chuck Patterson, we saw how versatile and absolutely cool the Naish ONEs were (and bought 2 of them!)

Over the year leading to the 2014 Olukai Ho’olaule’a we communicated often with Coach and Jay at the Naish Maui Pro Center planning which board we should rent for the event. Since we were spending so much time on our Naish ONE boards we decided to use the 12’6″ Glide. Our goal was to stay on the board (talk about ultimate stability and glides!) and not worry so much about speed.

After the event we were able to reflect on the experience with Jay an determine that the newly designed Naish Glide 14’0″ GX and GS is going to be the board for us – as our skills dictate, for the 2015 event. The newly designed Glide is 29 1/4 inches wide which will give a sweet stability along with the speed we want. Luckily, Steve Gates at Big Winds has reserved that exact board for us to use for the August 2014 Naish Columbia  Gorge Paddle Challenge. We plan to do some down wind training runs with his clinic leaders.

Find your local experts and experts at your travel destination. It makes all the difference in confidence.

3. Practice in conditions similar to your event – Living in Oregon’s high desert does not provide lots of opportunity to practice in the conditions that Mother Nature delivers in open ocean down wind races.  We are fortunate to be able to travel about a 3-hour drive to get similar challenges in the mighty Columbia River.

When we need to be more local we check the weather report for windy days on local lakes and reservoirs.  Four friends, two cars and a shuttle plan can provide a great day of fun – and the practice we need.

Suzie Cooney (CPT) of Suzie Trains Maui lives the training advice she shares both on Maui and online.

Suzie Cooney (CPT) of Suzie Trains Maui lives the training advice she shares both on Maui and online.

4. Train for the demands of the event -Winter! What a perfect excuse to forego paddling and take up couch surfing (Noooo!), skiing or snowshoeing. If you are serious about your paddling technique – paddle. If you are serious about your strength, endurance, flexibility, balance and speed – get a trainer who paddles.  We have an area in our garage filled with TRX equipment, Indo boards and a spin bike.  We fear we would not be either skilled at how to train or motivated to stay with it without the inspiration of Suzie Cooney. Check her blog for examples. 

5. Leave your expectations at the door – Every event delivers as much of an adrenaline rush as it delivers a chance to connect with like minded SUP athletes. SUP is unique in that you are right there in the watery “arena” with the most elite paddlers in the world – so often. We compete in the most beautiful waters on the planet. Sometimes the sun doesn’t shine or the wind blows snot or the temps drop to some crazy cold level, but if we show up, compete and finish then we win. We win the fodder for “talk story” and plans for next time. As Connor Baxter says, “Always have fun and never give up.” That works for me!

SUP for Everyone: Naish ONE

Giving it my all in the OPEN Course race - so much fun!

Giving it my all in the OPEN Course race – so much fun!

Last weekend I competed in the Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. Compete is not the right word. Let’s just say that I was on my board and paddling in both the downwind and course OPEN class races and having a blast. Energy was high, the elite paddlers were exciting to watch and meet and the wind conditions kept us all on our toes.  The paddlers from the BigWinds JET team were inspirational, and true ambassadors for both our sport and their coach, Steve Gates.

bonnoe

Bonnie Fromm leading our OPEN Women’s Course Race

If I had to think of one disappointing part of the weekend, it was that I won both a first and second place award.  I had paddled hard and enjoyed catching glide after glide on the Saturday downwind event – and then because there were only two of us in the age 50+ category riding a 14′ board I was fortunate to win (out of two??). Then on Sunday’s course race the real  “win” was showing up and participating. The wind cranked furiously  through the Gorge and made our 4 laps  on the upwind leg and turning at the downwind buoy a mega-challenge.  I remembered to have fun – and I charged out of the water at the end of the event pretty darn stoked!  But placing second out of two (YAY! Bonnie Fromm rocks with the win) in the 50+ age group was no cause for celebration. The participation was the prize.

I was puzzled as to why there weren’t more women in our OPEN classes. What could be done to turn the avid SUP paddlers on shore into participants rather than spectators? How could all the organization, effort and energy of the race management team be shared among more OPEN athletes?  The elite classes were full of amazing, world-class competitors.  What about the rest of us? What sort of race event could generate entries and participation across a more broad bunch of paddlers?

I didn’t have to wait long for the answer.  Steve Gates and the team from Naish had a super-cool event planned.  They had a fleet of Naish ONEs (12’6″ inflatable one-design boards) on the beach and ready for a team relay event – with rules that leveled the playing field for any participants. The Team Relay was a fun four person relay race  contested on a short course right in front of the spectator viewing area at the Waterfront Park (Hood River, OR) . Each Team was required to have at least one athlete under age 16 and one female. The young paddler and the female couldn’t be the same person. Elite athleteswere placed onto teams by the Race Director, Steve Gates of BigWinds. The Relay Race was run all on Naish One boards,

As he announced the rules, Steve Gates explained the fun-factor of the “race, “Go out and have a blast with the Naish ONE boards. They are inflatable and forgiving if you run into each other or fall off. They’re just right for any size or skill-level. This is a fun a event, be prepared to get wet and laugh.” Well, that is exactly what happened.

Elite racer (and overall women's winner) Fiona Wylde and friend ready for Naish ONE fun

Elite racer (and overall women’s winner) Fiona Wylde and friend ready for Naish ONE fun

The elite athletes, as you can see from the photos. were having as much fun as the 10-year-old kids.  Even though the elites had just completed 5 loops in a gnarly, windy course they were back to play. The spectators loved watching. One of the coolest things for me was to see people lining up to have a chance to demo the Naish ONEs once the event was over.  The “have-fun” spirit of the relay event seemed to last. People were paddling, sharing tips, bumping into each other, practicing tail-turns and buoy turns and generally sharing a hefty portion of aloha. And isn’t that what it’s all about? (Click on each image for a larger image)

naishrelay2 naishrelay3 naishrelay4 naishrelay5 naishrelay6

I am looking forward to seeing more events like the Naish ONE team relays. I expect as people gain experience and confidence in that laid-back race venue they will take a chance with an OPEN event or two. Racing, like life, is a lot more fun when we focus on the experience more than the outcome. The next place I know of in which there will be Naish ONE fun will be in Las Vegas in early October – read more here.

SUP Jazzed: Mighty Columbia River Gorge

A short 10 months ago I hopped on my 11’3″ surfboard (too scared to use the Naish 14′ Glide recommended by cool Steve Gates) and launched into 30+ mph winds and screaming river waves.  It was my first foray into the Columbia River and my first real down winder. Jazzed is an understatement, hooked on the stoke became the reality.

Judy and Ed loving life on a down-current glassy Columbia Gorge paddle

Judy and Ed loving life on a down-current glassy Columbia Gorge paddle

If I knew then what I know now, I would have totally paddled the Naish 14′ Glide – holy cow what a ride!

We recently survived one of the strangest down-wind Maliko runs (no wind, huge swell and confused chop) at the Olukai Ho’olaulea. The glides we got were awesome fun and only got us more hooked. We were in Hood River, Oregon for a clinic by Jeremy Riggs hosted by Steve Gates at BigWinds. Saturday dawned glassy so we did the “cocktail cruise” from Mosier to the Hood River event center. We took the BigWinds shuttle and had an absolute party for the sense as we cruised the 8 mile section.  In anticipation for the huge wind predicted for Sunday, we practiced some tail turns (splash!!!) and bracing. (anticipating Sunday’s clinic with Jeremy Riggs)

The Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge of 2012 was an amazing gathering or elite watermen and women, well-coached youth paddlers and every sort of talent in-between.  Clinics were provided, experts were available and safety crews on jet skis created a terrific event from start to finish.  There were well-attended clinics by Naish team rider, Karen Wrenn and great support and fun for all! The grom clinic given by Kai Lenny was one example of the positive attitude and easy manner of teaching while sharing expertise that Kai enjoys. (Be sure to catch the new GQ trailer featuring Naish team rider, Kai Lenny – well done!)

Hood River - be there and look for Elder SUP - can't wait to meet you

Hood River – be there and look for Elder SUP – can’t wait to meet you

There’s no question where we’ll be the weekend of August 17-18, 2013. We’ll be at Hood River with hundreds of others all praying for wind.  When you think of the Columbia River Gorge you probably picture trees bending and whitecaps boiling from the consistent winds generated by conditions at the river’s mouth near Astoria, OR.  For paddlers of all skill levels, there is something for everyone. You might just come upon the Gorge on one of its quieter days.

If you do, simply head over to BigWinds, talk to Jason or Steve and get yourself a Naish Glide. Windy or glassy, you are in for a sensory celebration.

Summer Sun: SUP Performance Wear

Midway through a 12 mile paddle in my Sweet Waterwear paddling top and compression pants

January warm in my Sweet Waterwear paddling top and compression pants

As temperatures rise we slap on the sunscreen and savor summer SUP fun.  As the paddles get longer, as your skills drive the quest for more adventures, more exploring, more down-wind wildness there’s another key item to consider – performance paddling gear. It’s not just a cozy layer to keep the chill off – the right gear makes all the difference as we push our endurance, challenge our muscles and work our joints.

The first thing we did was to check out the Naish 14′ Glides we’d be using all weekend.  Steve Gates and Jason at Big Winds took great care of us.  Hood River (Oregon) looks like Naish Central whether it’s SUP, windsurfing or kite-boarding. naish2naish-flga

We enjoyed a clinic by Jeremy Riggs of Maui as part of the fun provided by Big Winds in Hood River, Oregon. On Saturday the wind was a rare serene breeze allowing us to do a glassy down current run from Mosier back to the Hood River event center. Sunday roared in with steady 25 mph winds cranking up the Columbia River Gorge spiced with gusts of 30 mph or more.  The river provided sweet glides, a good bit of chaos with side chop and sets that encouraged us to try connecting glides and soaring.  It was epic for all 25 of us!

Candice Appleby shows us how it's done!

Candice Appleby shows us how it’s done!

Hauling my drippy self onto my board again and again was an effort. Instead of being chilly, as the wind quickly dried my Sweet Waterwear performance top I warmed up easily.  After the race while we chatted and enjoyed a local “cold beverage” my legs felt hugged and cared for in my Pro Elite Performance Tights.

We love to look toward our favorite elite water athletes for tips on gear and training – it just makes good sense to notice what they’re wearing for enhanced performance.  In the video below the silver arms of my performance top is just the half of the cool fuschia I love!

Saturday: Glassy Goodness ( see video here)

Sunday: Epic Columbia River Downwind

SUP: Da Feet

That moment after a too-steep take-off when the nose of your surfboard buries deep, that moment just before you rocket through the air tightly clutching your paddle – you know! You know that your feet were not in the ideal position to trim your board successfully – it’s obvious.

Karen Wrenn posted this very cool photo - great color and an easy way to study foot position and technique.

Karen Wrenn posted this very cool photo – great color and an easy way to study foot position and technique.

More subtle are the changes in board trim and efficiency or glide that occur with where your feet are place and the balance of weight on those two feet when going in flat-water or downwind. A good example is the way Karen Wrenn is positioned in the photo to the left. She was kind enough to explain, “If you notice how my feet are really far on the left side of the board… it’s because there was a super strong side wind coming over my left shoulder. I had to position myself on the far left of the board to keep from getting pushed by the wind to the left. With my body weight on the left side of the board it allowed me to get my left rail down and prevent getting pushed and tipped.”

Knowing the force of winds in the gnarly Columbia Gorge area where Karen spends a great deal of training time, that is good to know. As the weather warms, our local SUP community plan many jaunts to the Hood River and Portland area for down wind fun.

With just a few weeks before the most challenging down wind adventure of our lives at Maliko Gulch and the Olukai Ho’olaule’a, we have been barefooting it on the sleek 14′ Naish Glide as winter hiccups into spring.  Balance as we maneuver is crucial – falling into the barely above freezing Deschutes River is not an option.

There’s the rub! Tail turn practice goes tentative – and immediately balance becomes sketchy.  It’s a great mental practice to feel the right movement to position and coordinate strong paddle strokes.

Evening light adding to our bliss!

Evening light adding to our bliss!

Our puzzle remains – what’s the best foot position for the various aspects of conditions we’ll encounter on the Maliko down wind route?  We will be sharing this post far and near, hoping for insights and input. While we will be participating in a “race,” our goal is safe completion of the journey.

Wondering how this foot position is for strong "wind in the face" situations

Wondering how this foot position is for strong “wind in the face” situations

Ed is experimenting with feet further back, noticing the impact of the tail drag vs speed and efficiency

Ed is experimenting with feet further back, noticing the impact of the tail drag vs speed and efficiency

We know we have awesome equipment with our Naish 14′ Glides underfoot, so we hope to refine our skills so that we can make the best of the famed “glides” we’ll be earning along the way.  How incredibly cool is it going to be to feel that first rush of wind after going beyond the cliff at Maliko Gulch! What a thrill it’s going to be to be surrounded by hundreds of other paddlers as the swells start rising on our quarter and from directly behind!

Butterflies – yup! We can’t wait to practice in the warm ocean – to fall as often as needed into WARM water – and to peddle forwards and back along the foot-friendly deck of the Naish Glide.  The best and right equipment for the adventure adds so much confidence and fun to the mix! Yeah, the stoke is fueled.

Please share your insights and comments on the blog or via e-mail eldersup@gmail.com – some comments we have received so far can be read at Aloha of the Paddle.

This seems to be a good foot position for flat water up wind and down - comments?

This seems to be a good foot position for flat water up wind and down – comments?