Radiating Insights and SUP Aloha

I live in Oregon and have had the good fortune to meet Karen Wrenn a few times. From those experiences I recognized that on top of being an incredible athlete and a stellar Mom, she is extraordinarily giving when it comes to what she’s learned through SUP. So I follow her blog, and follow her posts on Facebook.  You may want to as well.

Karen Wrenn introducing her group to proper paddle technique. Photo by Ed Shasek

Just last week at the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge we arrived on Friday just in time to attend the Positively Kai Grom Clinic.  There, nearly engulfed by several dozen eager pre-teens was smiling, calm Karen.  Kids at that age can behave like a herd of cats, but they remained focused and attentive throughout the land training. Parents hovering around the edges seemed particularly pleased when Karen made sure the kids got their PDFs or borrowed one for water time. One worried mom pulled Karen to the side, hands holding tight on your young son’s shoulders. After a few moments’ conversation, with a smile, the mom handed off the boy who no longer seemed so hesitant. Confidence at each step of the way seemed to be the theme.

With the clinic on Friday, a course race on Saturday and a blustery down wind run on Sunday every on of the top athletes had plenty on their plates. Just the same, Karen took some time to answer my questions about what would be my very first experience on the Columbia River. I haven’t determined what race board to buy just yet and have only about 4 lake races using a 12’6″ Hobie or Amundson. Steve Gates had already hooked me on the benefits of using a race board like the Naish Glides he carries at Big Winds.  As a Naish team rider, Karen showed me why she chose the Glide as well.

I had never been in the Columbia River, not had I ever paddled any board larger than 12 feet long. I asked Karen, “Would it be crazy for me to use my 11’3″ Amundson surfboard in the conditions we’ll have in Sunday? Will I be like dead last, or crazy slow?” The winds were expected to be 30-40 mph and i was freaking out more than a little.

That was the beginning of a valuable conversation. I learned where to go on the river and what to do should a barge come along. (A HUGE double barge did send me almost to the Washington side of the river)  She explained the sort of swells I might encounter and how to surf them to connect the most glides. Best of all, her easy assessment of my ability to not only do the race but also enjoy it gave me one more level of confidence.  Cool too, was being able to watch Karen’s technique in the course race, rounding marks, planting her paddle for the “catch” and using her legs and core. And did her Glide ever “gliiiiiiiide!”

Karen Wrenn rounds the bay buoy in the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge course race. Photo by Ed Shasek

I guess it all added up. Holy cow! I am solidly addicted to the sort of conditions we had on the Gorge Paddle Challenge downwinder. Totally jazzed I can’t wait to get back there to do it again – Summer 2013.

It hadn’t been too long ago that the ultimate SUP race, the Molokai 2 Oahu race took place. I have been a swimming, sailing, surfing, ocean person since birth and crossing big ocean expanses (with safety and support) has been a dream. (I wrote about that dream in an earlier blog)  Could I ever train enough in this seventh decade of life to manage that? Deliriously I thought – maybe?

With further insight I realize that the novice attempting that crossing – in or out of that event- would be somewhat disrespectful to the power of that channel and the esteem of the challenge. Karen wrote a powerful blog about Molokai 2 Oahu not too long ago. The article wove the challenge with the tradition. It underscored the dedication and training commitment the athletes who successfully cross the channel have invested.

I know that the Molokai 2 Oahu will always be what it has been to me – a dream. But it is also a window to what the top athletes in SUP can do. In my own way, at my own level I can be my best by keeping personal abilities in perspective. Training as much as I can as wisely as I can toward the events that make sense for me might be more fulfilling than chasing a dream.

Karen Wrenn with her signature smile racing to the finish.

Thanks to the athletes like Karen, Candice Appleby, Brit Oliphant and Suzie Cooney we can all aspire to our best. Follow their blogs, see what they dedicate to the sport through Facebook and YouTube video. Be the best YOU can be and celebrate the journey. Smile!

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!