SUP 11-City Tour: Inspiration and Grit

First and foremost a focused and passionate paddler

First and foremost a focused and passionate paddler

I am pleased to recently meet, Valerie Hirschfield,  the mother of three boys who will kick off Fall with the September SUP 11-City Tour in Holland. The Tour is an ultimate challenge and also a unique experience in which paddlers travel 220 km (136 miles) in five days with weather conditions varying from windless and beautiful to sunny, or cold and rainy.  Ultimate challenge is exactly right for Valerie, who lives her life with zesty energy, a powerful attitude, tenacity and the ability to inspire. You will notice in her photo that Valerie standup paddles with a challenge that might daunt most.

While 200+ paddlers race and cruise past open fields with windmills, cows, and sheep and encounter  eleven historical cities Valerie will be unique in that she is the first to participate in the event after the loss of a leg. Most of us would have trouble simply standing with a prosthetic leg, but Valerie has dedicated her love of SUP to finding the right training that will allow her to reach the skill level she wants and needs for events like this.

Elder SUP asked Valerie, why do you do a race like this, and Valerie explained, ” i love a challenge.  I also believe that one has no limits and can do anything that we set our minds to do.   I’m not doing it to come first, but i also don’t want to be last.   I’ve seen handicaped men taking part in challenges but never women, so i think its time a female did something.” valh1

valh9What is it about SUP that captured Valerie so completely? “I love the sea, love a challenge and its the first sport that I did with a prosthetic leg.   I think finding this 11-City Tour challenge just made it more enjoyable.   I do other sports too – my favourite is wheelchair tennis.”

Many elite water athletes have participated in the Tour including Connor Baxter, Zane Schweitzer, Marc Raaphorst, Donna Raaphorst, Eric Terrien, Bart de Zwart and Byron Kurt , Karen Wrenn, Jenny Kalmbach and Anne-Marie Reichman. After tennis, climbing – and even the challenge of walking, Valerie made the commitment, entered the event and is enjoying a summer of specific training.

Valerie’s husband will be making the trip and following the race, but not on a board. But Valerie could use some more help – not often, but we can help her for this event and beyond. Valerie is hoping to get a better knee so that she can compete, inspire and empower through her events. Valeries shares, “All the people that are sending me funds are helping me too, as i will be able to compete with a better prosthetic knee which will make a big difference to me.”

Click the image to reach Valeries website and lots more stories and information

Click the image to reach Valeries website and lots more stories and information

You can help too, Click to reach her non-profit organization page for information. You can help by simply SHARING  this post on your Facebook. Here’s a bit about Valerie. She’s about to be 51 years old, mother of three sons, wife, girlfriend, diligent and persevering sporty, beautiful and brave … beyond any test. Many decades ago she had to wage her toughest fight against a disease that took her leg but not her will to survive and thrive.

Valerie looks forward to meeting you all and sharing the Holland 11-City Tour through photo updates on her site.

SUP Race: What’s a Win?


Find a SUP event in your community, register for it, train for it and then simply head on over for fun and friends

Last week I came in dead last in a local standup paddle race – and I won. I won two ways. The first was not so cool – In the 50+ age group (for this 64 year-old) I was the only entrant so I won.

The other way I won was by having an awesome summer day at the lake, meeting new friends and learning lots of new skills.

I often ponder the dynamic between a vibrant SUP paddling community and the SUP racing scene.  On the one hand, everyone from a newbie paddler, to families, to elite racers has a better time on the water with friends.  On the other, racing – competition – can be intimidating.  In paddling, like sailing, tennis, cycling and running, committing to a race event can be the best route to meeting more friends at your level while honing your skills to the next level. Winning – or losing – can easily become a less important side note.

Elk Lake Resorts hosts the Gerry Lopez Summer Series

Elk Lake Resorts hosts the Gerry Lopez Summer Series

In town (Bend, OR) with 50 or more paddleboards negotiating stretches of our Deschutes River almost any time all summer long, there were just 18 participants in one of the best  long course, WPA sanctioned races you’ll find on a fun-family lake. Elk Lake Resort, along with KIALOA Paddles, Standup Paddle Bend sponsored the event followed by a barbecue, included in the race fee. Donations went to the Deschutes Paddle Alliance. Aside from enjoying some of the finest hamburgers, local beer and all the fixings, we had the chance to hang out at the lake all day long. BY 5 PM the Pitchtones were on the point playing for us all as the sun went down and the moon came up.

Having fun honing great technique and celebrating a lot of endurance work - go Tom!

Having fun honing great technique and celebrating a lot of endurance work – go Tom!

Casually, the day turned into endless impromptu technical “clinics” as various participants shared expertise with us all we all learned something new about paddle technique, board attributes, cross-training, the wind and more.  This “free clinic” format mirrored a similar community-building event hosted by KIALOA Paddles at the Bend Paddle Challenge just a month ago. The roaring success seemed to have inspired us all.

The only negative to the entire day was that 25-30 new paddlers, kids and parents were not enjoying the 2.5-mile short course. Instead there were just 3 entrants.

We all fell in while practicing tail turns - best refresher on a warm summer day at Elk Lake Resort

We all fell in while practicing tail turns – best refresher on a warm summer day at Elk Lake Resort

How cool if new paddlers and kids took the chance and got in the short course event. They would paddle hard and come in somewhere. I sewed up “caboose” in the long course, who would have been my short course twin? After fun and new friends at the BBQ we could all take a tour of the bay, check out the pirate ship, swim in the lee side calms and share paddling tips. The excellent fun of the first of the Elk Lake series will be repeated on August 24th and September 14 (followed by a luau and music by Bill Keale.  

You know it – no matter what place you come in you are going to score a WIN if you simply show up – board ready and paddle in hand.  The informal “free” clinic fun of everyone sharing what they know will be icing on the cake.  Please contact me if you have questions, comments or pictures to share.

Some more photos of beautiful Elk Lake (click on the thumbnail for larger image) See YOU August 24th.

Race or no race - who wouldn't want to paddle here

Race or no race – who wouldn’t want to paddle here

Scenic finish line - time for BBQ awesomeness
Scenic finish line – time for BBQ awesomeness

SUP Racing: With time not vs time

A few weeks ago the Deschutes River Conservancy’s second annual Race for the River took place at Riverbend Park in Bend, Oregon. It was awesome to see so many stand up paddlers and their dogs come out in support of the DRC’s mission to restore and preserve local rivers and streams. I paddled my 11’3″ Amundson to the start line along with quite a few race boards ready to paddle hard for the 5 miles of the long course.  The course was two loops – my favorite. That way, even though I am usually pretty close to the back of the pack I get to see the front action and cheer on the leaders.

Chip Booth (Standup Paddle Bend) was tucked in the reeds just before the Healy Bridge snapping action shots as we paddled by. I was so glad he captured this one. The arch of clear water poised in the air by my bare feet is beautiful. The bow wave reminds me of the gentle slapping sound of the bow along the current.  Yeah, my heart rate was in the 140-150 range for most of the paddle – I was working hard! But not for the race results (that would have been counter to my equipment and skills) but for the pure joy of being out on the river with so many of the paddling community.

I was thrilled that one of the more well-attended “races” was the paddle-with-your-dog event.  Happy pooches and their owners cruised the 2.5 mile loop with waggy tails and determined grins. Al Paterson and Rocky (picture below) led the way while Pam Stevenson and Sprocket hands-down won the aloha title, grass skirt and all (picture at the bottom). It would have been even more cool if the 30-40 SUPers who pepper the river doing casual paddling would have joined us for the event.  Sometimes the name “race” conjures up the image of  burly racers in their prime zooming through a course. Yes, “racing” includes that and it’s an incredibly exciting and powerful driver for the SUP community. (See the post: Heroes and Hats).

Here’s a thought. What if the “race” course was a 1 mile loop in which a paddler chose to go any distance from 1-6 miles.  The leaders would still race and each of us could paddle to the pace that our skills and inclination determines.  A culture of collaboration and connection between casual paddling and racing could emerge from the repetitive passing along the course and the need to figure out how to pass without interfering.

Best of all, a one hour time limit on the “race” would ensure that all the racers would be on shore to enjoy the after-party. Does your club or SUP community have this sort of race series? We’d love to hear how you get the largest SUP community gathering regularly for shared fun on the water.