Category Archives: SUP

SUP: False Sense of Security

By Pete Williams

Anyone paddling a canoe or kayak is conditioned to putting on a life jacket before climbing in a vessel. Even avid swimmers will encounter life-threatening situations while paddling. A life jacket or other personal flotation device (PFD) can save your butt.

So why is it that it’s still common for many if not most stand-up paddleboarders to take to the seas without a PFD or, at most, a life jacket strapped to the board where it’s of little use? After all, you’re more likely to fall off a SUP than tumble out of a canoe or kayak. A life jacket well beyond arm’s reach is of little use.

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

The PFD debate has raged since SUP exploded around 2010. It’s an issue nobody wants to discuss. For several years, race directors even joked about it at the start of races, saying something like, “Okay, you’re supposed to have a PFD on your board wear a leash. There, I said it.” Everyone chuckled and the race began.

These days, race directors require athletes to wear at least an inflatable PFD around their waists and many require leashes. Funny how a little liability and and nine pages of insurance premium boilerplate can inspire a change in mindset in a race director.

For the recreational paddleboarder, PFDs still are rare. It’s the water equivalent of the motorcycle helmet. “Hey, I’m a skilled rider, I don’t want to be burdened by a helmet/life jacket.”

But just as a skilled biker can be hit by an erratic car driver, an experienced paddleboarder faces constant danger from inconsiderate or drunk boaters and jet ski operators, to say nothing of sudden changes in weather and even marine life knocking you off the board.

Recently I was paddling in Madeira Beach. It was a windy day and the water was choppy. After a few minutes, I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and headed back to shore. On the way back, I encountered a boy of about 13 with his mother. The kid was on his knees, distressed, calling for mom. She was alongside him, also on her knees, trying unsuccessfully to calm him.

I paddled over. They had no PFDs or leashes. “Ma’am,” I asked. “Is this your first time on a board?”

She nodded. They had rented the boards from a city-approved vendor on the beach. They had received no instruction, no safety tips, no leashes or PFDs.

“Okay,” I said sternly. “You two need to head back to shore immediately. This is an awful day for paddleboarding, especially your first day.”

She nodded again and the two headed back. I shook my head. This is a common scene. Thankfully the worst thing to come out of the experience for them was that the son probably will never want to try SUP again. At least his experience ended safely.

Still, think how many people never try SUP again because of similar experiences. Or get hurt or injured.

Even if you’re a strong swimmer, do you want your life to depend on whether you can safely swim back to shore? An inflatable PFD worn around the waist, along with a leash attaching you to the board, is a small inconvenience. At the very least, you’ll save your expensive board investment.

You might also save your life.

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Florida Cup: Growing in SUP Stature

By Pete Williams

FLCupMADEIRA BEACHBruce Denson paused this morning during his busy day of race director duties at the Florida Cup to consider the growth of the third-annual stand-up paddleboarding event.

There were nearly 200 paddlers between the open, elite and kids races, a tent city of sponsor tents representing prominent SUP companies, and postcard-perfect weather. There was a massive inflatable finish arch and announcers from Stoke Radio handling emcee duties to give the race a big-event feel. Best of all, Denson seems to have found the ideal spot for a major SUP race in Tampa Bay: Archibald Park in Madeira Beach.

“We’ve gotten tremendous support from Madeira Beach, the sponsors, and of course the entire SUP community,” says Denson, a St. Petersburg attorney and avid paddler.

Archibald Park, the longtime home of the Madeira Beach Triathlon, seems tailor-made for SUP, with parking for about 80 cars in the beach lot and at least 100 more at a supermarket across the street that allows athletes to park there for no charge in a designated area.

Though Pinellas County’s Gulf of Mexico beaches are ideal for SUP racing, parking always has been the stumbling block. Numerous events have tried to build traction at sites between St. Petersburg and Clearwater only to struggle with offering adequate parking nearby. Denson debuted the Florida Cup in Treasure Island in 2013 and staged it at St. Pete Beach last year, encountering the same issue in both places.

The Archibald Park lot, usually shut down for triathlon parking to stage the transition area and post-race festivities, proved adequate for Florida Cup parking. For later arrivals, Denson had board “sherpas” on hand to unload boards and transport them to the shoreline while racers parked at the supermarket.

Denson also has streamlined what was a packed weekend-long series of activities. There’s still Friday night packet pickup and a post-race lunch, but the focus is on the race itself.

FLCup2That’s why we believe the Florida Cup will be among the major SUP races that will survive long-term. As with running, triathlon, and obstacle racing, the number of SUP races has exploded in recent years only to see a shakeout. Many SUP events self-destruct by offering prize money, multiple parties, and lavish awards presentations held well after the end of the race – all of which adds financial pressure and organization hassles to what is already a challenging production staged on public waterways.

Even The Battle of the Paddle, the sport’s premier event held in California, folded earlier this month after nearly a decade because race organizers grew tired of staging what had become an increasingly lavish and expensive weekend.

Which races will fill the void? The popular Carolina Cup, held in Wrightsville, North Carolina in April, is now the biggest event with more than 600 athletes. Denson’s Florida Cup also seems in good position to grow, especially with athletes and sponsors raving about this morning’s event.

Florida always seems like the overshadowed little brother in endurance sports, with Californians claiming ownership of triathlon and stand-up paddleboarding. But the Sunshine State leads the nation in number of marathons, obstacle races, triathlons and SUP events – and also the quality of events – with California promoters forever struggling to get their act together. The nation’s largest warm-weather state now has no major championship in triathlon or SUP.

Some might suggest that mirrors the overall management of the states in general. Either way, we’re bullish on SUP in Florida and the Florida Cup, the Sunshine State’s premier event, which seems poised to flourish in 2016 and beyond.

 

 

 

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Nude SUP Challenge Returns to Kissimmee

By Pete Williams

SUPCoveAd4The Nude SUP Challenge, which debuted last year as the world’s first clothing-optional stand-up paddleboard race, returns to the Cypress Cove nudist resort in Kissimmee, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 13.

The four-mile race, held on the 50-acre Brown Lake within the confines of Cypress Cove, takes place the day after Surf Expo, the largest industry trade show for surfing and SUP. Surf Expo is held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, just a 25-minute drive from Cypress Cove.

Registration for the Nude SUP Challenge is now open. Race entry also provides all-day admission into Cypress Cove, one of North America’s premier nudist resorts. Cypress Cove is hosting a weekend of clothing-optional endurance sports with the fifth-annual Streak the Cove 5K taking place on Saturday, Sept. 12.

Registered athletes will receive Cypress Cove member rates on hotel rooms and campsites for the weekend.

“We’re looking forward to a great weekend of racing,” said Cypress Cove owner Ted Hadley. “Between the Streak the Cove and the Nude SUP Challenge it promises to be one of most memorable weekends ever.”

Nineteen athletes – 11 men and eight women – made endurance sports history by competing in the inaugural Nude SUP Challenge in 2014 Athletes came from as far away as Southern California, Ohio, Maryland, and Georgia.With more than a hundred Cypress Cove residents and guests watching along Brown Lake on a balmy morning, paddlers completed four and a half laps around the 50-acre waterway for a total of four miles. The winner, a 25-year-old man from Sarasota, navigated the course in 40 minutes, 45 seconds. The female winner, a 33-year-old also from Sarasota, finished fourth overall at 44:15.

Logo-Final-SmallStand-up paddleboarding is one of America’s fastest-growing sports, combining fitness and water sports. As the sport has grown in recent years, a number of stand-up paddleboard races have emerged. The Nude SUP Challenge was the first clothing-optional stand-up paddleboarding race anywhere and more than 60 paddlers are expected for 2015.

“This is a great event,” said Hadley, who watched the 2014 race unfold from the middle of Brown Lake in his boat with one of several Osceola County EMS staffers hired for safety support. “We’re looking forward to growing the Nude SUP Challenge into an annual tradition.”

The Nude SUP Challenge was organized by Enterprise Media LLC, which has put on the clothing-optional Streak the Cove 5K run at Cypress Cove annually since 2011 and the Caliente Bare Dare 5K in Florida’s Pasco County since 2010.

As with all races put on by Enterprise Media, photography is strictly prohibited. Race results and names of participants are not published.

 

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Seeing New Orleans by SUP

By Pete Williams

New Orleans via SUP

New Orleans via SUP

NEW ORLEANS – Though this site is EnduranceSportsFlorida, we love experiencing endurance sports outside of the Sunshine State.

There are many ways to tour New Orleans. There are vampire and voodoo tours, cemetery and architecture tours, riverboat and streetcar excursions. We’ve been to New Orleans a number of times, but today was our first tour via SUP.

Jeff Lakey established NOLA Paddleboards in 2011 and has built a SUP business that combines lessons, rentals and tours — both out of Lake Ponchartrain and Bayou St. John. I shot him an email a week ago and he set me up with a rental this morning, offering to pick me up at my French Quarter hotel for a (reasonable) additional fee.

I took the streetcar instead and it left me off just 50 yards from where Lakey launches boards into Bayou St. John. I figured since I told Lakey I was an experienced paddler, he was just going to rent me a board and send me on my way. Instead, he spent an hour with me and a first-time paddler. We went north and south on Bayou St. John, occasionally ducking under bridges while Lakey pointed out various historic homes and providing insight into post-Katrina New Orleans.

When we were done, we hopped out of the water and only had to walk 50 yards back to the streetcar for the ride back. Though NOLA Paddleboards also operates out of Lake Ponchartrain – and soon will open a store there – we highly recommend his Bayou St. John location if you’re visiting New Orleans and staying in the French Quarter. Total cost: $30 for the rental and $2.50 for roundtrip streetcar fare. What a great way to get in a paddle and experience some of New Orleans that visitors rarely get to see.

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The “Waterman Triathlon”

By Pete Williams

HelgaSUP2We’ve often thought it would be a great idea to stage a triathlon involving swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and beach running. It would crown the king and queen of the beach, the true waterman.

We don’t know of such an event yet. But this Saturday at St. Pete Beach, there might be an even better endurance sports combo. At 7 a.m., there’s the Dash N Splash Beach Aquathon at Pass-a-Grille Beach. This second-annual event consists of a 2-mile beach run, a 600-yard swim in the Gulf of Mexico, and a 1-mile run.

At 9 a.m, just 2.25 miles north in front of The Alden Suites Hotel, is the second-annual Florida Cup stand-up paddleboard race. This event already has become one of North America’s premier SUP races, with more than 200 paddlers expected for a weekend-long paddlefest.

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in 2013

Like most SUP events, especially those held at St. Pete Beach, parking is at a premium and getting your boards from the parking lot to the beach can be a challenge. (Though race director Bruce Denson and his staff have those details covered.)

Still, if you want to make the logistics easier and become a true waterman, park at Pass-a-Grille Beach for the Dash N Splash. You’ll have a short walk with your board to the beach. Compete in the Dash N Splash at 7, finish by 7:45 (or earlier) and then hop on your board and paddle north to the start of the Florida Cup race, beating the crowds and parking.

IMG_7923You’ll miss the awards ceremony for the Dash N Splash and you’ll need to have waterproof cases for your keys and presumably phone, along with some sort of backpack, but you can arrive in style and in time for the 10-mile Florida Cup elite race (9 a.m.) and plenty of time for the 3-mile open race (9:15 a.m.) In fact, you should be able to make it for the 8:30 captain’s meeting.

We love how only in Florida can you attempt crazy endurance sports doubleheaders like this. We’ve done two sprint triathlons in one day, two obstacle races in a day, and a triathlon and an obstacle race in the same day. But this would be a first.

Who is ready to become a true waterman?

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9 Biggest Trends/Stories in Endurance Sports in 2013

By Pete Williams

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

When we launched Endurance Sports Florida nearly three years ago, we could not have imagined that this booming field still had lots of room for growth. Back in January of 2011, obstacle racing still was flying under the radar. Stand-up paddleboarding was a regional phenomenon and nobody had coined the term “theme race.”

These days, the market for all things endurance sports is flooded. No matter where you live, there are numerous opportunities to compete every weekend. In Florida, it’s impossible to find fewer than six endurance sports events within a 45-minute drive any weekend of the year, especially in 2013 with Christmas falling on a Wednesday.

The Sunshine State remains the epicenter for all things endurance sports. The hub might be Benderson Park, a sprawling rowing/swimming/paddling/triathlon complex going up in stages in Sarasota.

With that in mind, here are the top 9 stories/trends in the industry from 2013.

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

No. 9 – OPEN WATER SWIMMING: These competitions have existed for years, but there’s suddenly increased interest. Maybe it’s because the roads have gotten crowded (and dangerous) with all of the runners and cyclists, to say nothing of motorists focused on their smart phones. Maybe it’s because swimmers are realizing it’s a lot more fun than training in the pool. Maybe it’s because competitive youth swimmers (above) discovered they can get out of the pool and beat 90 percent of adult recreational swimmers in open water. Maybe it’s because many triathletes didn’t learn to swim as adults and want to put their skills to use as often as possible.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Diana Nyad brought attention to open-water swimming in September by becoming the first to complete the treacherous Cuba-to-Key West swim without a shark cage. In January, 15-year-old Becca Mann won the Frogman Swim, the 5K trip in chilly waters from St. Pete to Tampa. Mann, now 16, hopes to reach the Olympics in 2016 in both open-water swimming and pool events. Anyone who has seen her train and compete for the Clearwater Aquatic Team knows this is a distinct possibility.

ArmstrongIronmanNo. 8 – LANCE ARMSTRONG CONFESSES: It seemed like such a foregone conclusion to all but his most ardent supporters that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories that it’s easy to forget that his confession to Oprah Winfrey actually happened in 2013, back in January. It seems much longer ago. Lawsuits have piled up, sponsors bolted, and Lance even had to part ways with Livestrong. Since Armstrong can’t compete in sanctioned events, he’s not even allowed to enter triathlons, though Chris McCormack has challenged him to a one-on-one tri smackdown.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. trumpeted its partnership with Armstrong only to look foolish when he was charged with doping in 2012. So vast was Armstrong’s deception that we’re left to wonder if he even raced clean on the triathlon front and whether his Ironman 70.3 win in Haines City in 2012 was legitimate. Surely, he raced clean there, right? Oprah didn’t ask.

RockRollHalfNo. 7 – NATIONAL EVENTS STRUGGLE IN FLORIDA: So often we see a national race promoter come to Florida and assume the masses will show up. After all, we have great year-round weather and hordes of athletes. Unfortunately, race promoters underestimate the number of established, affordable local events we have. Florida athletes are savvy customers with no patience for overpromising, overpricing, and underdelivering. That’s why it was no surprise that Competitor Group pulled its Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Pete event after another disappointing turnout in January. Tough Mudder, which had a traffic-related debacle in Sarasota in December of 2012, saw attendance plunge for events in Homestead (March) and Palatka (May). Even Spartan Race officials, who never seem to back down from a challenge, quietly canceled a proposed Spartan Beast event at Little Everglades Ranch for 2014. Ironman continues to sell out its Ironman Florida race in Panama City in a matter of minutes a year in advance, though that’s essentially a home event for the Tampa-based WTC. Warning to out-of-state promoters: Past performance elsewhere does not guarantee future return here and promoters can and do lose money.

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

Paddlers compete at Benderson Park in Sarasota in August.

No. 6 – SUP — UP AND UP: You know a sport is thriving when it seems every interview with a 24-year-old actress/model/singer mentions how she recently discovered stand-up paddleboarding. SUP has become the new yoga or Pilates, which makes sense since it works the body in a similar fashion and there’s now a cottage industry of SUP/yoga and SUP/Pilates classes. Surf Expo, which comes to the Orange County Convention Center each January and September, might as well be called SUP Expo. SUP board manufacturers have taken over the OCCC floor and the Thursday board demo day at a nearby watersports facility has become a highlight of the event for many.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Besides SUP, er, Surf Expo in Orlando, the Florida Cup has become one of the sport’s premier events after just two years. St. Pete lawyer and avid paddler Bruce Denson has built a late May weekend event in Pinellas County that belongs in the same discussion as the Carolina Cup and perhaps one day soon the Battle of the Paddle in California. The Miramar Beach-based YOLO Board has become a major player in the competitive board manufacturing industry. Then there’s Dunedin’s Karen Mirlenbrink, who is a YOLO Board athlete, a race promoter (Shark Bite Challenge), and a SUP Pilates instructor — basically the Queen of all SUP.

PumpRun2No.5 – THE SPORT OF FITNESS: CrossFit and endurance sports traditionally were polar opposites. CrossFit tended to attract the gym rat demographic while runners never touched the weights. But once Spartan Race and Tough Mudder began actively courting the CrossFit crowd in 2011, the two met in the middle. You’ll still see groups from CrossFit boxes tackle obstacle races, though these days you’re more likely to see them enter CrossFit-style competitions or hybrid events such as the Pump N Run, a Tampa event (above) where athletes bench-pressed all of most of their weight and based on their performance deducted time from a subsequent 5K run. We’re not sure where all this is evolving, but it’s an interesting trend to watch.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: In addition to the Tampa Pump N Run, hosted by Tampa trainer Whit Lasseter in November, CrossFit box owners Clint and Maci Lowery stage regular obstacle races from their Sweat Factory facility in Minneola (near Clermont), which is adjacent to a running trail.

TriGroupNo. 4 – MARKET SATURATION – Back in 2005-07, we hosted a Friday afternoon fitness radio show that featured a brief segment previewing the weekend’s endurance events in Central Florida. The segment took about five minutes. These days it no doubt could fill a half hour and not just because of SUP races, obstacle events, and theme runs that didn’t exist back then. The number of triathlons and road running events has perhaps quadrupled and while that’s generally a good thing, it has diluted many races and created others hosted by organizers who have no business doing so. Triathlon seems to have peeked in popularity in 2011 after a decade of unbridled growth. Our theory is that some would-be triathletes instead turn to obstacle racing or CrossFit, where there’s no need to buy an expensive bike or learn to swim. But while there seems to be the same number of triathletes, there are more triathlons. As for running, it’s impossible in many markets to drive on a Saturday morning without being slowed by race road closures. What’s next? We’re guessing more road runners and obstacle racers will find the happy medium with trail running, which is easier on the body, generally offers a more pleasant race experience, and is often the best value in endurance sports. Which means, of course, that we’ll see a ton of trail races.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: It seems like ages ago when the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg sold out in a few hours in December. These days, it’s possible to register the day before the late-April event. This year St. Anthony’s is hoping to stop the attendance decline by offering a sprint distance to go with the traditional international race.

FlavorRun3No.3 – THEMES, THEMES, and MORE THEMES: We’re not sure if color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, and all of the rest are endurance events or merely festivals with jogging and walking involved. But there’s no denying the impact. The Color Run, which debuted in January 2012 with 6,000 runners in Phoenix is now partnered with sports colossus IMG and stages more than 100 runs annually worldwide. The untimed Color Run, in which white-clad runners pass through stations where they’re doused with colored powder, has inspired numerous knockoffs, including the Florida-based Flavor Run. Most athletes walk or slowly run the events, which are great fun for kids.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Like every other endurance sports category, Florida leads the nation in themed races. The Color Run alone has five Florida events scheduled in 2014 before Mother’s Day with more to come.

JenCalendarNo. 2OBSTACLE RACE SHAKEOUT – With a new obstacle race popping up seemingly ever week, it was only a matter of time before races started crashing in spectacular fashion. Mud runs have a bucket-list, post-the-Facebook-photo quality to them and events quickly have discovered it’s difficult to draw repeat customers. The zombie-themed Run for Your Lives endured the true death the day before Halloween. More surprising was the demise of Hero Rush, the Maryland-based, firefighter-themed obstacle race that we considered the best produced obstacle event of 2012. It flamed out in August, a victim of growing too big too fast. Who will survive? We’re betting on the races that position themselves as competitions rather than muddy office team-building exercises, which tend to attract the one-and-done crowd. That’s why we’re bullish on events such as the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash, sort of an outdoor version of American Ninja Warrior produced by Central Florida’s Rock On Adventures. Ditto for Spartan Race, which still trails the untimed, team-oriented Tough Mudder in popularity. With Spartan’s every-athlete-for-himself (or herself) format, new national sponsors such as Reebok, a recent one-hour special on NBC Sports Network, and races of three distances that include events in sports venues, we’re betting on King Leonidas and the gang.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Hero Rush folded shortly before scheduled events in Ocala and South Florida. Through some poor scheduling (or perhaps intended) Tough Mudder and Spartan Race will go head to head in South Florida during the April 12-13, 2014 weekend. Spartan Race also brings its sports venue edition to Florida for the first time with a Spartan Sprint race at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in February.

BostonStrongNo.1 – BOSTON STRONG – The Boston Marathon was the biggest endurance sports story of the year for all the wrong reasons. Two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the storied race on April 15, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. The violence drew attention to the vulnerability of endurance events, which take place in wide-open settings, unlike sports competitions in enclosed venues. Runners and non-runners across the nation rallied to stage support runs and raise money for the victims. The Boston Red Sox surprising run to a World Series title further helped the healing process.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: An FBI agent shot and killed Ibragim Todashev, a friend of suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in Todashev’s Orlando apartment in the early hours of May 22 after a violent confrontation. A Florida prosecutor is expected to release a report of his investigation into the shooting early next year. On a positive note, numerous Florida runners have qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon, which promises to be the most watched, most secure marathon ever.

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2013: Breakout Year for SUP?

By Pete Williams

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

ORLANDO – Surf Expo, the semi-annual trade convention that converges here at the Orange County Convention Center, perhaps should be renamed SUP Expo.

Everywhere we looked on Saturday, stand-up paddleboarding dominated the scene. There were two dozen board manufacturers, more than double the amount from just two years ago, and only a fraction of those represented on Thursday during SUP Demo Day at a nearby watersports facility.

Perhaps the coolest product we saw was the Nocqua 2000 LED system, LED lights that go on the bottom of a paddleboard that light the water below, enabling the paddler to go out at night. (We’re hoping the $399.99 price tag comes down over time.) Even products such as the DryCase and the GoPro Camera, though not SUP-specific, seem made for the sport.

SUP Expo – er – Surf Expo is just one sign of the phenomenon. When I got my first board early in 2011, the sport still was catching on here in Florida. Even though my Paddle Fit co-author Brody Welte had launched a successful SUP business in St. Petersburg two years earlier, I still got odd looks out on the water and occasionally had to explain what I was doing.

These days, it’s impossible to drive for more than an hour in Central Florida and not see a paddleboard strapped to a car. I counted at least two dozen paddleboarders out on the Dunedin Causeway Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t that long ago where I would have been one of only a few out there dodging boats and jet skis. Attendance at SUP races, though still modest compared to running and triathlon, has increased significantly. Benderson Park, the new $40 million, man-made watersports park in Sarasota that has hosted several SUP events, is tailor-made for the sport.

Why the boom? Here are a few theories:

HelgaSUP2IT’S THE BEST WORKOUT EVER: If you want to see some seriously jacked physiques, watch the elite division of a SUP race. SUP combines core training, balance work, and rotational movements. It’s like working out on a giant BOSU ball. Plus, there’s perhaps no better cardio workout than doing intervals on a paddleboard. Find a few buoys, crab traps or other markers in the water and alternate between sprinting and paddling at a relaxed pace. There are SUP Pilates and SUP yoga classes, which are more fun (and definitely more challenging) than traditional yoga and Pilates.

IT’S MORE FUN THAN RUNNING: We’re big fans of distance running. But how much fun is running, really, when many people can’t do it unless they’re tethered to some sort of music device? If you find running boring, try SUP. And while it’s true that you can use a DryCase or some other device to keep your music dry, few paddlers do. That’s because they don’t need to be entertained out on the water. (On a safety note, paddlers should not wear earphones so they can hear oncoming boat and jet ski traffic. Now if only cyclists would get that message and stop with the distracted riding.)

SUP yoga enthusiasts at Surf Expo on Saturday

SUP yoga enthusiasts at Surf Expo on Saturday

IT’S MORE BADASS THAN KAYAKING OR BOATING: I’m often paddling when some jerk in a six-figure boat flies by way too fast, with a beer in one hand and his bloated, sunburned belly jiggling in the breeze. I’ll think of all the money and effort it takes to experience a day on the water like that.

Nothing against boating – and I’m thankful for my friends with boats – but SUP is a more enjoyable, less expensive way to spend a few hours on the water. SUP often is compared to kayaking – or at least a hybrid of surfing and kayaking – and that’s an accurate analogy. But sitting down doesn’t produce the same experience as SUP. You don’t see as many sea critters or get as much of a workout.

IT’S SAFER: Like any watersport, SUP can be dangerous. I prefer to paddle on weekdays since there’s less boat and jet ski traffic. For a while, paddlers resisted life jackets and leashes much like some motorcycle enthusiasts won’t ride with helmets. But there are plenty of small, lightweight personal flotation devices that fit around the waist and these days even experienced paddlers wear them. (If you can’t swim at least a quarter-mile in open water, you should definitely be wearing one.) Unlike cycling, where any fall is going to produce at least road rash, falling off a paddleboard will just make you wet. Unlike running, you’re not pounding your joints into concrete or asphalt hundreds of times an hour.

SUPSandyWOMEN ARE EARLY ADAPTORS: Women drive the popularity of anything. Triathlon boomed six or eight years ago when more women got involved. More recently, we’ve seen the same phenomenon with half-marathons and obstacle races and it’s also fueling the growth of SUP. Women tend to be more adventurous and have better balance than guys, who worry that they’ll fall on their butts and look foolish on paddleboards. (SUP actually is much easier than it looks.) This is true of females of all ages. I’ve introduced a number of kids to SUP and inevitably the girls get it faster and show more patience as they learn.

Most importantly, women control household budgets. A quality board starts at $1,000 and paddles in the $150 range. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but road and triathlon bikes cost more and require far more maintenance. Heck, avid runners spend $1,000 on shoes every two or three years. Boards can last indefinitely.

Two years ago, it seemed SUP would be a niche phenomenon.

Now it seems like everyone is looking to take a stand.

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Continuing to Beat Cancer with a Paddle

By Corrie Seabrook

ArnieGoodman3Arnie Goodman slides his legs until they touch the end of his shallow kayak. He grips the paddle and glides along the water flowing through Riverfront Park in Tampa. He’s paddling just as he has done on this day for the past five years. The myeloma cancer is working through his body, dangerously. But Goodman keeps paddling, for himself and for a cure.

Goodman, 54, grew up in the waters off Fort Lauderdale. There he boated and sailed through the east coast waves. When he moved to Tampa he was introduced to kayaking, where he fell in love with the sport.

“It became my love,” he says.

At 47, he was a practicing ear, throat and nose physician and continued to swim and kayak regularly. Then he was diagnosed with myeloma cancer. He, his wife and their two kids stared into what was left of the time that this cancer had cut short.

He has dealt with the disease for more than seven years. Since the treatment is so extensive and time consuming, Goodman stopped practicing medicine. A year after the diagnosis, he formed the non-profit organization, Beat Cancer with a Paddle. Though the organization, Goodman, Russell Farrow (owner of Sweetwater Kayaks) and other sponsors created the “Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure” race in 2009.

This year’s event takes place on Sunday, May 5 from Tampa’s Riverfront Park.

SweetwaterThe race started with individuals and groups competing in kayaks. Then one year a man showed up with a stand-up paddleboard. “We thought, who’s this buff guy out there on a surfboard?” Goodman says. As the years have progressed, more and more paddle boarders have accompanied the kayakers.

The Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure doesn’t solely include endurance athletes. Parents bring their children to enjoy the day on the water in double kayaks. Beginners come to fall and try again on the kayak and paddleboard rentals.

“Paddleboard companies that work with us, Stand Up Paddle Life and Urban Kai, provide the boards and demo for those who want it,” Goodman says.

The participants set up in a staggered line. The gun blasts and the racers paddle off. The course takes the boarders down past the Tampa Convention Center and under the bridge. They swirl around three buoys up the channel and then hurry back to the finish.

The event’s target audiences are paddlers, newcomers to the sport, and those who come to support the cause. (All proceeds from the event benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and Be The Match National Bone Marrow Registry.) The event consists of a 5-mile race for time at 9 a.m. The second race is a 2-mile family fun paddle around the course. The event has raised more than $35,000 since 2009.

Goodman predicts that “the paddle boarders will probably outnumber the kayakers this year.”

This is the first year this race has become officially sanctioned by the World Paddle Association. It’s also the first time it will include a tie-in to firefighters.

Sweetwater2Tampa’s fire department will be volunteering alongside high school students. A unique race called the Firemen’s Challenge Relay will be set up specifically for the different firehouses to put their training to the test. These firefighters will sprint against each other for trophies and the cause.

Last fall Goodman endured a bone marrow transplant. He’s also undergone two stem cell transplants. Multiple myeloma accounts for just 1 percent of cancer cases but has claimed the lives of a number of prominent Americans, including Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers, and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.

After treatments, Goodman puts his energy into making this event a success despite how he feels. “It helps me to tolerate the side effects. You have to force yourself to do something even if you don’t feel good,” he says.

Recently Goodman received an email from a man suffering with myeloma. He expressed that he was coming from his home in New York to do the race. Goodman felt good from the impact he had made to someone in such a personal way.

Goodman continues to chug through his life kayaking with the cancer moving through his body like the river does beneath his vessel.

“I want people to remember this race and come back again. I’m going to keep going for as long as I can.”

Corrie Seabrook is an intern for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com and ObstacleFit.com.

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Pacifico – Stepping Up the SUP Race Experience

By Pete Williams

Start of Pacifico open race

ST. PETE BEACH – I heard footsteps. Make that splashes. For 77 minutes, I could not shake the paddler behind me at the second-annual Pacifico Paddle Challenge off St. Pete Beach on Saturday afternoon.

Were this a running event or triathlon, I probably would have let him pass. But there was money involved. Not much, just the $25 for third-place in the men’s stock board division of the 4-plus mile “elite” race, enough for me to understand how motivating a little cash can be in an athletic event.

And so I kept paddling. Hard. Stand-up paddling usually is a relaxing way to spend a leisurely afternoon. But when you’re hammering your core, pushing your lactate threshold, and trying to stay balanced on a 29.5-inch wide Yolo Ecotrainer, it’s a wonderful test of pain.

The four-lap technical course featured nine buoy terms per lap, each an opportunity to fall into an increasingly rough surf kicked up by afternoon winds. One fall is enough to lose 20 seconds.

I’ve often wondered why Shane “Waterboy” Webb and other organizers of SUP races feel the need to throw prize money into the mix. Does it attract more prominent athletes? Maybe. What I do know is it makes the race far more interesting for those of will never get any closer to being professionals – and those watching us.

Stand-up paddleboard racing might never be as big or as organized as road racing, triathlon, or obstacle mud racing. But as the second-annual Pacifico Paddle Challenge demonstrated here Saturday afternoon in front of the Postcard Inn, SUP racing is developing into a different race experience than other endurance sports.

Sure, there’s chip timing, T-shirts, various competitive divisions, race numbers, and post-race awards. But if you’re looking for an early-morning, to-the-minute itinerary that gets you home by 11 a.m. like running or triathlon, well, SUP racing might not always be for you.

The first of Pacifico’s four races was scheduled to start at 11 and got underway about 45 minutes later. The 2-plus mile open race was followed at 12:45 by a 4-plus mile elite race, a kids’ race and a relay event. Awards did not kick off until 5:30.

Transitioning – Battle of the Paddle style

And yet the late-morning, island-time mentality – which we’ve seen at other SUP races, too – seems to work for a sport that grew out of the Hawaii and California surf culture and the 125 or so racers and their guests didn’t seem to mind spending a full day (or weekend) around the Postcard Inn, especially with weather right out of a chamber of commerce video.

Webb and co-race director Grace Marcel again created a big-time race atmosphere, with a tent city of sponsors, an announcer’s booth and sound system perched atop scaffolding, 20-foot Pacifico beer inflatables, and a race format inspired by the Battle of the Paddle in California, which is to SUP what Ironman Kona is to triathlon.

On a weekend where the well-heeled Competitor Group debuted its TriRock triathlon amid little fanfare in Clearwater Beach, the Pacifico had perhaps the most big-time feel of any Tampa Bay endurance event. There was $5,000 in cash and prizes, numerous high-ticket raffle items, and the return of the best post-race spread of any endurance event we’ve attended: a pig roast.

SUP also has the best people-watching element of any endurance sport. Some believe SUP is the best workout ever created with its full-body, rotational movements and the way it challenges your balance, core and proprioception in a tough cardio workout. Exhibit A: the chiseled, jacked people you see at a SUP race.

Our friend Karen Mirlenbrink, an accomplished paddler and race director for the annual Shark Bite Challenge at Honeymoon Island, bowed out of the elite race after falling and cracking her board by landing on one side of her rear end. Talk about buns of steel. How many women can crack a board with their glutes? (Pretty good testimony for Karen’s business, Dunedin Pilates.) Unfortunately for me, Karen’s equally accomplished paddling husband decided to jump in the race in my stock board division and collect the $150 first-prize purse, which presumably goes toward Karen’s new board. (Second place received $50.)

Webb, the race director, spent a lot of time pre-race making sure everyone was familiar with the course, a technical, multi-buoy layout that required nine turns per lap — two laps for the open race, four for the elite. Such instructions seemed unnecessary since he provided a terrific pre-race video of the course, something we’d like to see triathlon and obstacle racing emulate.

We love the Battle-of-the-Paddle format, which requires racers to come to the beach after each lap, run 50 yards or so through a chute and then transition quickly back onto the board, which board caddies turn around and place into position. This is SUP’s answer to triathlon’s transition and perhaps gives a bit of advantage to those of us accustomed to the quick turnarounds of triathlon or obstacle racing.

Best post-race food anywhere

Last year I showed up for this event and won $75 by default as the only guy on a stock board — as opposed to a sleeker, faster race board — to complete the elite race. I wondered if prize money was necessary, especially since the $35,000 pot for the one-and-done U.S. Open of SUP in September of 2011 in Miami didn’t attract the crowds.

Last year, I only had to finish to collect cash. Lining up before the race, I could tell there were at least a half dozen guys on stock boards entered. When the horn sounded, two shot out well in front of me. I passed two others and settled into fourth. Early in the first lap, the guy in front of me fell on a buoy turn, giving me an opening to pass.

I spent the rest of the race holding him off. As we came to the beach for each transition, people cheered us on, producing a strange dynamic. As stock board racers, we were near the back of the pack. But as third-place contenders in our division, we still had a shot at money.

By the start of the fourth lap, my shoulders and back were barking. The surf was getting choppy and my opponent closer. On long straightaways, he took a lower path and soon I could see him out of the corner of my eye. If I fell, there was no way I’d regain my lead.

As we rounded the final buoy, he made one last push. All I had to do was get to shore first and run through the finish chute. I paddled as hard as I could to shore, leaped from the board, and chugged up the sand – winning by six seconds. Afterward, my new buddy — 38-year-old Bruce Jones – offered congratulations and mentioned that he quit smoking two years ago and only has been paddling since March. Clearly I have to step up my game.

Webb raised the entry fees of the race from a $45 pre-registration rate last year to $58 this year. That’s still an incredible value considering there were no online entry fees. Plus racers got to compete in a chip-timed event with tech T-shirts and a bonus four-person relay race. Then there was the pig roast and cash to the top three finishers in multiple divisions, including $700 apiece to the men’s and women’s elite winners.

Pacifico winnings

We can’t imagine Webb is making much money on these events. But he seems to be putting a long-term model in place to benefit as the sport grows — as opposed to obstacle races, many of which seem to be pushing the limits on how much they can charge and how little they can provide.

Heck, with multiple SUP races, a pig roast, and cash money involved, who can complain about a schedule that falls behind an hour? We’re guessing we’ll continue to see smaller SUP races spring up, traditional no-frills endurance events that start and finish early. But it’s hard not be bullish on the grander SUP race experience

It’s definitely worth building a weekend around.

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Weeki Wachee – SUP Paradise

By Pete Williams

Author Pete Williams, followed by Jerry Napp and Scott Bragan, paddles up the Weeki Wachee River

WEEKI WACHEE – Ten minutes after leaving the dock, we had gone back in time. Traveling up the twisting, turning Weeki Wachee River, battling a strong downward current on stand-up paddleboards, our view was not unlike that of the Seminole Indians who dubbed the river “Weeki Wachee” (windy river).

The river, relatively low this time of year, is rarely more than 50 feet wide and in most parts bracketed by hardwood canopies. The water alternates between green and teal and always clear enough to see the sandy bottom, to say nothing of turtles, countless fish, and the occasional manatee.

For most of our three-hour journey, between 8 and 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning, we see nobody. The few homes along the five-mile route are hidden far beyond the foliage. It’s a natural, tropical setting that seems like it belongs in the Caribbean or a South American rain forest rather than an hour northwest of downtown Tampa.

Scott Bragan (left) and Pete Williams stop for water

“Just look at this,” says Jerry Napp, our guide and the co-owner of Sup Weeki. “Places like this seem like the reason stand-up paddleboarding exists.”

Last year Napp and his wife Pam discovered both SUP and “the Weeki,” selling their longtime home in Tarpon Springs and moving a half hour north. While keeping their day jobs – he has worked in the fitness industry for more than 30 years – they launched Sup Weeki off the back dock of their new home.

Most Tampa Bay residents are familiar with Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, which since 1947 has featured a mermaid show, drawing tourists to the attraction at the corner of US 19 and State Road 50, just north of Spring Hill. Some check out the adjacent Buccaneer Bay water park with its pools and water slides. Others launch canoes and kayaks and float four-plus miles down the Weeki.

Underwater view of paddleboarding ‘The Weeki’

Napp, an avid runner and triathlete who I swam with for three years as part of a masters swim program, is happy to meet clients at the park and launch stand-up paddleboards headed downriver. SUP is still new enough that few have enjoyed that experience. But he figured endurance nuts like me would prefer to paddle upriver.

He was right, though I had second thoughts at first. After paddling a quarter-mile along a canal from Napp’s home past trailers and tear-downs that are being replaced by newer homes, we turned left into a tough current. It felt like one of those snorkel swim drills we used to do where we were tethered to a starting block and required to swim in place.

We were looking at two hours of this. I felt bad for Scott Bragan, 44, another avid triathlete who joined us for only his third stand-up paddling experience. But Scott was a natural and we quickly fell into a slow but steady rhythm heading upriver, spotting sheephead, trout and the occasional turtle while ducking the occasional hanging branch.

Jerry Napp embraces the challenge of swimming upriver

The winding river and frequent sandbars make it a technical course, adding to the degree of difficulty. I had never done any upriver distance paddling and found it helped, as in cycling, to fall in single file and take advantage of drafting.

Napp is the fittest 55-year-old on the planet, a Wisconsin native who looks at least a decade younger. Having spent his career in sales and training endurance athletes, he also has the gift of gab, along with a lengthy list of fitness certifications, including NASM (his current employer), and Brody Welte’s Paddle Fit.

All of which makes Napp a perfect SUP guide. As we maneuvered up the Weeki with our Quickblade paddles and 11-foot-6 NSP soft-top boards, Napp detailed the area’s rich history. We passed the tiered remnants of what was once an amphitheater for water shows. The narrow river, which at times requires some tricky maneuvering to avoid running the boards aground, is Coast Guard navigable. That means there can be small boat traffic, though thankfully none this day.

It takes us about two hours to reach the spring head adjacent to Buccaneer Bay. It’s a course Napp usually does alone since most of his customers, new to SUP, prefer either the downriver course or a much shorter upriver trip.

The ride home, of course, is much faster. We fly along at a conversational pace, with room to push harder. Napp casually mentions that he’d like to swim the five-mile course.

“I could maybe handle that with some training,” I said, figuring the many sandbars would provide breaks and I could float down the river when I got tired.

Then I realized Napp wanted to swim upriver.

We continued to pass the occasional rope swings dangling from trees. The water can be 15 feet deep or more at points. Unfortunately, the combination of rickety tree ladders and the disregard of the no-alcohol policy on the river has lead to injuries.

As we neared the end of the hour-long return trip, Napp apologized that it wasn’t manatee season. He and Pam spot them regularly off their dock in the winter. As if on cue, a young manatee appeared. Like dolphins, manatee seem fascinated by paddleboards, swimming underneath them.

By the time we reached Napp’s dock, our “workout” was three hours old. It dawned on me that it was probably my toughest board workout ever, though it sure didn’t seem that way.

No, it was just another enjoyable day on The Weeki.

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