Standup paddleboards ride wave of popularity

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      There seems to be a special bond between humans and shaped wooden boards, one that over the past century has evolved to rival that of people and pets. First came skis and surfboards, followed by skate, skim, and windsurfing boards, and, more recently, snow and wakeboards. Riding the latest wave are standup paddleboards, or SUPs, poised to break big this summer thanks to a growing fan base.

      One of Vancouver’s first SUP proponents was adventure athlete “Super” Dave Norona. On the phone from his home on the North Shore, Norona, who, by his own account, has participated in over 400 adventure races, told the Georgia Straight that he became interested in SUPs after his passion waned for surf skis—sleek, open-cockpit racing kayaks. “I got a little burned-out on racing in general,” the professional motivational speaker admitted. “The thing I like about SUPs is that you can only go about five to six kilometres an hour, which means that when I’m in an event like MEC’s Big Chop [Summer Paddle Series], I’m always at the back of the pack with the fun people instead of out front thinking, ”˜I can’t let him beat me!’ ”

      If you’ve ever seen a vintage photograph of wooden Hawaiian surfboards that tower over the likes of Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, it won’t be a stretch to wrap your mind around the size and shape of an SUP. Wider and longer than most surfboards in vogue today, they allow a rider to balance upright while propelling the board forward with a long-shafted paddle. Norona pointed out that the best part is that SUPs are far easier to master than regular surfboards. “You catch every wave, and because the board is longer, you catch them earlier. Using a paddle to move forward is also much easier on the arms, which is otherwise so hard when you’re just starting to learn to surf.”

      Norona highlighted the sport’s secret: “The reality is that you don’t have to be fit at all. It’s like being in a double sea kayak without knowing what to do. SUPs are like the cruiser bikes of boards. The more you do, the fitter you get.”

      One sign that SUPs are stoking interest at local beaches is the appearance of locally made boards. In the past year, Pemberton-based Andy Lambrecht and his gleaming wooden boards have been featured nationally in outdoors magazines. When reached at his studio beside the Lillooet River, Lambrecht was at work on one of the half-dozen boards he shapes each year, which sell for $2,000 and up. “I started making fibreglass surfboards seven years ago, but in 2007 I stopped doing foam because it’s so toxic,” he said. “Besides, once a plastic board is done, it’s done. There’s no recycling them. I love the green aspect of wood. One of my boards will last 10 to 20 years, whereas in the same time pattern four or five foam boards would get tossed into the landfill.”

      Lambrecht, who works full-time for Whistler Blackcomb as a carpenter in summer and a ski patroller in winter, switched to making smaller, hollow wooden surfboards. “They’re a third heavier than foam,” he explained. “I use recycled wood from unusual sources, so they already come with a story.”

      Last year, he crafted a four-metre, hollow red-cedar SUP for professional guide Norm Hann, who paddled the waters off the Central Coast’s Great Bear Rainforest to test the feasibility of multiday SUP tours in the Hartley Bay region. In May, in an expedition dubbed StandUp4GreatBear, Hann piloted an SUP 380 kilometres between Kitimat and Bella Bella to raise awareness of the potential risk to the Central Coast’s delicate ecosystem from oil tanker traffic from Kitimat, designated as the terminal for energy giant Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline linked to the Alberta tar sands.

      On the phone from the office of his Squamish-based expedition company, MountainSurf Adventures, Hann told the Georgia Straight he’s enjoyed surfing since coming to the West Coast in 1999 from Sudbury, Ontario. “I saw Hawaiian surfer Laird Hamilton on an SUP and I knew right away I wanted to get one, though I had a tough time finding a board,” he recalled. “I rented one from a guy on the North Shore, and after the first outing I begged him to sell it to me. The potential of the sport is clear to me. I’m excited about what you can do and where you can go in a different way.”

      Hann foresees exploring inland lakes and rivers on SUPs having more nationwide appeal than surfing. “It’s got the coolness of the surf industry coupled with paddling, which is in Canadians’ blood.”