Monday, August 13, 2012

Stand Up Paddle Racing: Smile, you've just become irrelevant!

Just got back from the premier, stand up paddle, lake race- the Tahoe Nalu and there is one giant take-away message for me and all of the SUP racing world: You don't matter anymore. Now just wait a minute. I can just hear all the crying and whining from all you 5% bodyfat, acai-eating, coconut water drinking, protein huffing, gluten free, serious athletes out there- don't get your compression leggings in a bunch. What I'm talking about will actually make you smile. You are irrelevant because, from what I witnessed first hand, it's the kids- and I'm talking the little, below grade 3 grommets out there that are going to really put this sport on the map. 

Stand Up Paddling's Future: It's looking bright.

Picture this: the big-show, ten mile race commences with certified racing superstars all blasting off into the big blue of lake Tahoe. You've got some of the nation's fastest stand up paddle racers out there- and one crazed Aussie paddler, Jamie Mitchell, who just happens to be a legend in the sport of prone paddle racing- a legitimate world celebrity among watermen; all of them churning away, leaving us behind, racing off to some distant, unseen buoy. Yawn. It didn't get exciting until the end of the race when Mitchell outsmarted the other guy (see what I mean?) and high legged it through the shallows like some hyperkinetic bronzed aussie lifeguard clubbie- taking the win. Again.

Contrast that to the below-8 grom race. The shore? Packed with soccer, er- I mean paddle, moms and dads all hooting and hollering like a Nascar mob storming the Budweiser tent. The crowd was three deep as the mini-paddlers fought it out for their one lap of glory. And this was no "fun" race either- these kids came to win, shaking and baking and showing some surprisingly enviable paddle form as they fought it out. You think you've got skills busting a buoy pivot turn on your stock racer? Try it when you're only four feet tall- and these kids were doing it! You want to talk about smiles? You want to talk about engagement? This was it! This was the excitement that I was looking for up there. 

Buoy pivot turn, smiling all the way.

And it also left me with one conclusion: Stand Up paddle in all of it's forms, surfing, racing, cruising, river, pool, mudhole, whatever- it is really here to stay. Because when you see kids paddling the way that I did and realize that they will grow up with stand up paddling, that surfing a stand up board may be their first taste of wave riding ever and thus seem as natural a way to ride a wave as coasting in on a boogie board, you realize that current biases toward our sport are doomed. It's not if stand up paddle will make it to the Olympics but when, it's not if stand up paddle surfers will carve out a place in the lineup but how far and in what new and fresh way will they push surfing's limits. 

And all of this means that we are irrelevant. We may have paved the way but we won't be the ones to develop stando to it's full potential. Except for Jamie Mitchell but he's a freak.


Anonymous said...

CHURCH! Preach it John!
dead on accurate-at the recent oside longbaord club stand up heats i saw a little 9 year old girl paddle out in a heat with Boehne and Hughes and CD-and you know what-she was acttually pretty dang good!-the future is coming-realllllllyyyy fast!!!
Someday you and i can sit on our porch rockers and tell the groms about how we were there in the beginning!
Love it!

Bob said...

Great post John. When you see the split face smiles on the kids you know the hook is set deep.
Look at the kids that have already grown up with being on standup as natural as walking..Connor, Kai, Zane, etc... now multiply the base by a few 1000. It's going to get interesting.

John Ashley said...

Hey Jon,

Your boy is one of them- ripping so hard right now, where's does it go from here? Kind of a mind blowing... kind of like our upcoming trip... yeeeehaw!

John Ashley said...

Hey Bob,

Dang- you're right! Those guys have come up on them too- and I love the crossover aspect: kite, windsurf, surf, stando... it doesn't matter.


Chris K said...

An new generation of trophy-chasers!

John - don't know if you caught this but my favorite moment of last year's Battle of the Paddle was in the relay. Danny Ching is the lead paddler and gets a smoking start and is out front as usual, but the next three paddlers on his team are under 12 tow-headed groms. They held their own and it was really great to watch.