MY SUP STORY

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Life lessons, adventure and inspirational people that will not be forgotten

One morning about 10 years ago I was walking my dog towards the rocks at the mouth of Cabbage Tree Creek, Sandgate. I was unemployed at the time, with very little money and in a very poor headspace, I’m sure we’ve all been here at least once in our lives. It was the perfect early morning walk with the sun rising and Boondall Wetlands as the backdrop. Rich colours and shadows were everywhere and the water was like glass with not a gust of wind in the air. I remember looking out over the water and to my surprise, I saw a man gliding effortlessly across the water on his Paddle Board. I had heard murmurs of this sport but had not seen it before. He didn’t have a care in the world as he paddled along, taking in all of nature’s beauty that surrounded him. I was instantly intrigued and began to think to myself how lucky this man was, being able to access anywhere he wanted on the water and the freedom he must have had to explore. “That’s for me” I thought, “I should be out on the water too, not stuck here on land, imagine the places I could go…” The decision was then made.

After a lot of online research and much deliberation about the cost of it all, I headed down to a small shop at Brighton called Briskites. There were not many local shops to choose from back then and very little local knowledge about SUP in Brisbane. Luckily, I started off in the right place with some straight forward, no-nonsense advice from the shop owner Jason. Getting me off to a great start, explaining everything about different board types and paddles, helping me to select the right one for my needs. After about an hour or so I decided to go for it, spending the last of my savings on a board… it was the best decision of my life. Purchasing a timber veneer 11’,4” x 30” Naish, Nalu. A great all-rounder board, which I still own today and will never part with. Even getting a Fanatic 80% carbon paddle thrown in for free. Jason has continued to show me support and encouragement to this very day, always providing me with the right advice and equipment when I needed it most, even at his own expense. Once I got my board home, like most people I shied away from lessons and was determined to “teach” myself, “how hard could it be?”. Also, wanting to avoid the embarrassment of falling in, which in hindsight was pretty silly, it is a water sport after all. Soon enough though the error of my ways would become clear and an unforgettable challenge as you will read about.

Things really started looking up when my best mate purchased a board for himself and his partner. Nothing could stop us and everything on the water was now at our fingertips. Although we had no lessons or experience, we managed to keep ourselves relatively injury free, especially considering some of the places we took those boards. It was a lot of fun to begin with, getting a big head with people telling me how easy I made it look and all the awesome places I could now explore. As my confidence and excitement for the sport grew, I started to look at other boards, which I swore I would never do. But after some more solid advice I decided to purchase a second hand 12’,6” x 28¼” Naish, Javelin Glide. My addiction to the sport was quickly taking hold of me and I figured it was time for a lesson. Well, what an embarrassment that turned out to be, turning up all full of gusto and leaving very grounded. As I had already been paddling for some months now, my balance had improved, but months of a poor paddling technique had not helped at all. You would be surprised how hard it is to re-learn something, especially when your old habits are ingrained and “feel” comfortable. However, I discovered my self taught paddling technique was wasting a lot of energy and would burn me out quite quickly. Only being able to paddle in short bursts and becoming fatigued fast, soon enough I was off the board and wondering why. If you do want to get into SUP, whether for causal paddling or fitness, I urge you to please take at least one lesson with a qualified school or instructor. This way you at least have the correct foundations to work on and can spend a lot more time on the water enjoying yourself.

Over time things became more natural and I began to develop the right technique, everything slowly becoming easier and more relaxed. Finding the lessons had really paid off, helping my technique evolve and enabling me to paddle for longer. With my stroke slowly becoming second nature, I was now able to focus more on the water around me and take on more varied conditions. Now that I had the technique down pat my confidence was back, this time with a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. No longer was I restricted to paddling in perfect flat-water conditions, wind and chop were no longer a deterrent, they became an exciting challenge. Pushing myself further and further, no matter what the end result (wet or dry) I was always stoked with the outcome. There was no looking back and I was paddling everywhere from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, exploring every water way I could in any conditions.

I started to become hungrier for the sport and luckily there were a lot more like-minded people appearing on the scene. Thanks to Jason organising regular social paddles and creating a Facebook group page, we all soon became connected very quickly. Once we all got together and started meeting up more often things really started to take off. There were talks of starting a local club and we even managed to get Peter Dorries to come to Brisbane and run a technical class. This class blew my mind, as I didn’t think there was to much more to learn about the sport than pivot turns. Learning about the importance of paddle length, body movement with your stroke and j strokes, just to name a few. This drove me to perfect my stroke and ignited a competitive side of me I’d never seen or experienced before. The sport slowly turned into my new obsession, entering every local charity event and time trial I could find. Bringing me endless satisfaction and confidence alongside a whole new level of fitness, life was good.

With my first ever Paddle Boarding mate James Evison and many others finally making the club a reality. Everyone was now focused on the latest boards and trying to find the right board to give them that extra edge for their preferred style of paddling. Whether it was technical (BOP) or distance races, down winding or surfing, we all had our preference. Being me, I wanted to do it all. But after the first club BOP race (organised by Sue Gollagher) I had found my favourite, still doing short distance races to keep myself conditioned. Naturally, the next step was to buy a new board of my own and being a lightweight (70-80kg), I stuck with the 12’,6”. I went all out and purchased a 12’,6” x 27 Naish, Javelin LE, still to this day the best board I have ever owned. It was a tad fragile which meant a few repairs now and then, more than I would have liked to be honest. But all in all, it was a great board, doing whatever I needed it to do, as long as you were willing to put a bit of effort in. The club had now begun to grow very quickly and after a while the politics of it all really started to put me off and not just the club scene, but paddling altogether. I lost interest in competing and could not find the enjoyment in the sport I once had. As time progressed life started to get busier for me and my focus changed more towards renovating my house, travel and starting a family. Ultimately adulthood had caught up with me and the time for updating boards and competing became a thing of the past. I still snuck in a few sneaky paddles here and there, just to keep me sain, but I never did return to the level of involvement I once had with the sport.

While travelling, however, I found a new way to find enjoyment from SUP, “touring” began a new chapter in my Paddle Boarding story. The idea of exploring new places is what had got me into the sport in the first place after all. When travelling I always kept my eyes peeled for board hire and prospective places to paddle if I was ever to return. In Vanuatu it was quite a mission to locate a SUP believe it or not. I did look into transporting my board but the cost was outlandish because of the size, plus I didn’t want to risk it being damaged. I couldn’t afford a new inflatable which is the obvious choice, especially for travel and I thought all was lost. But with help from the super friendly locals, I found myself waiting out the front of a beauty parlour to meet a man who had a few old busted up all-rounders which he was renting from a resort. I didn’t care what condition they were in, even when I saw the board with no centre fin and just thrusters, I still didn’t care, I just wanted to paddle in the beautiful island paradise. It did get annoying having to change sides every second or third stroke and it made for a very long paddle back to my resort, but I loved every second. It was quite the adventure, paddling from Emten lagoon which connected to Erakor Lagoon (a small bit of rock walking between the two), then out to Erakor Island which was where I was working. Just making it back on dusk, which goes to show no matter how experienced you are, you must always plan your paddles. Learning you can’t beat local knowledge and the right equipment is always essential. At least I had one of the two anyway.

It wasn’t until I paddled the Thames in London that the fire became fully reignited again, inspiring me to start thinking that maybe I could offer board hire and lessons back home. Yes, I have paddled on the Thames. Twice in fact and all thanks to another awesome person Paddle Boarding introduced me to, Paul Hyman. This man is a truly inspiring individual, not only founding a company (Active 360) for SUP in London but also being a strong activist for the war of single-use plastic. A constant problem in our society which seems to destroy and pollute every waterway in the world. He started a campaign called “in the drink” which aims to reduce and educate pubs along the Thames about optional alternatives to single-use plastic cups. It took me a lot of emails to meet Paul as I was determined to paddle the Thames and after several emails, I finally got a response to meet up at Kew Bridge. After a meet and greet, some thorough questioning of my abilities and a trial paddle to ensure I could paddle competently. Paul agreed to hire me a board, giving me some general safety tips on what to expect and things to look out for, then off I went. I was grinning from ear to ear, off on a paddle of a lifetime (for me anyway), taking it all in as I paddled along the banks of the Royal Botanic Gardens. After a while though, a few home truths quickly brought me back to reality, my feet began to go numb as I had ignored Pauls advice to wear footwear. Even more alarming was a large floating log that quickly rushed past my board missing me by only a few meters, quickly reminding me of where I was and what Paul had said about always being vigilant for these sorts of things. Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of local knowledge and listening to advice. By the time I had reached Richmond Lock my feet were killing me and it was time to hurry back before my toes fell off.

Local knowledge was no exception the second time either, this time paddling right through central London past Westminster and Big Ben all the way to the Tower bridge. This was a dream come true for me, thinking it would never be an option for me in my wildest dreams. Only 30 people were able to participate in this 15km race (The London Crossing) and I felt privileged to be able to be a part of it. Once I got the full event briefing, I quickly realised that I had better start studying. Having to remember which arch ways I could cross under safely for about 12 bridges and trying to dodge the clippers (London Ferry’s) which made for some quite choppy conditions. This really kept me on my toes and to be honest although I didn’t have my race board with me, finally purchasing a 12ft,6” x 31” inflatable Starboard Astro, I was still quite grateful for the experience. The race was more about participation than being competitive for me and best of all I didn’t fall in. Not to say I didn’t train for this event, treating this race with the respect it commanded. Paddling 14km against the tide on the Brisbane river from Hamilton to Westend on 4 occasions and participating in the 17km Maroochy river paddle.

But I have skipped ahead here to the end of my long service leave trip, missing the start of this pivotal journey in my Paddle Boarding story. I spent months researching this trip and tried to pack as much paddling into my three weeks away as possible. Of course, being me and in the true sense of adventure I had to take my inflatable board along with me, 90% equipment 10% clothes. I started off with a 2-day exploration trip in Munich, paddling lake Chiemsee (the Bavarian Sea). Launching from Prien am Chiemsee and paddling to my accommodation for the night on a small island called Frauen Chiemsee. Catching the train the following day to Ljubljana, beginning my 15-day guided SUP tour around Slovenia with SUP Slovenia Discovery. Starting with their 11-day Grand Circle tour, paddling lake Bled to the coast of Piran and ever were in between. Being personally guided for another four days throughout the wilderness to paddle some very unique and special places. I was guided around this absolutely breath-taking country by another two fantastic individuals, which once again I have SUP to thank for. Samo Laharnar & Marko Senegacnik who were both very unique and inspiring in their own special way, providing the perfect balance to their tours. Samo has a passion and lust for life like no other, always stimulating his senses and living his life to its fullest with everything he does. Not just keeping this enthusiasm to himself but always sharing it and encouraging others to do the same. Marko is a down to earth sort of person, willing to talk to you about anything and always happy to share his experiences. Even handcrafting his own paddleboard and paddle, something I was quite envious of. Being lucky enough for him to show me the process and share how he had made everything from scratch. I feel blessed to have met them both and hope one day I can share with them some of the beautiful parts of my country.

I’m not sure if I was just maturing because of age or if it was the recent arrival of my son, but this trip was unlike any of my previous travels. Changing me on a personal level and expanding my mind, it truly was food for the soul, rejuvenating me and providing me with a new outlook on life. It gave me the confidence and experience I needed to realise and pursue my dream of starting my own Paddle Board business. After I returned home, I was surer than ever what I wanted to do with my life and the type of lifestyle that I wanted to provide for my family. With a new outlook on life and desperately seeking a career change, I knew it was time for the change to begin. Aiming to work towards a career I enjoyed and was passionate about while still trying to provide and support for my family.

This brings me to the latest chapter of my story and the organisation that is ASI (Academy of Surfing Instructors). I had a new direction to go but obviously, I needed guidance and accredited skills to launch and run a successful business. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now I don’t do things by halves and was determined to set this business up professionally and for the long haul. Not only did ASI provide me with the core skills and framework to operate professionally and safely, but also introduced me to a network of like-minded people worldwide. Completing my instructor’s accreditation was only the beginning with support continuing from my trainer Rebbeca Dunning long after the course was finished. Helping me stay motivated with every road block I hit and also offering me great advice on starting a business. Even the office staff at ASI Australia were a great help when it came to permits and setting up a school, giving me endless advice and support every step of the way. Now that I am an accredited instructor and school, I feel the only way is up from here. Knowing I have a strong foundation to build on, alongside the knowledge and experience to have a successful career in Paddle Boarding tours & training.

So, that’s my Paddle Boarding story, filled with life lessons, adventure and inspirational people that will not be forgotten. It may have taken me a while to make my dream a reality but I could not have done it without any of the people I have met along my SUP journey. I haven’t mentioned everyone I met along the way, but you know who you are and if you are reading this now thank you so much for your continual support. I haven’t covered all of the paddling I have done over the years, but tried to focus on the most influential parts. I will aim to do more blogs on some of the trips mentioned in this story and especially the ones I haven’t. I feel they are worth sharing and I have some great images and funny videos to go along with them. As you can see Paddle Boarding has been a big part of my life, helping me with my mental health, especially in my earlier years. As I matured also helping me find a new direction in life and changing it for the better. I hope my story has inspired you in some way to at least want to try the sport once and show you what a wonderful world of experiences that can be had by simply paddling.