SMALL MINDED –
WIPING THE SLATE CLEAN
Words – Rob Small
Photos – Kate Starling
A few years ago I wrote about a perceived ‘eddy’ of lower and lower volume surfing paddleboards spinning away to the side of the sport’s mainstream. A veritable closed shop of elite riders chasing shortboard surfing-esque performance atop pieces of equipment that increasingly resembled just that: a surfing shortboard.
Well the thing is, as I was writing said piece I was indulging in the very thing that I was taking a pot shot at, attempting to ride micro paddleboards in a futile quest to replicate the sparkle and snap of regular surfing. There was, I shall admit, a strong whiff of hypocrisy and more than a hint of vanity. My ever pragmatic and sledgehammer blunt wife would no doubt have labelled it all as symptomatic of the standard issue ‘mid-life crisis’, but whilst I may be in a confessional mood I’m not prepared to admit that much! But plainly things weren’t going too well.
As we all know things have a habit of biting you in the arse, reaping what you sow and so forth. In my case the crush was finished. That first flush of new love, dry and withered. Honeymoon over. When I weighed it all up was it worth it? A select few might be edging towards performance parity with surfing but I was chasing something and not finding it. Frustration gave way to apathy, and I retreated back to surfing, convinced that stand up surfing was a poor facsimile, an ersatz imposter, a contrivance. Imagine! No more sessions where you spend more time trying to punch through waves barely head high than actually riding them. No more wipeouts that dragged you, like a fishing lure, underwater for tens of metres. No more burning thighs from just trying to stay on the damn thing and no more looks of condescension and smart remarks from surfers. And how easy to get a boardbag containing three surfboards, three whole, entire surfboards, on to a plane? Airports became a joy again, that après check-in pint a celebration of anticipation rather than an expression of relief at actually getting an enormous bag onto the plane.
Did I feel bereft? Miss my jilted former passion? Truthfully, not really. I was, as the say, over it. In fact, life seemed a great deal simpler, with regard to aquatic fun that is. For a good while I just forgot about paddle surfing. Not bothered, not concerned, not interested.
Until that is, I ran into a good friend of mine in Nusa Dua, Bali. There I was, with my three complete surfboards (no paddleboard) feeling quite content and enjoying my winter getaway when my phone rang. Marcos Perez, Bali SUP legend, Brazillian Ju-Jitsu and all round cavaleiro was coming for a surf. You see, Marcos and I had met through mutual friends, mutual paddle surf friends and formed a strong friendship, which in no small part involved going stand up paddle surfing together. And whilst I had been content, elated even, flying down the line on my various surfboards I was sure that Marcos would be let down, disappointed perhaps….
“Then I started to think about all those stand up sessions we’d had, Marcos and I and a bunch of others. Beating the notorious Nusa Dua current with paddle power, catching waves from chest high to truly scary big.”
Of course Marcos was too much of a gentleman to let it show, but I know I’d failed. I felt like the Baby Balloon in the old joke; … but most of all you’ve let yourself down! Of course we surfed together but it just wasn’t the same and that evening as I was pondering the day’s events over the compulsory Bintang, Marcos called again.
“Rob, what do you prefer 9’0” or 9’4”? I’m preparing you one of my boards and we’re going to surf together tomorrow.”
I protested, weakly and unconvincingly. I mean, here was a good friend going out of his way, lending me one of his precious fleet, a true gesture of comradeship. And during the course of his call I’d started to think about all those stand up sessions we’d had, Marcos and I and a bunch of others. Beating the notorious Nusa Dua current with paddle power, catching waves from chest high to truly scary big. Some perfect ones too. It all started to come back and suddenly I was very grateful to Marcos.
“Let’s go with the 9’0” maestro, muito obrigado irmão!”
The board Marcos brought along for me the following day was a beautiful 9’0” machine shape to his spec. It was 12” longer and 20 litres bigger than the last performance board I’d had and whilst Marcos worried that I’d find it too big I was relieved. I’d been nervous, concerned that I’d find myself back in thigh busting hell, cursing myself, life and every set wave that I didn’t have it together enough to avoid.
And the thing is it wasn’t. In fact, I jumped on that thing and zipped out over the reef and out through the keyhole, that little bit of extra board working so well that it all felt smooth and easy. There we were, trading waves, egging each other on, chatting on the way back to the peak and generally having fun. Fun like I remember when I first rode a paddle board in the surf, fun like it is supposed to be.
Of course I was stoked again and all the old desire came flooding back. Thanks primarily to Marcos but in no small way having a sensible board under my feet. Paddling out, dealing with oncoming surf, catching waves was all so much easier with a bit more float. Well that’s all well and good you may say, but what about the on the wave performance, the surfing, the business end of the deal? Well you know I’m not Kai Lenny or Sean Poynter, riders who certainly blur the lines between stand up and regular surfing. I’m a 49-year-old bloke who stopped surfing his paddleboard like a surfboard and tries to ride it like a paddleboard instead.
So now I’m even more worried at airports as whilst and increase in length and girth has most certainly increased my fun I’m not so sure that the check-in lady has quite the same opinion. However, I really don’t care because the love is back! SUP INTERNATIONAL