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Is SUP a sport?

Hands up if you think the answer is yes?

By answering yes then maybe you think that stand up paddling has a competitive edge. After all, one of the definitions of the word ‘sport’ according to an online dictionary is:

an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

There are two things within this sentence that may offend your idea of what SUP is. Firstly ‘competing’ may not be (and may never be) on every paddler’s mind. And secondly, participating in an exercise for other’s entertainment couldn’t be further away from what many SUPers are looking to achieve.  Although, let’s be honest, everyone has had their share of moments where their paddling has been entertaining to others.  In fact, most of us have probably had unwitting moments of out and out slapstick comedy:  Embarrasing for us maybe, but great entertainment for anyone lucky enough to be watching from the sidelines. 

SUP racing – coastal

all the fuss is about.

 

As many will be aware there are various competitive stand up paddle events in the UK, across Europe and indeed all around the globe.  Whether they be sprint race, endurance events, Sup bike run, white water or polo  (to name check but a few). The ‘sport’ element of SUP is most definitely covered. And yet, even with stand up events as established as they currently are, we’ve often been contacted by customers who’ve bought our kit who are wondering ‘what next’?

Marketing execs love to push new fads, suggesting the latest thing is ‘the best ever’, ‘a way to enhance your life’, and encouraging you to ‘live healthy’ ‘achieve your dreams, and ‘be the best you can be’.  Of course, seasoned paddlers will know the benefits of SUP, but if you’ve bought into the whole stand up hobby off the back of media hype you may end up wondering what all the fuss is about.

 

Inflatable stand up paddle boards are absolutely the go to gear for anyone wanting to swing a paddle on a board for the first time. But having enjoyed a fun, albeit brief, spell in the summer sun we’ve heard sad stories of a lot of this kit ending up unloved in garages and sheds, getting dusty, being eaten by mice, and only seeing the light of day during family trips to the beach. And this is particularly true for people who’ve been seduced by low quality cheap gear.  Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. (Well the being eaten by mice is. TIP: Don’t keep any inflatable gear at ground level in outhouses unless you are rodent free and rodent proof).  People are free to do as they please. But yet, it’s a shame that many of these new recruits haven’t had the info needed to inspire them and see the huge opportunities SUP has.

Media outlets, blogs such as this, social media groups and information portals do their best to promote stand up paddling and its potential. Unfortunately if you’re not looking for this kind of thing, i.e. performance, then it won’t pop upon your timelines (for want of a better term).

So how do we combat this?

As with many new ‘products’ stand up needs its podium moment, or time in the sun. And articles in the Waitrose magazine, and stories on countryfile are all good exposure, but it’s not the massive explosion of interest it would get from becoming an Olympic discipline for example.

SUP media broadcasting during prime times across multiple platforms would also help. No longer is this TV’s sole domain. ‘On demand’ content is now taking over from scheduled TV listings as the way that most people now get their content.  And maybe the collaboration of brands, mags, event organisers and practitioners to create a single ‘go to channel’ that aggregates the best of the content is needed.  But this requires corporate egos to be abandoned, which is no easy hurdle to cross.

If we look at the sport of cycling as an example.  Cycling has been around for ever, or so it seems.  You’ve probably seen photos of your grandparents or great grandparents cycling to work.  Or of family holidays on bicycles.  But for many years the bicycle was just a means of transport.  And in many developing countries it is still that.  But in the UK and the developed world, cycling is now big business.  It’s one of the UKs biggest and most successful sports, with nearly two million regular cyclists.  Yet only two decades ago it was a minority sport, neglected by the masses and in terminal decline.  It took a concerted effort by two individuals, Peter Keen and David Brailsford to gain UK Olympic success and success in the landmark event for road racing, the Tour De France to raise the profile of road racing.  And two decades later the rest is history.

Unfortunately there’s no real landmark event for SUP to help gain that mass market appeal. There’s the newly formed APP World Tour (previously the Stand UP World Tour/Stand Up World Series), encompassing paddle surfing and racing, but this is a fledgling venture and in the past has been marred by issues. Which is not to say the event organisers are doing a bad job, it’s simply a really difficult job getting financial support and sponsors, and getting the message out in a new sport and new event.  Unless advertisers know that people are going to be watching, they don’t want to invest, and unless the event has the support of advertisers and sponsors, the message doesn’t get out.  And financial support, and a streamlining of the competitive side of SUP is one thing that’s needed.  Not more events necessarily, but better coordinated, organised and supported events.

But this would come at a cost for some paddlers.  Some enthusiasts are drawn to SUP because they see their activity as non-

SUP yoga for the soul
SUP yoga for the soul

competitive, because it’s social and friendly, because it’s different.  Many sports when they’ve become mainstream have had challenges as well as success.  Drugs in cycling being a case in point.  And the increasing tension between drivers and cyclists with more and more of our two wheeled friends on the road.  So mass market success may not be to everyone’s tastes. 

 

SUP is still in its infancy compared to cycling and compared to watersports in general, and the number of paddlers is increasing every day. As everyday paddling skills improve ridall types of physical activity that people do to keep healthy or for enjoyment:ers will look to step up progressively naturally, taking on surf for instance, or longer distance routes. And as the sport grows, it will become easier for new practitioners to find inspiration from their peers. In tandem stoke will spread and permeate organically through social groups, mainly by word of mouth but also through social media. Albeit in a slow burn manner, Joe Public will hear the siren call of SUP (hopefully), buy that quality SUP and paddle, and know what he/she is meant to do with it.

We can all do our part as ambassadors for the sport. We’re always amazed with just how many people stop us and ask about SUP, about our boards, about whether it’s safe for kids,  about how difficult easy it is, about how cool it looks, about how happy our boys look.  And we often lose many hours at the start or end of paddles just chatting away.  But these hours aren’t lost.  They’re all in aid of promoting the sport.

And being the happy friendly community that SUP is, I’m sure the rest of you are all doing your bit at your local put-ins, and in your social lives.

And if you’re the type of paddler who sees SUP entirely as a fun, social, low impact way of enjoying the environment and the pleasures and health benefits of simply spending time on water, does that mean that you’re not partaking in a sport?  No, there’s an alternative definition of sport according to the Cambridge dictionary:

a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job: a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job: a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a ja game, a competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for entertainment, and/or as a job.”

or

“All types of physical activity that people do to keep healthy or for enjoyment

So, to answer our original question, is SUP a sport? Absolutely yes. Even if you don’t compete.

(1)  http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/sport

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“Going training”: SUP speak for paddlers

 

People have been using slang, jargon and colloquialisms for many years to reinforce identity and exclude outsiders.  And it still goes on now.  You know that feeling when you listen to a politician or Chief Exec on the news, and despite hearing all the words you still can’t quite understand what they’re saying?  Or when you hear teenagers using words that you know, but with a totally different meaning? That’s because it’s designed to only mean something to an exclusive group of people ‘in the know’.

Are we any different as SUP’ers?

Since SUP’s inception there have been many people happy to play fast and loose with the English language.  And there are a bunch of words of phrases now (too widely) used. Often out of context or incorrectly and in the wrong setting.

‘Waterman’ (should that be waterperson?) is a perfect example.  The term is bandied around willy nilly, suggesting anyone attributed with the tag is a larger than life superhero willing to put their own mortality on the line; charging head long into extreme oceanic situations that will leave many running for cover. Simply paddling around on flat water doesn’t really cut the mustard.

Watermen?

You might get away with being classed as an enthusiast, but definitely not a waterman.  And it doesn’t matter what your tee slogan says.

Another word we’re hearing used incorrectly a lot of late is ‘training’. You might have done it yourself:

‘Bye love, I’m just heading out for some SUP training. Back for dinner’  when actually you were just going for an evening paddle.

If you’re fortunate to SUP in an area where there are other stand up paddlers in abundance you’ve probably been asked:

‘What are you training today?’

“Nothing mate.  I’m just having a paddle. And enjoying myself.  Why don’t you do the same rather than taunting me about training.” we often think but never actually say!

There’s also the issue of all the Hawaiianisms.  SUP is a surf sport as much as a paddle sport.  Surf, as we all know, originated in Hawaii, and there is a strong emotional pull towards Hawaii for any surf enthusiast (or should that be waterperson?). And using Hawaiianisms (and being able to play Somwhere over the rainbow on a Ukelele in the style of the giant Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) helps define you as a surfer in the eyes of other surfers, and reinforce that connection.  And maybe make people think that you’ve been to Hawaii.  And maybe even that you’ve surfed at Waimea.

Therefore expect to hear ‘Aloha’,

injected into sentences at any given opportunity.  Throw a hang loose shaka in the mix for maximum effect and hey, ‘it’s all good brah! Aloha’.

Surf speak has been around for aeons. Those gnarly dudes among us have charged sick pits since they learned what a ‘throaty keg’ actually was. And while there will always be characters whose surf lingo sits comfortably with them, the fact is that the vast majority outside of SoCal will probably sound like a cringe worthy try hard.  Cityboys/girls reciting tales of dredging lefts and/or death slabs just doesn’t come across right. Maybe swap the suit first? And ditch the latte – watermen (and women) drink guava juice…

And it’s not only wave heads. ‘What’s your cadence across a mile sprint, dude?‘Hammer (buoy) time!’ Yep, wannabe racers (some of whom might actually be actually non-racers) are guilty too.  SUP certainly has adopted its fair share of surf speak but there’s definitely an added element of broism brought on by swinging a paddle (or should that be SUPisms?).

Photo Credit: supracer.com

Of course, when describing certain elements of stand up, it’s hard not to use certain terminology. And there’s nothing wrong with actively becoming part of a global movement – either through wearing the threads, rocking the kit or whatever. Sometimes though forcing the issue just becomes painful. Plus we’re Brits (or Scots, English, Irish and Welsh), not Hawaiian.

Letting rip with ‘staying loose’ in the pouring rain, gale force winds puffing harshly onto frozen skin (you’ll definitely be wearing boardies if you’re into SUP, come hell or high water) just doesn’t fit the marketed brochure shot pushed hard by those selling the dream.  Hypothermia aside, grey/brown water and temperature readings barely in double digits doesn’t really instil enthusiasm for those not yet indoctrinated. ‘What is it you do again? Gnarly what?’

At McConks we try to dispense with jargon, and to speak in plain English. So if we don’t do that, please call us out; embarrass us on social media.  SUP should be inclusive,  not exclusive.  And we want to be part of the cure from jargon, not the cause.

For now we’ll dispense with trying to promote ourselves as tropical SUP warriors, battle hardened and ready for some serious race training, hanging ten, or ten rounds with Mother Nature in the surf arena. Instead we’ll sip tea, remain stiff upper lipped and enjoy punting around our local lake.

To clarify: if you hadn’t already guessed, much of the above was written with tongue planted very firmly in cheek. Aloha.

 

 

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kit choice dilemmas – the grass isn’t always greener

With so many choices of stand up paddle board available it’s understandable consumers are increasingly confused and not sure which way to turn.

As a beginner looking to buy an inflatable board it’s slightly less difficult. There are some pretty simple questions you need to answer:  Does the board float me?  How is its stability? Is it a reputable brand I’m buying? Is the SUP in question manufactured to a high standard?

Despite what the brands might tell you (and that includes us!), there isn’t a huge amount of difference between one top quality iSUP and another. If they’re guaranteed to more than 22 PSI, the chances are the manufacturing is decent quality, and your choice comes down to shape, fin arrangement and colour.

But, moving on from beginner paddling it becomes a little trickier.  Being a progressing intermediate is probably the most confusing period for kit choice. And if you’re looking for specific performance, i.e. manoeuvrability in waves or speed on a flat race track, then finding your ideal SUP partner as akin to needles and haystacks. We sympathise.

The only advice that anyone should give you – and something we can’t stress enough – is demo, demo, demo.  Don’t believe the shops, don’t believe your peers (even if they’re telling you McConks is your ideal partner), don’t believe the marketing.  Trying as many boards as you can get your feet on is the ONLY way to increase your knowledge base and make the right decision, and get good value for your hard earned £££.

In a short time you’ll discover what style fits your specific needs for general flat water paddling. This will help narrow down your choice for boards that match your needs.  Having nailed the flat water choice it’s then time to consider your other needs: manoeuvrability, speed, tracking or glide for instance.

Where possible, take a few boards out in the conditions you’re aiming to spend most of your time paddling in. As with flat water testing, most reputable brands, retailers and organisations will have a readily available fleet of SUPs (some a few, others more) for you to try out in your preferred environment. So, based on your new found knowledge from previous try outs, it’s off into the deep blue to see where each craft is at performance wise.

It’s worth pointing out at this point that you’ll get to a point where a decision is needed, otherwise you will keep going around in circles, and never making a decision.

So you’ve made your decision, you’ve board your SUP package.  And you’re ecstatic.  And then…?

Then the hard work begins.

With so much ‘info’ available it’s easy to begin second guessing what you’ve chosen. Social media posts, info in mags and on websites, titbits picked up from perceived luminaries of the sport may make you doubt your purchase.  Dan in your SUP club has got a new super AirTechLight Multivariate (AirTLM) paddle.  And the new OxyTech iSUP.  And you think Dan’s also got a bit faster, since their new purchase.  And at this point you doubt your purchase which is no long as new, or shiny as Dan’s. And the next thing you know you’ve traded in your board an alternative.  And the arms race begins.  The next thing you know Dan’s seen the latest advert by Sunboard and must buy the new rail technology, and you really fancy the new BluePaddle RamStick.  And this vicious cycle happens again the next year, and the next, ad infinitum!

And this repeat cycle doesn’t actually help most riders develop skills or improve their enjoyment of SUP.  All it really does is help move money from your bank account into someone elses!

So what’s the solution?

Parting with cash for a new SUP will yield a craft which WILL work. After all, that initial research and demo period does pay off. Therefore the performance differences you’re being led to believe can be found more efficiently elsewhere are only at best incremental, and at worst are non existent. Take paddle surfing for instance. A board that a mag review has said to turn tighter may well do so in the hands of an professional SUP surfer.  But the difference between your board and the contender is likely to be minimal, and the subtle nuances will only to be felt by higher skilled riders. In reality, you’ll only get to the same level having developed your own bag of tricks on kit that’s appropriate for your skill level, and kit that you’ve stuck with for a while and learned to love. The point is: your new SUP will do everything you ask of it (unless you’ve really made the wrong decision and bought a duff). It’s now time to make it happen.

So the best advice? Research, make your choice and then learn how to ride your SUP well over a period of time. In time you’ll be surprised how much progression you’ve made and all without the headache of constantly swapping kit for supposedly something better. As with everything in life the grass ISN’T always greener… And constantly buying brand new kit certainly isn’t green!


If you want to demo our new 2017 McConks board and paddle lineup, you can find out more here

And you can read more about our 2017 touring board here

And our 2017 all round board here

 

 

 

 

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Yoga and SUP

SUP yoga for the soul

As someone who’s always enjoyed adventurous activities, I’ve had my fair share of broken bones, pulls and strains. The most significant of these being a broken shoulder about 8 years ago (dumped on a sand bar at Praar Sands after failing to commit/pop in a double overhead situation), and a broken neck when I was 18.
As a result of these injuries, Yoga should be a core part of my daily routine to delay the onset of, or reduce the risk arthritis.   In fact, core strength, flexibility, and breathing control are integral to success in SUP (and all watersports) no matter what your performance goals are.  Therefore Yoga should be an integral part of any watersports enthusiasts daily routine.

Despite this, the integration of yoga into my exercise route and daily life comes and goes.  And the reason for this is as much to do with convenience and cost as it is with motivation.  I’m really not one for sweating in a hot studio with 10 others doing Hot Yoga, or for choreographed routines to music.  And so when yoga has been more prevalent in my life, it’s been when a really good yoga teacher has been running small sessions at a convenient time.  And finding the right Yoga teacher for you is also difficult.  Yoga means many different things to different people, and with such a difference in yoga types, styles and emphasis, then whilst it is very easy to find a yoga class, it’s not so easy to find one that matches your aspirations or goals.

For that reason, there’s always a temptation to go it alone and just follow a video/youtube of some random poses (asanas) or sequences from an unknown Yogi/teacher. And surely if you pick one which has lots of likes/stars you’ll be right?

Well not really. If you’re a seasoned practitioner, then you’re unlikely to do yourself harm from an online sequence.  You’ve already got the basic positions, your proprioception is already good and you can ‘feel’ when your body is in position, and can massage your position to improve the position or posture.  But you lose the eagle eye of the coach spotting minute imperfections, or their ability to spot your weakness and tailor the asana or sequence to build up strength to overcome those weaknesses.  And if you’re not a seasoned practitioner, you can do yourself some real damage.  If you cannot instinctively ‘feel’ when you’re out of position, you can injure yourself.

This is especially true for dynamic sequences where you move from one position to another.  And if you keep repeating that exercise without an experienced teacher correcting you, you can cause long term aches and pains that can severely impact your mobility and performance.

So where does SUP yoga come into this?

Well one of the causes of potential injury is removed with a board. The floor or mat of a gym/living room is hard and unyielding.    And resistance from the floor when you’re out of position is the cause of many of the injuries.  This problem goes away with paddleboard yoga.  If you’re out of position, if you’re unbalanced, then the board moves with you.

This has three benefits:

The first is that you get more immediate feedback on your balance and position. If your board is tipping from side to side, front to back, then you know you’ve got problems.  If your board is nice and stable as you transition through your Sun Salutations then you know you’ve nailed it.  So the feedback from the board helps to develop your proprioception and ‘feel’ for positions.

The second is that it works your balance and core strength more thoroughly than standing on terra firma. So if you want a flat tummy and toned abs, SUP yoga is not to be sniffed at.  And for people like me who need to work on their core strength to improve posture to delay the onset of arthritis, SUP yoga is the way forward.

And the third benefit is protection from injury. Specifically with an iSUP, the board is not an unforgiving as a hard floor with a yoga mat.  And on any SUP, the water is much more forgiving than the floor.  But this isn’t the real benefit.  The real benefit is the in-built protection you get from putting yourself in damaging positions.  Although this is not infallible, the board will typically throw you off before you’ve caused long term damage.

We’ve put together a description of some of the positions and routines that you can put yourself through on a SUP board below. But, just to repeat, you can do yourself damage if you self-manage your yoga routine.  Unless you’ve already got some experience, start off with a few sessions with an instructor.

The Sun Salutation or ‘Surya Namaskar’ is a great way to get into Yoga.  In fact, the ‘Surya Namaskar’ is the traditional way to warm up all muscle groups for a yoga practice, and a core component of Vinyasa yoga warmups.

The sun is the giver of all life. Without the sun there would be no life as we know it on earth, and the Hindu tradition has revered the sun or Surya as the physical and spiritual heart of our world for thousands of years.  And they believe that the sun is the ‘eye of the world’ seeing and uniting all unto itself; a pathway to the divine and enlightment. And even if you don’t believe this, the sun salutation is the perfect asana to stretchA core component of the Sun Salutation is linking your breathing with the movement and rhythm of the asana, bringing you to a more meditative state. And the asana is perfect for every level.  For total beginners it helps to build flexibility, control and strength, and as you become more experienced, there are adjustments and options that increase the difficulty.

There are just eight basic postures to learn to practice the sun salutation, and the image below shows you each of the poses in a complete sun salutation.


Mountain pose is all about finding your connection with the earth and being planted, stable, firm but relaxed. It’s a powerful stance, you should be able to imagine a line of energy running all the way from you inner thighs up through your groin and out through the crown of your head.  Your shoulders should be relaxed with your shoulder blades being pulled to the floor as if by weights, and your tailbone should point to the floor. Breathe in and try to make your belly button touch your spine, and soften your eyes as you relax into the pose.

As you breathe in, turn your palms and arms outwards and then swing your arms up towards to the sky. Keeping your shoulders open touch your palms together and extend your elbows and fingers upwards as if you were saluting the sky (upward salute pose).  Keeping your belly button tucked in to your spine, tilt your head back and if you’re comfortable, tilt backwards into a soft back bend.

As you exhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and hinge at the hips to drop into a standing forward bend. Keep your knees straight, but soft.  Breathe into the pose, lengthening your front torso as you breathe in. And with every breath out, deepen the fold.  If your hands don’t reach the floor fold your arms over your torso.

With a deep breath raise slightly, step one foot back, and plant your hands either side of your front foot in low lunge.  There are numerous variations you can insert into your sun salutation at this point, including the various Warrior I and Warrior II. Or you can transition straight into plank pose.

With both feet back your hands should be shoulder width apart and your feet are hip distance apart. There should be a straight line up your body from your toes to your head.  Do not let your body sag, and pull your belly button towards your spine. As you breathe out bend your elbows so that your body is parallel with the floor.  This is staff pose and if you’ve got weak wrists you might find this pose difficult to hold.

An alternative to staff pose is sideways plank. Lift out of plank pose by rotating around your core, raising one arm to the sky and opening your heart.

For those more advanced practitioners you can insert a one handed peacock into your asana. But this one is not for the faint hearted.

From staff pose, gently lower your knees to the board and raise your hips and chest to the sky in cobra pose. With straight arms but soft elbows tilt your head slightly back and raise your eyes to the sky.

From here step your feet forward into downward facing dog pose.

This is one of the most famous restorative and healing poses in Yoga. As you breathe out push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but keep them soft.  Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms; don’t let it hang.

From downward facing dog step forward into a low lunge on the opposite leg to your previous lunge and reverse the start of the sequence back through the forward bend, upward salute before returning to mountain pose.

And relax…let your breath return to normal. And bask in the inner glow of your first completed Sun Salutation on a SUP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sad demise of Origin paddleboards: impact on the SUP scene

It’s been announced in recent days that Origin Paddleboards is no longer trading, and that many of the kickstarter backers have lost their money.

First up – to all those of you who’ve lost your investment – that really sucks, and if McConks could afford to give you kit for free to in a small way compensate for your lost investment, we’d love to do so.  But sadly, that’s not what this post is about.  It’s about what impact the collapse of a small company has on the SUP scene.

The founders of Origin had already gone off grid before McConks burst onto the scene, so we’ve not had the pleasure of meeting them.  But by all accounts they were good guys, with an aspirational vision, strong ethics and morals, and great marketers.

At McConks we were impressed by the story being told by their online marketing material, and admired what they were trying to do.  Maybe we were even a little inspired by them, and shared some of their ideals and ideas; giving a proportion of our profit to charity, focussing on managing the environmental impact of board production, using the very best raw materials and components, producing the very best boards, focus on worker welfare and health and safety.  And we also admired their desire to repatriate manufacturing from the far east to Europe.  It remains an ambition of McConks to return some iSUP manufacturing to Europe, and if possible the UK in the future.

So their demise is a sad day for those of us in the SUP world who think that there’s a better model than the traditional model. And it raises some serious questions for the SUP sector.

  • Does it mean that there is no space in the SUP world for homegrown boards, or homegrown brands?
  • Are ethics and morals no longer affordable in SUP?
  • Are small brands inherently risky?

The good news is that the answer to all of those questions is no.  We can’t speak for the rest of the SUP sector.  But we think:

There’s definitely still space for homegrown brands.  Loco,  Fatstick, Neptune,  Freshwater Bay are going from strength to strength and growing every year.  As are we.   But there’s a key difference between all of these/us and Origin.  Unlike Origin, all of the these brands, including us at McConks, are standing on the shoulders of giants of iSUP, and using factories in South East Asia who are the best in the world at making inflatable SUP boards.  So whilst McConks admires Origin’s attempts to do things slightly differently by bringing production to Switzerland, they were taking on a significant risk in doing so.  Which is probably why they were seeking the risk to be underwritten by kickstarter investors.

The outcome of this is likely to be that customers are less likely to put money up front for kit that isn’t yet on terra firma.  That’s not an issue for us at McConks because we don’t seek part payment on preorder discounts.  But any brand who relies on preorder capital might find it more difficult post Origin.

Ethics and morals. Are they dead?

No, not at all. Our business model is built on strong ethics and morals and we’re still going strong.  There are, of course, issues with using the South East Asia to produce boards.  Many suppliers don’t have an environment or worker welfare policy, and those that do treat the policy with disdain. Shipping the boards all the way from South East Asia has an impact on sustainability and embedded carbon.

But we know, that if you spend the time and effort, it’s possible to find manufacturers who really care about QA, about their worker welfare, and who care about the environment.  It’s just that they’re never normally asked the question.

And are small brands risky?

No.  Make sure you buy from brands using paypal or your credit card.  Then you’re pretty much covered for every eventuality.  McConks doesn’t take money unless we have stock for sale.  Admittedly we flirted with Kickstarter when we were starting out.  But we very quickly realised that wasn’t a sustainable model for us and SUP.  Most people want to pay for decent product, not to fund development for something that may or may not be feasible or deliverable (kudos to those that do!).

So our plea. Please don’t tar all small SUP brands with the sad demise of one brand.  They were very unique, which was both their USP and (in our humble opinion) the root cause of their problems.

If you’ve been affected by the collapse of Origin, and are still looking for new, superlight, top quality paddleboards, please drop McConks a line.  We mentioned earlier that we couldn’t support everyone who had lost their shirts in the collapse.  But we do have a specific discount code just for Origin affected customers.

Happy paddling

Andy and Jenny

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SUP weather issues – Mother Nature’s changing moods

Finally, you’ve got your brand new paddleboard in your hands.  The desperation to get it wet for the first time is almost too much.

Looking adoringly on, your prized machine and engine (paddle) blink lovingly back at you willing you to get to the beach and local put in.  The time is now.  You’re ready to make a beeline for the beach.

But wait, what’s this? Windy? Wet? Icy? 

Or worse. Your put in is out of bounds as Mother Nature unleashes her latest bout of summery chaos on the nation?

No probs, wait a few days for it to clear and all will be right.

Sure enough a small period of time elapses and you’re presented with a window. Quick! To the put in! How sweet that first session is.  This is awesome.  Time to get back to the coalface.  But that’s OK, because you promise yourself that every good wave forecast, you’ll be in the water on your trust steed. 

But then life gets in the way again. Thanks to life commitments your next window of opportunity falls (again) during a period of unhelpful conditions. But wait, it’s working over at xxxxxx? A few calls, a few webpages later, a few social feeds later and yes, it’s confirmed.  It’s working.

Jump in your motor, trundle off to said launch and…skunked! More condition driven obstacles. Rinse and repeat – sound familiar? Such is what we have to contend with in the UK when it comes SUP weather.

OK, we’ll admit the above doesn’t paint an overly positive picture. And while this is tongue in cheek, and somewhat over-exaggerated, every UK paddler will agree: we do battle the elements somewhat in this country when it comes to stand up.  And all watersports come to that. 

For sure those heady golden days of idyllic paddle sessions, often during summer, occur often. But we can get days, or even frustrating week long spells, of unhelpful weather conspiring against us.

Take the current run of chill happening right now for instance. For some it’s not so much of an issue but for those newly subscribed to SUP we can bet our bottom dollar there’s zero inclination for getting on/in the drink. So what to do?

Firstly, you just have to broaden your horizons in terms of where you paddle. Sometimes life means you may just have to take what you can. But at other times you’re free to investigate further afield which leaves you able to optimise your launch based on Mother Nature’s mood. Plus, the added bonuses of investigating alternative put ins will give a more varied knowledge of SUP in general– never a bad thing. After all variety is the spice of life, and experience the best teacher.

If winter’s getting you down right now, then you could consider an overseas holiday. Warmer climes can revitalise and refresh so worth considering if you’re not up to braving the cold. And they can be surprisingly low cost if you’re willing to fly at odd times and stay in budget accommodation. 

Or, invest in some new attire. Having specific condition led water wear is another way to make use of seasonal variances in weather. Most seasoned UK paddlers will have a number of SUP wardrobes ready to combat all the gods can fling at us. Drysuits, wetsuits, compression suits, boardies and amphibious tees.  But this all comes at a cost of course.  So combining different seasons wardrobes can give you additional protection in the winter. A summer wetsuit with rashie windproof outerwear might even be enough if you’re paddling somewhere sheltered and with no risk of being stranded.  It was for me in sub zero temperatures earlier this week!

A positive way to look at it,  is to think of our changeable weather as an ever changing watery canvas you can draw bold SUP strokes on (cheesy but true!). Change should be embraced,  with no one SUP session ever the same as the previous paddle, you never get bored.

Embrace the change and you’ll develop much faster, with your paddling progress being swift.  Paddle, glide, repeat!

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Everyone deserves a chance to SUP

At McConks it’s really important to us to give something back to the community.  And to that end we like to work with charities and groups who work with the disadvantaged in our communities.  Stevie Nelson from Beyond Boundaries East Lothian (BBEL) has written the piece below to share their experience of working with McConks.

“Beyond Boundaries East Lothian (BBEL) were fortunate to have been given two demo boards from McConks iSUP’s to try out for suitability for our client group which is primarily adults with disabilities and mental health issues. The 10’8 and the 10’6 ‘Go Anywhere’ boards proved to be ideal for our needs in that they are very stable and solid (we inflated to 23psi), plenty of volume meant our members felt safe and confident being on the water, the five fin set up was ideal as we could use a variety of combinations to suit differing abilities, again instilling confidence in the first time paddler, the boards tracked really well allowing for little or no corrective strokes or constantly switching sides, the 3 piece fibreglass paddle had a fair amount of flex but well suited for beginners and learners. McConks very kindly included a seat with the boards which was used for those who were keen to go on the boards but we’re not quite confident enough to even initially kneel, this was a great way to get someone on the board and moving on the water. All of which will lead to progression to standing up paddling.

We liked the boards so much we ended up purchasing 3 x ex-demo board packages and are currently trying out the 12’8 Go Explore package with the 3 piece carbon fibre paddle. Our aim now is to secure funding to purchase a fleet of boards and be able to offer our members iSUP boarding as a regular activity in 2017 and beyond.

Thanks again to  McConks SUP for giving us the opportunity to introduce the iSUP experience to our members.”

Steven Nelson Manager/Activities Coordinator Beyond Boundaries East Lothian (BBEL)

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We’re all just kooks – punk as SUP

Back in its heyday surfing was the unruly child of the sport’s world. Counter culture and going against the grain were par for the course at surfing’s inception. This attitude took a stronger hold towards the end of the 70s and into the 80s. Tune in, drop out, smoke dope, go surfing, care less – you know how it goes. These were the days when getting ink was really counter culture not pop culture.

 

Colourful tales from those heady days abound involving many forms of taboo, and stories of how surfers would actively indulge in said taboos. It’s no surprise surfers (even some of the day’s superstars/icons/pioneers) have tales of drug runs across Federal borders, run ins with Mafioso gangs, fights and scrapes with underworld types and all manner of other colourful goings on. If you want the ultimate slice of this type of shenanigan then check out Da Cat’s (Miki Dora) story – All For a Few Perfect Waves – who personified the anarchic, punk rock surfer attitude before it was even a thing. Both likeable and loathed Da Cat took things to the extreme and created a legend. And the likes of sk8er boys Peralta and Adams amplified the bad boy punk image in the 70s, bringing down and dirty punk attitude to surf culture.

 

These days surfing’s a much more corporate affair with professional attributes that inevitably come with a maturing sport – the mavericks have been tamed, even if Mavericks hasn’t. There are a few characters still knocking about but they’re fewer and further between. Riders these days are less concerned with kicking up stink and more about being athletes and performing.

Which brings us to SUP.

Compared to surfing stand up is still in nappies, and there are huge numbers of people that couldn’t tell you one end of a paddle from the other.

“SUP? Never heard of it…”

Head to certain surf spots and stink eye is rife. In parts of the world this has been known to escalate to vocal threats and the odd bout of biff. Calls of kooks can be common place – especially at headline surf breaks. And those who like to scoff have been known to look on with amusement at so called race/touring SUPs as glorified canoes. Although stand up is increasingly popular it’s still fledgling for the moment and many don’t get it – especially the flat water side.

By its very nature – the fact that not everyone’s doing it (yet) – lends SUP to a punk rock attitude. ‘Do something different’, ‘don’t be the norm’, ‘be original’ and so on.

In times where individuality is seen as a good thing (even if it’s not referred to as punk) then stand up paddle boarding offers that very thing, with having to let go of daily routines and a more conservative approach to life off the water.

OK, we appreciate there are more paddlers in the world than ever. Heading to your local put in just three years ago would’ve have resulted in a probable lone session. These days you’re more likely to bump into a fellow blade swinger. But unlike surfing SUP isn’t the majority. Kayaking still attracts more dabblers each season than stand up with river/white water stand up (in the UK) by no means a thing.

The surface is only being scratched right now. At some point, however, we’ll probably turn round and realise how big stand up paddling actually is, and realise that we’re back in a mainstream sport again. For now, if you want a slice of your own punk rock watersports attitude (without needing to resort to bondage trousers, safety pins and one finger in the air), SUP will give you that, and more. Time to join the kook masses if you haven’t done so already…

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SUP hack: Competitive edge – air board racing for iSUP owners

Having purchased your spanking new inflatable SUP you’ve been quietly beavering away, putting in the miles, working on your paddling technique and nailing down all those fundamental skills needed for a lifetime of stand up paddling. Having overcome the beginner plateau you suddenly become aware of your enjoyment for high cadence mile smashing. Then the cartoon lightbulb above your head goes off as you realise: SUP RACING! Maybe that’s for me, but can I compete in events on an iSUP?

So, can you?

There’s no avoiding the fact ultimate race performance comes from piloting a hard shell SUP. Yet there’s no reason why a paddler can’t enter SUP racing comps using their trusty air board. In some cases, especially at bigger events, such as Battle of the Thames and the SUP Clubs UK Champs, there are inflatable fleets. If entering races without these classes then handicaps will be set, taking into account all riders and making things as fair as possible.

Currently the UK has only one specific inflatable race series that encompasses two events culminating in an overall championship event. This is one design racing and unfortunately dominated by a specific brand – a shame as we’re sure more inflatable racers would enter comps if they were on offer. Still, that’s a debate for another time.

In terms of tips for inflatable racing then you should ideally be using a pointy nose board for maximum efficiency. While it’s perfectly applicable to compete on round nose SUPs there’s no getting away from the fact something with water piercing properties, even if filled with air, will stand you in better stead and make chugging round a race course less arduous.

Although McConks doesn’t offer a specific race sled (yet) our Go Explore 12.8ft will accommodate budding podium finishers no troubles. It may be a board with touring leanings but this won’t detract from its glide and tracking characteristics – something that’ll benefit all SUPers not just those with a penchant for racing.

adventure SUP, touring SUP, expedition SUP
12’8 Go explore SUP

As rigid a board as possible will also stand you in better stead when facing off against the opposition. McConks’ high quality manufacturing techniques allows a bit more air to be squeezed inside. By all means do this as every little helps. And while the fins we supply are perfectly fine for general paddling a more race orientated type will only help when on the race course.

A word of warning regarding the above, however. If you’re considering swapping out your fins then try before you buy! And try as many as you can – as with all gear not everything will suit. Find your optimum and roll with it.

3 piece carbon SUP paddle

Lastly, a point that’s been talked about endlessly, is your paddle type and paddling technique. McConks paddles are top end and certainly applicable for the job in hand – be that recreational paddling or other. Experiment with the correct shaft length and then know and understand what efficient paddle strokes are. Racing will put added strain on your body so an efficient technique will help stave off potential injury.

 

From the above you can see that iSUP racing s certainly doable and as more paddlers enter the sport we’re pretty confident you’ll see more events opening up air board specific classes. Do some research prior to jumping straight in and then it’s down to you. Being a fast paddler is as much to do with the pilot as it is the kit you’re using. Train, learn, adapt, experiment, never give up and above all have fun…

We’d love to hear your experiences of racing an inflatable paddle board. Please give us a shout and let us know your tips, tricks and share your findings and photo finishes with us using the social media sharing buttons above.

 

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Big wave surfing: the “Eddie would go” mentality

22 years ago this week, the 36 year old celebrated big wave surfer Mark Foo flew to the recently discovered big wave spot Mavericks for the first time. It was his last time surfing Mavericks. 

And his last wave ever.  "Eddie would go"

After disappearing beneath the behemoth wall of water, he was found two hours later still leashed to the broken tail end of his ride.

Since then a number of household surf names have succumbed to the big wave; Donnie Solomon and Todd Chesser both caught inside, Malik Joyeux pearling and knocked out by his board, Peter Davi wiped out after allegedly partying too hard, Sion Milosky tombstoned and pinned down.

For many years, instead of these names being a cautionary tale, they have been celebrated, revered even, and a source of inspiration.  You can only really know yourself and the wave if you put yourself in the arms of death. 

Or so the story goes. 

And no-one really knows how many lesser names and amateurs have met their maker on waves bigger than they could handle, following in the footsteps of the giants of the monster waves.

In these days of mega bucks sponsorship, ambulance chasing lawyers, and outdoor instructors being successfully sued by their trainees who fail to understand the principle of individual responsibility, it is surprising that big wave surfing is still a thing that happens in the name of sport.

Ahead of Mark Foo’s death all those years ago,  the organisers of the inaugural Eddie considered calling off the comp because Maverick’s was at its brutal worst, and they knew there was a real risk of death.  Foo himself looked at the break, and in a sentence that was either the most inspiring for a surfer and that sums up the draw of big wave surfing, or worthy of nomination for the Darwin Awards, uttered the immortal phrase ‘Eddie would go'(1), and signed his own death warrant. 

And yet, the industry keeps seeking bigger, more dangerous, more brutal, waves.  And allows the competitions to go ahead in dangerous conditions.  Big waves means big media coverage, and that’s great for sponsors.  And a cynic might say that death or two helps maintain the mystique and allure of big wave surfing, and is also good for the sport in general.

But are things changing?   Yesterday, Twiggy, one of the giants of big wave surfing, and shoe-in for the world title, said of Nazare at yesterday’s WSLs

“Those 20-30 minutes during each heat, on the back of a ski, holding on with all your strength while jumping 10ft foamies, were some of the most terrifying experiences of my life and something I can’t see myself repeating? Deservingly @jamie_mitcho the maddest dog won and hoping all the guys with injuries recover soon. #riskvsreward”

Yesterday was pretty unique in my surfing life, riding a 20ft double up shore break where you have to catch 2 waves in an hour for a @wsl event was a humbling experience. Nazare as a wave is a phenom, as challenging and beautiful as any big wave I've surfed but do the dangers involved out way the rewards? Those 20 minutes during each heat, on the back of a ski, holding on with all your strength while jumping 10ft foamies, were some of the most terrifying experiences of my life and something I can't see myself repeating. The water safety team did a fantastic job and special thanks to them. Of course @jamie_mitcho the maddest dog won and hoping all the guys with injuries recover soon. #riskvsreward ? @despiritosanto

A post shared by Grant Twiggy Baker (@granttwigbaker) on

It’s true that Nazare is one of the most notorious waves, shifting as a well as heavy, and yesterday saw a quarter of the competitors end up in hospital.  So maybe Twiggy’s reaction is entirely understandable, and is  reaction just to Nazare on the day.

Or maybe there is a rational re-evaluation of the risk reward ratio in big wave surfing.

(1) If this means nothing to you, do yourself a favour and hit up Eddie Aikau in Google.   As one of the best known and admired characters and liefsavers on the North Shore, Eddie was renowned for going into conditions that no-one else would, to save people in trouble.  A fact that is often ignored by those who use the phrase. 

“Eddie would go” was about Eddie going into conditions to save people, not charging those conditions.  Although, to be fair, he wasn’t afraid of charging the monsters either.