ENCINITAS — Stand up paddling, or SUP may have its roots with the Beach Boys of Waikiki in the 1960s, but SUP Chicks So-Cal is re-energizing the sport in 2012.
“The story for many of us is how many middle-aged women are taking up the sport,” explained SUP Chicks founder Sabrina Suarez. “SUP is the only sector of action sports that is growing exponentially and reaching a whole new demographic (other) than surfing and snowboarding.”
Suarez said that one of the selling points is that it can be done anywhere in San Diego — from Oceanside Harbor and the Agua Hedionda lagoon to surfing in the Pacific. She explained that it provides a low-impact, whole body workout that is enjoyed with the camaraderie of like-minded enthusiasts, from beginners to racers.
“I began doing it with a friend in late 2009,” she said. “As women, we were pioneers. I started phoning my friends, saying ‘You’ll love it’ and they joined in.”
Suarez credits Facebook with generating almost 250 members and followers since then.
“Early in 2010, I decided to formalize it with a name,” she said. “Today, we are a bunch of great women. Everyone is involved with helping each other, and providing instruction when there is someone new. Lots of us are involved in charity, individually and collectively.”
Suarez credits Debbie Church with organizing a Turkey Paddle to benefit the Youth Aquatic Center in Mission Bay. Pamela Strom started a SUP-O-RUN, which supports the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Suarez produced a SUP video that benefits Keep a Breast Foundation.
“We are forming a team for an event in May called ‘Paddle for the Cure’ to benefit breast cancer awareness,” she added.
Carla Stoner is a regular member of the club.
“This sport can be Zen-like in that the spiritual feeling I get from paddling on the ocean is magical,” she said.
“Through friendships, I’ve experienced gray whales up close and personal, not to mention the many pods of different types of dolphins and squadrons of pelicans and more.
I’ve been on incredible SUPing adventures through paddling in my ‘own backyard’ to racing different venues as far away as the Colorado River in Arizona.”
Surfer Kerstin P. Ouellet also competes.
“I started standup paddling as a way to enjoy the ocean when there are not enough waves to surf, and over the course of a year I became a competitive racer for King’s Paddlesports,” she said. “It is definitely one of the best whole-body workouts one can get.”
Suarez explained that SUP provides many advantages in surfing.
“I was out at Moonlight Beach on a cold day and the surfers were soaked, sitting in cold water,” she said. “Paddle boarders were standing above the water, paddling around, staying busy and keeping their heart rate up.”
Suarez added that many members who don’t surf paddleboard in the ocean.
“They do distance paddling and can enjoy amazing wildlife,” she said. “We have videos of dolphins, seals and pelicans all around us. We’re planning a whale watching event in the new year.”
The group also enjoys midnight paddles in Mission Bay and Oceanside Harbor.
“We wear head lamps, reflectors and have glow sticks on our boards — it’s magical!” she added.
Suarez explained that the initial cost of taking up the sport runs between $400 and $3,000 for a used or new board, and $75 to $340 for a paddle plus the cost of a personal flotation device and board shorts.
Men, including renowned surfer and surfing photographer Tom English, also join in the fun. His wife, Barb, is a SUP Chicks So-Cal member.
“They are a great group of girls that love to paddle,” he said. “Their positive energy is infectious.”
Suarez anticipates that SUP will continue to increase in popularity in the new year.
“Even though SUP originated in the Hawaiian Islands, the epicenter of the sport these days is San Diego and Orange counties,” she said. “So-Cal has the largest concentration of SUP designers, manufacturers and SUP races/events, but the sport is growing everywhere and is not geographically locked like surfing.”
For more information, visit SUP Chicks So-Cal on Facebook or e-mail Sabrina Suarez at firstname.lastname@example.org.