Tell us when you first got into SUP. What made you think it was a good idea?
I used to windsurf in the Irish Slalom Series back in 2009, on the second day of one of the events the wind completely died. Someone commented that “you could see a fish fart!”
A friend of mine who runs the local surf shop (https://www.bigsurfshop.com/) brought out a few demo inflatable paddle boards and we did some fun races on them. That was my first taste of SUP. I’ll admit, I was sceptical at the time, but I liked the idea of having an option to still get in the water when the wind wasn’t blowing. I bought a very used and beaten Escape custom board for next to nothing and I was on my way.
Then in 2011, I went to live in the North Eastern part of the USA. Miles from the coast, my only way of getting my water sports fix was paddle boarding on the rivers and lakes that I could find. This is when I really got hooked. I spent as much time as I could exploring the lakes of central Pennsylvania and upstate New York including the Adirondacks and the Hudson River. It’s a wonderful way to experience these vast national parks, paddling along, no engine noise, just nature. It was here that I met a couple called Mike & Carla who ran Paddlehead Boards just outside Albany, NY. They ran a Tuesday Night Paddle Club where we would go for a paddle on the Hudson and then back for a BBQ and some beers. Their stoke for the sport was infectious, they have since moved to Puerto Rico.
When I returned to Ireland in 2013, I got married and then in 2015 we had our first child. So, time at the beach was curtailed and as windsurfing was so time intensive… I sold all my windsurf gear… but this meant I could concentrate on SUP (when ever I could get an hour to get to the beach!)
Which part (or parts) of stand up do you naturally err towards?
The easy answer is all of it, I love it all, catching a wave, exploring our waterways and coast and even a race or two. If I had to choose one discipline it would be surf, there’s no feeling matches that of catching a wave.
As I live by the river here in Cork City, the majority of my paddling is done exploring the river and our harbour. Cork Harbour is the second biggest natural harbour in the world and I have only got to a tiny portion of it.
It was on these exploration paddles that I noticed the amount of marine litter that blights our lovely river and harbour. So, last year I set up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts (@subowti) to promote our fantastic waterways and coast over here through water sports and, most importantly, their conservation. I started by picking up what ever I could on my board and then it progressed to bringing baskets on the board and a litter picker to grab as much as I could. I was already a Clean Coasts (http://cleancoasts.org/) volunteer with my local group (https://www.facebook.com/Blackrock-CleanUp-Group-281569178695706/) so I decided to combine the two and for our monthly clean ups, I would go out on the river on my paddle board, if the weather Gods were kind. I would find all sorts; plastic bottles and paper cups mainly and even a wheelie bin once!
How often do you manage to get afloat?
As much as possible or not as much as I’d like! In the summer I’d try to get out at least once a week, as the days are nice and long, I can check the tide and weather conditions on my way home from work and just pop out on the river or, if I have the time, get down to the beach to get a surf. If we go away somewhere for a few days, I’ll always check if there’s a body of water nearby and bring a board (or two!) That frequency would be less in the winter, as the days are short, but I do get out enough to keep me happy.
Are these training sessions, in readiness for comps, or purely recreational?
Mostly recreational but last year and again this year I will do the Ocean to City Race (http://oceantocity.com/) as part of Cork Harbour Festival (http://corkharbourfestival.com/) in June so all of my time on the water coming up to that is training.
Talk us through your local put in. What does it offer paddlers?
I’m lucky enough to live by the river, in Blackrock, but access is not easy. Fortunately, the good people at Cork Boat Club allow me access to their grounds and slipway but this option is not available for everyone. There is a pier in Blackrock village, but you need at least half tide to have enough water to launch. There is also a new, public floating slipway further upstream, but it is locked to prevent anti-social behaviour and I have been told by the council that there would have to be a health and safety review done for me to be given a key to access the slipway. I’m still waiting for the results of the review, over 12 months later!!! Access to the river is a real issue for some of us so hopefully it will improve sooner rather than later.
Where’s your fave location, home or away?
We spend a lot of time in Crookhaven, West Cork. It’s a magical spot that offers everything. Crookhaven itself is in a large sheltered harbour which is great for flatwater exploring or bringing friends out for the first time. If you’re feeling adventurous, a paddle out around the coast is fantastic with loads to see; cliffs, sea caves and islands but it is the southwest tip of Ireland so the Atlantic can be lumpy enough. A little further West are two great surf spots; Rocky beach and Barleycove Beach. All disciplines are well covered and of course, being Ireland, there’s no shortage of good places to eat, drink and be merry!
Been away recently? Any plans for other SUP sojourns?
I haven’t been away in a while, the last place was Marbella, which we found a little boring to SUP (all the beaches look the same). I’m always dreaming of taking off to somewhere where you don’t need to wear a wetsuit and the waters are crystal clear, I love to bring my snorkel and flippers with me when I’m exploring. I have no concrete plans for any trips… yet!
And your SUP kit – what are you currently using and why?
I’m a team rider for FatStick SUP. I have a FatStick Race/Touring 12’6 board for exploring and for the occasional race, I’m waiting on delivery of the new FatStick Fish 9’6 for surfing and a big, wide FatStick iSUP which is ideal for the clean ups on the water which FatStick very kindly donated as part of their efforts to help clean up our oceans.
Hard boards or inflatables, and why?
Up until I got the iSUP from FatStick, I was all about hard boards. Since I got the FatStick board I can see how the advances in iSUP technology like double walls so they can be inflated to a higher pressure, mean that each type of board has its place. There’s nothing like carving a hard board in a wave or the fact that they glide better over the water and don’t get effected by the wind as much. I can now see the advantages of an iSUP too, when I’m doing the cleans up on the water it’s great to be able to bring the board near pier walls and rocks or up onto the shore to get a piece of litter but I’m only just discovering how handy it is to be able to fit everything you need on the back seat of your car. It means more time on the water which is always good. Also, inflatables are great for getting people to try SUP, especially the little ones.
What about bodily protection – i.e. wetsuits/drysuits and such?
I’m a wetsuit all year-round type of guy. When surfing it’s a must as I spend so much time in the water! However, when I use the FatStick iSUP I don’t need a wetsuit as it is so incredibly stable. This is great for the clean ups on the water as there’s a lot of stooping and bending to pick up the litter. If I’m out exploring somewhere new or the sea is a bit high, I’ll always wear a wetsuit and a PFD. When it gets colder the gloves and boots come out too. I’ve contemplated a drysuit but cost and a perceived lack of movement have ruled them out so far.
Talk us through what you like about NCW products?
I like that they are a (relatively) local, family run business. The fact that they design their products for our waters is great too. They are always looking to innovate and will take on new ideas and feedback to improve their products or even add new ones. Their products are excellent value which means that more people can get out and enjoy what our outdoors have to offer. We share a lot of the same philosophies on the environment and conservation too which is great to see from a company.
How is NCW helping you out?
They have sent me over a selection of their products for me to try out.
And what do you have to do in return?
In exchange, I will get out on the water with the products and use them as much as I can, when I can while promoting them through my social media accounts. I will give my honest feedback on the products and may even share a few ideas I have.
What are your thoughts on SUP in general? Is there a big scene in your neck of the woods?
It’s the fastest growing water sport in the world, right? I’m very excited about how SUP is going to open up the wonderful world of water sports to all, it’s just so accessible, someone once said to me, “if you can stand on one leg, you can SUP,” and they’re right, anyone can do it, young and old.
There is an ever-growing scene down here in the South and Southwest, in the summer you can spot all the boards on roofs, heading to the beach. With social media like Facebook and WhatsApp there are groups for each discipline where you can let people know where you’re headed, it’s a fantastic way to meet like minded people. I paddle up to and around the city regularly and you can see the people on the street staring down, intrigued. There are plenty of schools and rental locations around for them to find and give it a go themselves.
And globally? Do you think it’s still growing year on year?
I would think so, there seems to be more and more board companies getting involved, so that must mean more people buying. It’s great to see companies, like FatStick, over this side of the world growing too.
Do you see many young ‘uns getting into SUP?
I can see from the schools and rental places that they are giving it a go, how many of them actually stick with it is another question. When I started windsurfing many years ago it was a bit elitist, it was more about the gear you were riding than how much fun you were having, which is terrible. I don’t think SUP is like that, it’s more inclusive and hopefully never gets like that as it would put a lot of people off.
And what about the fairer sex?
In general, from my experience, there is an equal spread of the sexes. When you look at particular disciplines it does seem, again in my experience, that there are slightly more males participating; racing in particular. Hopefully that will balance out.
How do you round off a great paddling session?
At my age? A good lie down!!! No, after a great surf or a long explore there’s nothing better than visiting one of the many great public houses dotted around and having a bite to eat and maybe even a pint to celebrate the day, while sitting in the sun.
How are your SUP heroes, and why?
A local SUP pioneer who unfortunately passed away recently, Jason Coniry. Jason was always a great waterman but took to SUP in a big way. He was the first person to complete the Ocean to City Race on a SUP, opening it up to the rest of us. I admired that he paddled out and around The Fastnet Lighthouse amongst other great achievements, which has given me the motivation to set some big goals for myself. RIP.
Any specific stand up goals for 2018?
My two goals this year are based around the Cork Harbour Festival. The first is the Ocean to City Race, as previously mentioned. The second is, with the help of FatStick, Clean Coasts, the organisers of the festival and hopefully some others, is to do a big river clean up with SUPs and kayakers as part of the festival. It’ll be a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of the marine litter problem with Clean Coasts providing educational back up via a stand they will set up. It will also bring together the community of people who use the harbour and will show others what an amazing natural resource it is.
Thanks and praise?
My long-suffering wife.
Andy & Reuben at FatStick.
Cork Boat Club.
Mike & Carla at Paddlehead Boards for sharing the stoke.
And, of course, Mark at North Coast Wetsuits for giving me this opportunity.