Whether you like it or not, the rise of SUPs in the lineup has exploded over the past few years. Recreational paddling and touring has given way to the more ambitious of steamboat paddlers who have cruised straight out the back of your local and into the lineup. That may be a cause of frustration for some (utter contempt for others) – but, quietly, almost behind the scenes, there's been a rise in SUP culture, not just the act of, but competitions and events, did you even know there's a SUP world champ?
As of tomorrow, the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships are getting under way in China. You can keep up to date with all that goes on here.
But for now, we decided to check in with Shakira Westdorp, a gold medalist at last year's event. Ripping isn't a term usually reserved for someone on a SUP – but fling one of those crafts under the right feet and you've got yourself a case for something quite special, like Shakira (who also doubles up as a firefighter at home in Oz's NSW) who recently tussled with Teahupoo with paddle and board.
We catch up with the champ to talk competition, the SUP movement and just how much aggro do you get by actually being in the lineup?
Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up and how did you get into surfing?
Grew up in Northern NSW after a move form Sydney. My parents wanted to have some freedom instead of growing up in a concrete jungle. Dad was a surfer so we would always be down the beach and just loved it there and being out in the ocean. I was always a water baby.
Have you always been interested in SUP or did shortboarding come before? What’s your journey here.
I was a shortboarder first but I have always rode all different equipment. Some friends made a big 12 foot air craft carrier one summer and we were out at Currumbin alley just cruising along and having a ball.
And, you’re a firefighter as well right, how do you balance working with surfing?
Yeah, can be tricky trying to get time off for all the events but the boys at my station are awesome I swap a lot of shifts with them. I work all the shifts back when I’m home.
Why do you think there’s been a big push in SUPping over the past few years?
It's actually really fun when used in the right conditions. You can take your family and your dog for a cruise in the creek. Go exploring along coastal areas with bigger boards and get the funnest waves when it’s small and unsurfable.
Right. I think for most surfers, some feel a sudden twinge or…annoyance…when a SUP enters the lineup, why do you think there’s this animosity and is it something you’re in tune with?
Yeah for sure, there is a bit of a stereotype with SUP. There is definitely a crew who take advantage of the SUP and take too many waves but I feel that most are respectful.
It just takes one and being on a SUP you stand out like dogs' balls. Like riding any craft, anywhere, you just gotta wait your turn and be respectful to all in the water.
Like riding any craft, anywhere, you just gotta wait your turn and be respectful to all in the water There are also places where you just shouldn’t go either. With tight crowds, makes it dangerous.
Have you had many run ins with loud mouths in the lineup?
Yeah, I’ve had a couple of guys give the stare but nothing serious. I think just waiting your turn and being respectful goes along way.
I rode the SUP at Teaphoo earlier this year and everyone was so friendly... everyone shakes hands as they enter the line up so it really casual.
Though guess it has more clout when you’re a world champion! What’s your game plane going into this year’s ISA games?
[laughs] Yeah not sure that has any weight paddling for waves. Yeah, would love to take the win again. I think the wave can be pretty sick when it’s on and looks like we are going to get a swell so I’m pretty excited.
It being in China, how have you been training?
Just trying to surf as much as possible and try get lefts.... hard on the east coast. I came to China early to get a feel for the break but it’s been flat and the airlines lost my board. Just got it today.
What do you think is the future of SUP?
I think it will keep getting bigger. There is a tour and it’s getting bigger and better each year. There are some that are making a living out of it. It’s a healthy lifestyle to be involved with.
Thanks Shakira! Good luck at the games. Don't forget to tune in, here.