10 Jahre mit Annabel Anderson

Paddler of the Decade: 

Annabel Anderson zieht Bilanz.

Wer SUP kennt, kennt Annabel Anderson. Sie war von Anfang an dabei und dominierte den Sport für gut 10 Jahre. SUPracer ernannte sie vor Kurzem zur „SUP Athletin der Dekade“. Dies inspirierte mich sie zu kontaktieren und zu fragen ob sie nicht Lust hätte etwas für das Stand Up Magazin zu schreiben und wie sie die letzten 10 Jahre erlebt hat. Ich freue mich sehr, dass sie „ja“ gesagt hat und freue mich noch mehr über ihren Text. Es ist ein Feuerwerk von Erinnerungen, Darmen und schmerzlichen Realitäten die den Sport über die Jahre begleitet hat. Annabel nimmt kein Blatt vor den Mund, wer sie kennt weis das.

Ich habe Annabels Text auf Deutsch in der Ausgabe #17 veröffentlicht. Dies ist die Originalfassung:

So much promise, so much potential….where is it and why is it stuck in limbo??

A lot can happen in a decade. A lot. 

2015 Trophy Inventory at the SUP ATX Warehouse in California.
Photo: John Vertin

A decade ago, if you told me what the past ten years would hold, I would tell you to ease off the CBD. Seriously, I would. 

It still blows my mind how a girl from the mountains, who had done quite the job of self-destructing her body in her late teens and early twenties, would find herself plonked in the middle of London in the depths of a worst-winter-in-30-years after being made redundant at the height of the Global Financial Crises in New Zealand would manage to get a board, teach herself to paddle and become the most winning athlete in a sport ten years later. 

It’s hard to remember what SUP was like ten years ago, so it’s fitting that we take a short trip down memory lane. 

There’s much debate about who invented SUP, but it’s hard to argue about who made it popular. We have that big beefcake with sun bleached hair to thank for that one. Yes, I’m talking about Laird and his 12’ tandem long board that the took out on Maui with an outrigger paddle extended with a broom handle to propel himself into a wave. Who even was this, paddling into a wave already standing up? Next thing he is putting his board in at Maliko Gulch and catching the white water of the downwind swells whipped up by the ever-present trade winds of the North Shore. Yep, we have the ingenuity of Laird and the paddling and surfing culture of the Hawaiian’s to thank for this litany of fun that did a fine job of sweeping us (literally) into it’s fold. 

When I was asked to look back on the past decade as the “Female Athlete of the Decade” and not to hold back, here is my summary. Some of it will sound a little harsh and it is, because it needs to be and because I believe it can be so much more if we let go of the things that have gotten in the way. 

I started paddling because of the connection to the water. When I was thrust into city living straight after graduating university and finding myself dumped in the metropolis of Auckland, I found peace by finding the ocean and sailing on the waters of the Hauraki Gulf became my sanity in the cut and thrust of the city. Fast forward a few years, I found myself accidentally taking the “Kiwi OE” (that’s Overseas Experience for the uninitiated) due to falling victim of the GFC (*Great Financial Crisis) and knowing that if I didn’t take the leap to spread my wings then, another decade would pass and I would have wondered what might have been if I hadn’t gone and had an unknown adventure of sorts. 

That’s the short version of how I found myself in London and drawn to the god-awful murky tidal waters of the River Thames. 

Every day I would walk/bike/run beside it as I commuted around South West London. The river and its bridges became my landmarks and source of calm in the concrete jungle. I’d see rowers gliding up and down the water at the start and end of each day and wonder if I would be able to get one of those Stand Up Paddle Boards that I’d been using intermittently in Auckland to sweep my way across the waters of inner London. A crazy idea I know, but an idea none the less and when you don’t know a soul and you don’t care what people will think you’re more open to doing things you wouldn’t normally do if you were in your usual environment. 

Ten months after arriving in London and using all of my tax refund, I brought a board. Buying a board is one thing but working out where to store it was another especially when you live in terraced flats. In the beginning I tried stashing it under a hedge, but my building manager soon caught on. A multitude of ideas of where I could store a board would run through my head but it was not until I was running along the towpath one day that I gathered up the courage to stop outside the clubhouse of the London Rowing Club and ask if I could chat to someone. It turned out their head coach was an Australian and knew what stand up paddling was and that it was ok for me to put my board in the rowing shed. And just like that I became the ‘silver surfer’ (what the rowers referred to me as) on the river. 

Around the same time, I found out about a ‘little race’ in Hamburg, Germany. Tapping into the courage I found to knock on the rowing club shed that day, I got in touch with the organizer of the Jever World Cup to see if I could get an entry. I’d somehow heard that accommodation etc. was covered if you were invited to attend and just like that, I booked an EasyJet flight and winged my way to Hamburg. 

I need to be clear: The best in the world were ‘invited’ to come to this event and I had never stepped foot on a race board. I had two days before racing began to ‘figure’ it out, but I knew I was fit from all the running and commuting in London. I knew how to race. That weekend, I walked away with second overall to Jenny Kalmbach from the Big Island of Hawaii. The fire was lit and I’ll forever be grateful for that opportunity. 

It was hard not to be gripped by the magnitude and prestige of the Hamburg event. 10,000 beer swilling Germans lining the docks of the inner harbor of Hamburg on a Sunday afternoon in late August. In reality, I’d accidentally been the nobody who had turned up and beaten the ‘somebodies’ of the burgeoning world of Stand Up Paddling. These were people with stickers on their paddles and boards who seemingly knew ‘wassup’ and I was the rank outsider with a mega dose of imposter syndrome. 

I returned to London well and truly hooked and wanting more. Not necessarily more competition, I just wanted to keep doing this new thing that I had fallen in love with and was slowly attempting to master. A while ago, I looked back on some early videos from that era and quite frankly, we sucked. But like most others that would follow, we were smitten by the feeling of pulling a blade through the water and that was all that really mattered. We’d felt ‘that first glide’ and we were hungry for more. 

Maui SUP Cup 2017.
Photo: Mike Jucker (Ed.)

So, as I reminisce, the following rings true:

  • It had so much promise. (And it still very much holds true). 
  • It had so much hype. (Most likely due to the boom and subsequent bust).
  • It was so much fun. (And it still is)

I’d go on to experience the cities of the world for the first time from the water (London, Hamburg, Paris, New York, Sydney, Bilbao, Panama City, Rio de Janeiro, Bangkok, Copenhagan, Auckland, Perth, Vancouver to rattle off a few), explore the waterways of globe and live a life that can only be described as a never ending tornado. Often unsure where it would take me next, but full of a powerful energy and while caught up in a global hysteria of hype, passion and enthusiasm. To say the least, it was a surreal and un-scriptable adventure full of twists and turns at a moment’s notice. 

As the decade rolls over and the sport of Stand Up Paddling enters the 2020s what is the current state of play, what does it mean and what is the pathway forward? The present and sky-gazing into the future if you like. 

With the hype came the greed.

With the hype came the greed and all of a sudden, I found myself of it at the epicenter of it, in the US of A in Dana Point, Orange County to be exact. 

For those of us who experienced the heydays of Stand Up Paddling in good ol’ ‘Merica when every Tom, Dick & Harry was starting a stand up brand it was a hedonistic place to be. Brands were placing exorbitant bets on kids with ‘potential’, parents were putting their future prodigies into training squads on the hopes of producing the next Kai Lenny and throwing margarita fueled parties at the likes of Outdoor Retailer, Battle of the Paddle, Surf Expo while shipping athletes to events in all and every corner of the globe that seemed to be spawning faster than a salmon up an Alaskan river being chased by a bear. 

Those, my friends, are the days that we will always compare to the current state of play. 

The “unofficial” World Championship event (aka the only one that truly had bragging rights) was the Battle of the Paddle (BOP) and unless you made the podium of the “Super Bowl of SUP”, you really hadn’t “made it” until you had. 

Likewise, if you didn’t show up in Hawaii and take on the downwind runs of Maliko or the Ka’iwi Channel you could hardly consider yourself a paddler of any sort. 

If it remained as simple as the BOP, Maliko, Molokai 2 Oahu (M2O) and the odd headline event throughout the US, Europe, Japan, Australia and Brazil and the traditional business models we would likely be in OK shape, but it all went a little pear shaped…..thanks to new ways of doing business and a becoming passion driven industry that put stoke before numbers and forecasting. 

Social media made stars out of kid prodigies and floating yogis. Red Bull jumped on the band wagon. People tuned into Facebook and then Instagram for their dose of specialty news and inspiration while print magazines popped up in a multitude of formats and languages to satisfy the want for content, adoration, stories of glory and to simply geek out on this new found guilty pleasure they liked to spend their time and money indulging in. 

Direct to customer brands emerged completely shutting off the distributors/retailer network

Direct to customer brands emerged completely shutting off the distributors/retailer network of the traditional model doing business in the outdoor industry and let’s not forget the impact of transitioning every race to 14’ board lengths have had on a sport, participants, manufacturers and events. 

It’s true, 14’ goes faster and glides more….but, there is the simple fact that they are impossible to travel internationally with (some exceptions apply here). This is fine, if you are a pro, sponsored by a board brand with a distributor network and/or logistic capabilities but if you aren’t then sorry, you don’t get to play. Yep, just like that and most likely without realizing we shut off the ability to allow people to compete for the simple fact of once-upon-a-time a few older guys didn’t like being beat up on by the likes of Kai Lenny, Connor Baxter and Riggs Napoleon so they built a longer board. I may be simplifying this, but once those little whipper snappers stepped on 14’ boards they left those same guys on the dust. 

Many paddlers who had to travel know just how stressful the game of Russian Roulette at an airport check in counter can be. To this day, I can say hand on heart, that if I turned up with a 12’6 board there was a 99% chance of it getting on the plane. That chance decreased to 10-20% (depending on the airline) if it was a 14’ board. 

What few people realized was, that we stopped people who couldn’t drive, beg, borrow or steal a 14’ board from competing. And yes, I’m talking about the weekend warriors who single handedly fund an industry by buying boards, attending clinics, lusting over magazines and wanting to travel to bucket list events. This last statement is the entire reason why Europe will be the epicenter for the sport for the future due to the simple fact that boards can travel overland and not need to go through airport check ins to get to events. People can forward plan logistics by shipping boards via freight forwarding companies and know it will show up at a certain place and time. 

The irony of this board length debacle is that most of the crew that so heavily wanted longer boards because they were ‘bigger’ guys are also the ones that are now wanting 4’ foil boards…..oh the irony. 

Meanwhile event promoters promised the earth (yes, here’s looking at you Boyd Jeffery of the Ultimate SUP Showdown and Tristan Boxford of the Stand Up World Tour) with varying degrees of philanthropy (remember the $50,000 Payette River Games???).

Event promoters promised the earth

Tristan has been the eternal hopeful in the land of promise and speculation. A former professional windsurfer with an incredible vision and a herd of kids keen for fame, glory and fortune hanging off his every word. He was (and still is) always promising that he’s found a ‘new investor’ for the Stand Up World Tour then re-branded as the Association of Professional Paddlers (APP) all while leaving a trail of bounced checks and unpaid athletes. (Does this ring a bell to any of the female athletes of the Red Bull Heavy Water 2019 event?). But the guy is like the cat with nine lives with brazen self-belief that has the ability to sell ice to Eskimos and convince one and all that they need to be a part of his circus once again. 

The windsurfing brands who had invested heavily in SUP have always known the importance that professional tours and world titles played in the name of scoring media, magazine covers and features. It was how Robbie Naish became a household name and a brand that sold product to distributors, retailers and fans desperate to be in on what was hot, cool and “Of The Moment”.

Those same windsurf brands that were early to the SUP game have always provided a backstop of support to Tristan and the APP, but in the disrupted economic age, that SUP emerged in, that old rule book got thrown out the window and the question of loyalty and support in times of crises and undelivered promises had to be asked.

It’s true, every SUP brand (or close to it) got its balls drilled against the wall and twisted until slowly cutting off all circulation, the reality of the boom and then the bust inevitably kicked in circa 2016 with no real emergence of recovery to those initial glory days in sight. 

Key events disappeared or have been put on life support while others have flourished. You can ring fence these geographically to being US (life support), Europe (flourishing). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the impact that a boom/bust industry and not being able to get your equipment to events has had on what was the mecca of paddling aka the Beach Cities of Orange County, namely Dana Point and San Clemente. 

Open Ocean Tahiti
Photo: Ben Thouard

Only the very strongest of brands have survived via passionate enthusiasts putting their money where their mouth is or have been supported by other arms of their business or by brands getting granular and focusing on niche audiences. 

If promoters were competing for the attendance of athletes and brands were trying to sell boards, something much larger and significantly more political was brewing in the background that would go onto affect one and all amongst all this chaos. 

Circa 2014 the International Surfing Association pegged a massive stake in the sand

Circa 2014 the International Surfing Association pegged a massive stake in the sand by declaring it was going to be the governing body that was going to get SUP to the Olympics. Athletes and nations got excited at the prospect of the Olympic rings. National surfing associations rolled their eyes at having to tolerate Kooks as part of their organizations. But when you look at it objectively, the ISA is an organization that was hell bent on getting surfing to the Olympics and the more events that they could prove they could host and run of a Olympic-caliber, the more points they scored with the IOC who would ultimately make the decision. A couple of years later, the ISA was successful in getting inclusion into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. SUP is nowhere to be seen. 

Meanwhile, the ISA who at best can be described as an organization specializing in events, media and instructor certification continued to pocket large sums of money while giving very little back to a sport it is attempting to ‘govern’ (in hushed tones it is always rumored to be in the realm of USD$500,000 charged to host cities and the hordes of paddlers who wanted to pay for the honor of representing their country and yes – me included paid close to USD$1000 in entry fees to compete in the 2017 edition in Denmark) was starting to lock heads with the another governing body or another sport, the International Canoe Federation (ICF) who decided that Stand Up “Canoeing” was much more ‘canoeing’ than it was ‘surfing’ and that they should rightfully be the governing body entrusted to oversee this burgeoning sport and get it into the Olympics regardless of if ‘Olympic’ is the best thing for the sport of SUP in the present or foreseeable future. 

Six years on and these two outfits are still at logger heads trading punches in the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) on who is best to entrust with a sport that neither really know anything about other than running a couple of events, clipping revenue, strategically placing Olympic rings in the background of photographs (Qingdao – the host city of the ICF World Champs 2019 was a classic) and kudos from the powers that be. 

All the while throughout this period, many an athlete tried to rally the troops to form ‘athlete’ federations to represent the collective voice of paddlers to promoters and governing bodies in an attempt to bring the balance of power back to the people that actually paddled. This was GREAT in theory and completely flawed in execution. Why? Ego and breach of trust managed to get in the way of many renditions of these (usually held in Dana Point during the annual hui of Battle of the Paddle and subsequent Pacific Paddle Games). 

Ego and breach of trust managed to get in the way

Chase Kosterlitz turned an attendee list into a membership of sorts, made himself the President and asked everyone on his membership list to make a financial contribution, buy his book and become ‘certified’ by him which was likely  great in concept, but failed in execution alongside various other attempts that have came and gone over the years. 

The last meeting, I recall took place on the on the grass between the beach and carpark of Doheny State Beach on the Friday to discuss all things Tristan and the APP’s ‘new investor’ and proposed ‘tour’ plans for the following year. Close associates of the WSL were also doing the rounds of the sand making introductions to an incognito VIP who happened to be the new incoming (now former) CEO of surfing’s greatest circus in the hopes of rallying a meeting in the days following the event. 

Having seen this shit show far too many times before, I spent that Friday morning surfing some of Doho’s most memorable late summer waves with the people that paddle simply for the pure joy of doing so – the weekend warriors. In all likelihood, I don’t think I missed anything other than the usual back, forward, sideways sling shot around the prayer circle of mistrust with no real progress as to a clear pathway forward. 

Why? If I’m completely honest, we never had anyone who held the trust of the majority of the athletes actually want to stand up and take leadership of the situation. A couple of individuals who would befit this position had way better things to do than look out for the needs of everyone else when they themselves were working out how they were going to continue.

So there we have it: A sport developed with huge hype and hysteria, in the inflated age of social media and influence, hit some mega speed bumps combined with a lack of business acumen in the industry department, that is still being fought over and doesn’t quite know what it wants to be when it grows up. And that’s not to say that there haven’t been some smart people – there absolutely have been, but there have been squeaky voices that have been louder when voices counted.

But to the contrary, maybe this initial cycle of boom and bust was necessary to come to a natural level of equilibrium and sustainable growth without the hype?

Well, enter the year 2020 and the great apocalypse of Covid-19. In a matter of weeks we have gone from being a burgeoning sport being fought over in the Court of Arbitration of Sport to majority of the world not being allowed on their local beach, let alone to be able to grab a paddle, jump on a board and hit the water. The one thing we have taken for granted all along – the actual paddling bit just got removed. It’s mighty hard to have a race or a competition if you aren’t allowed to participate. 

You see, sport is a privilege and one that the world has taken for granted. Until now. 

Sport is a privilege and one that the world has taken for granted.

Events are cancelled for the foreseeable future of this year, but that doesn’t mean they are cancelled forever. 

As we begin to emerge from our period of self-isolation, let’s choose to fall back in love with why we started paddling in the first place. For the love of pulling a blade through the water, for the love of catching a wave, for the love of the endless glide and sharing those moments with others who also appreciate them. 

Let’s choose to make our sport great again by rebuilding it from our local grassroots first (borders are going to be closed for a long while yet – so international travel is off the radar for this year at least), developing junior talent and providing a pathway to elite competition but remembering to look after the weekend warriors who have the time and money that are the mainstay of the sport. 

Let’s give them a reason to paddle, let’s give them heroes to idolize and look up to and let’s get back  on track to realizing the potential we have to be as a sport. 

Let’s choose to let sport be the winner rather than the lawyers representing the likes of the ISA and the ICF. 

This is our sport, we get to steer the direction of where we head from this point into future and what will be best for a sport and everything that supports it – an industry, brands, manufacturers, retailers, media, events, athletes, participants, enthusiasts and the like. 

Note from the Editor: We have not fact checked Annabels piece and like to point out that this is the point of view of a long time athlete. Views stated above might vary with the views of the makers of Stand Up Magazin.