How I Quit Worrying and Learned to Love the 14…

or…Why I Will Never Buy a 12’6” SUP Again

The Mullet posted some thoughts on board classes and the health and future of races and he got a good discussion going. He asked me to weigh in. So, here goes, with some caveats.

First, I am not an elite racer or sponsored athlete. I am a Jane Paddler Back of the Packer, sometime middle of the packer, with average skills who competes because a) I love the social aspect of races b) it is incentive for me to train and stay fit, and most importantly, c) for the FUN.  I would like to think that the majority of us participate in races for this reason.

Second, I am almost 54 years old. I am 5’4”.  While I am driven to improve my skills, I know that I am not really a podium contender.  I am okay with that.  See above.  That’s not why I race. I race to see how I am improving.  I race against myself.

Third, I am growing more and more interested in downwinding and surfing and am starting to want to spend my travel and time resources doing that and almost nothing else. I am kind of obsessed with that.

So, all of that to say that not everyone has the same goals, expectations or motivations, except for the having fun one, I hope. What follows here are just my thoughts, based on my experiences.  Take it or leave it.

Deciding to Go Bigger

Several years ago, I wanted to try paddling a 14’ board. I did research.  I talked to the small number of female friends I knew at the time paddling 14’s.  But most importantly, I went down to Carolina Paddleboard Company and talked to Jason about it.  When it comes to the physics of boards and paddles, Jason is amazing. Very matter of factly, he told me what the pros and cons of the larger board would be.  There was no judgement, no prejudice.  Just facts.  The one that stood out to me was, could I physically handle managing a board that size OFF the water – carrying it in wind, getting it on the car, etc.

Then he pulled out the three boards he thought would be best for me at the time, plus their 12’6” counterparts to compare and contrast.

I left that day with a 14’ Lahui Kai.

In the course of making the switch, I learned how to adjust and tune my paddle stroke to be more efficient, I learned that I needed to change somethings to get and stay at glide speed, I learned to pay attention to stroke rate. I changed my paddle to accomplish some of this.  In short, not only did I become a faster paddler because of the length of the board, but because it taught me how to be efficient and effective. I learned more about the physics of paddling. I became a smarter and faster paddler.

Jumping to the 14 is when my paddling REALLY improved.

Since getting that Lahui Kai, my paddling confidence has soared.  I now have a Starboard All-Star and SIC Pro-Lite that are not only longer but narrower. 

And managing those boards off the water is absolutely not a problem.


Why Not?

I strongly believe that there is absolutely no reason why women can’t paddle and race 14′ boards. I am living proof that we can.  And if the height thing was true, then explain to me why Kai Lenny is as good as he is on a 14’. He’s not a big guy.  That argument doesn’t wash with me.

I will NEVER buy another 12’6” board again.

So why don’t more women rock the 14?

Good question.  I think some of it stems from early marketing of the sport where shorter boards were aimed at women because of our size and perceived strength.  Sort of the “pink it and shrink it” syndrome.  The first time I demo’d race boards at a local lake here in Raleigh, the shop owner wanted to put me on a 10’6” displacement board.  At the time, I didn’t know any better.  I think that mentality still carries over.  Lots of women I teach come to class thinking they need a 10’6” or  maybe an 11’ 6” and that 12’6” is too big.

But a lot has changed and continues to as our sport and the materials and designs evolve.

For women who are fierce competitors, they want to stay in the class that is the most competitive, and right now, that’s 12’6”. Because that’s where most of the women race.  I get that. But, who is to say that the 14’ class could not become that way, if more and more women jumped on the larger board? I know many women who really prefer paddling the larger board, but don’t in races because they want to be in that larger, more competitive field. 

Clearly, I feel very strongly that women should NOT be discouraged from paddling 14’s.

Limiting their race category to 12’6” does that. It pigeon holes us into that category and that’s unfair.

Women should be encouraged to try different board lengths and make their own decisions about what works for them and then be able to compete on that board. While we shouldn’t force women to paddle 14’s we shouldn’t make them stick to 12’6”s either.  And you know what, same for the guys. 

What about race classes, then?

Now, how to make all of that work and streamline races and eliminate so many categories so that races are not so expensive to run? I don’t know. Eliminate the age groups?  Well, some would say that’s not fair either.  I don’t know that there is any way to truly level the playing field.  But most of us race because of the social aspect, or as a motivation to train and stay fit, and hopefully because it is fun. If we get too wrapped around the axel about all of this, it stops being fun.  I will continue to race on my 14 and if I get recognized, fine, if not, no problem. When I race OC and OC2, I am very rarely recognized.  And I am okay with that.  That’s not why I’m there.