A local lifeguard hopes to make a splash at a big event in California this weekend.
Shannon Bell, who regularly keeps an eye on swimmers at Spanish Banks and the Kitsilano pool, is heading to Orange County's Doheny State Beach to test her mettle at this year's Battle of the Paddle, the biggest event in the hot new sport of SUP.
What's SUP, you ask? An acronym for stand up paddling, SUP is the world's fastest growing watersport and involves standing on a large surfboard and using a paddle to propel forward. Despite its unwieldy acronym, the sport is making serious waves.
"The draw for me is being out in nature, being able to be on the ocean," said Bell, who is one of the organizers of the popular local Jericho Oceanman multi-sport adventure race.
"It's kind of like a meditation for me. You go out and get a workout and get away from people and the city, plus it is so accessible here in Vancouver."
Paddleboarding, like surfing, first began centuries ago in Hawaii. The sport-called "Hoe he'e nalu" in the local language-pretty much stayed there until only a few years ago when pro surfer and exercise guru Laird Hamilton brought the attention of Good Morning America's millions of viewers to the sport as his preferred form of training when the ocean was too calm to surf.
Since then, stand-up paddleboarding has caught on with landlubbers and adrenaline junkies alike as a solid form of core conditioning and an activity that can be simultaneously adventurous and peaceful. Costco now sells inflatable SUPs and four different SUPspecific magazines currently cover an activity that appeals to everyone from big wave surfers to people who prefer doing yoga while floating on their boards.
Many surfers have also converted because of the versatility and because it offers the opportunity to catch more waves.
"What's awesome about it is you can do it everywhere," said Bell, a 38-year-old mother of two, who earlier this month came from behind to win the elite women's category at the 20-km Round the Rock SUP race off the coast of Seattle.
"You can surf, you can do it on flatwater on lakes, people are even starting to go down rivers on them. You're up on top of the water and it's an awesome workout. You really use all your muscles, you use your legs for balance and your core and upper body paddling."
While most SUP'ers in the Vancouver area only do it for the workout or for fun, it is also starting to make waves as a competitive sport. This year's Battle of the Paddle, for example, will see more than 1,000 athletes competing for $25,000 in cash prizes.
Racers will also try to break the record for having the most surfers on a single wave, currently held by 110 surfers who rode one off Cape Town, South Africa in 2009. Bell's husband Gary Parson, a fellow lifeguard, will also be competing in the Sept 29-30 competition.
The two-day event involves two separate events: an obstacle course involving surfing and a 10-mile distance race. For more information, surf on over to battleofthepaddle.com.