As Stand-Up Paddleboarders Race Around New York City, a Sport Takes Off
By Samantha Cook; photographs courtesy O'Neill Sea Paddle NYC
“Every day is paradise,” said stand-up paddleboard athlete Annabel Anderson as she looked out into the water from Pier 40 on the west side of Manhattan. Anderson quit a stressful corporate job to dedicate herself to stand-up paddle boarding, and its obvious that she has no regrets.
Last Friday at 6:45 a.m. Anderson, along with over 200 other enthusiasts, was preparing to participate in the fifth annual O’ Neill Sea Paddle NYC, a 26.5 stand-up paddleboard race around Manhattan. The race benefits Surfer’s Environmental Alliance and autism charities.
Unlike surfing, stand-up paddle boarding can be done in any body of water. It’s also much easier to learn. As a result, the sport has become increasingly popular. This year’s race had its greatest number of participants, about 20 percent more than last year.
“Stand-up paddle boarding is the fastest growing sport right now,” said Andrew Mencinsky of Surfers' Environmental Alliance. “We have participants who are coming from Chicago—where there is no ocean— Tennessee, Utah. There’s paddle boarding going on almost anywhere there’s a lake, pond or river.”
Additionally, people of varying ages and fitness levels can stand-up paddleboard. This was clear from the racers who gathered on Pier 40. They ranged from typical young, buff surfer dudes, to older men and women.
While some people do the sport as a hobby, others have committed their lives to it. Stand-up paddleboard champion Rob Rojas traveled from his hometown of San Clemente, California, to participate in the race. He came in first place with an impressive time of three hours and 56 minutes.
“So much of what we do in life, we’re sitting down at our office, sitting down in our car to drive,” he said. “Stand-up paddleboarding is just really becoming a lifestyle for all sorts of people.” This is clearly true for Rojas, who spends 5-6 days a week on a paddleboard—and even spent some of his free time in New York paddle boarding by the Statue of Liberty.
Although he is a master of the sport, Rojas said that part of stand-up paddleboarding’s appeal is its accessibility and flexibility . “You have people of all walks of life, all ability levels that are able to go out and do it,” he said. “You can do it on lakes, you can do it in the ocean, you can surf on a stand-up paddleboard, you could fish off a stand-up paddleboard, people spear fish off of them, its so diverse.”
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Anderson was another participant who has dedicated herself to stand-up paddle boarding. Originally from New Zealand, she has traveled to 40 countries to participate in stand-up paddleboard races. Her passion is evident. While in Thailand this June she contracted a mysterious infection and became seriously ill. She was in the hospital for two weeks and had to undergo IV antibiotics, and surgery. Additionally, last month she got in a car accident and suffered whiplash. She still made it to the race today.
Even though she is one of the most talented female stand-up paddle boarders in the world, Anderson said that her main goal when racing is not to win, but to motivate others who want to get involved in the sport.
“The competition is secondary for me. If what I do can inspire and influence other people to give it a go…then that’s a really good reason to be doing it.”