The Art of Competition

Stand Up Paddling is a unique sport, I’m sure you’ve heard it said time and time again. Recently on the Mullet, Julia Nicholls pointed out some things that make SUP unique: our sense of community, our willingness to help others and make a difference, and the accessibility of top ranking athletes in the sport. So, why, would anyone not want to go to a SUP race or SUP-surf competition? Somewhere in our minds, we lose sight of the unique attributes of our sport when faced with the word “competition.” Sadly, women seem to lose sight of this much more quickly than men – this is obvious when you look at any event and notice that the list of men participants is often 3x longer than the list of women participants.

What got me thinking was when a friend the other day said she didn’t want to enter a competition because she would have to “compete against Jane Doe.” This got me really bummed out because I feel like she’s missed the point. The point of competitions is not to go duke it out and show how awesome (or terrible) you are at something. It is to support your sport: to support our unique sense of community, to make a difference, and to hang out with some talented people.

We enter races and competitions to support our community. Sure, you are showing support by just being there even if you don’t enter, BUT by entering and participating you are adding to the ranks of participants, which adds to the credibility of the event. When you’re on the water, chatting with other participants, battling a tough tide, or paddling neck and neck for a spot on the podium you’re an active part of the SUP community. Afterwards you have stories with other paddlers, you’ve made new friends, and you’ve shared common experiences. These are the experiences that bind us.

We make a difference. Maybe your registration goes to something great… maybe it doesn’t. You can still make a difference by being there. All participants help set the tone of an event. Maybe you help someone load or unload a board they are struggling with, maybe you help a paddler in distress, maybe you cheer to a kid in the race so loud that they feel a sense of pride… maybe you inspire someone.

Hanging out with top athletes can be inspirational. Hanging out with self proclaimed “slow paddlers” is just as inspirational. People like Katie and Lexy in last year’s Graveyard race inspire me more than any of the top paddlers. Their drive and dedication make me feel like a better person just by being around them. Sometimes the top female paddlers are a little grumpy, they talk about the other female paddlers instead of something like the tide for the race. Top paddlers need to keep in mind, though, what kind of vibe they’re giving off and how they can set the tone of the event (and also give undertones to future events). I often hope that the top paddlers will get a reality check or feel humbled paddling next to some of the smiling, “slower” paddlers. Thank goodness for people like Katie and Lexy who set an inspirational tone, not an overly competitive one. I think it is this mingling of paddlers that will keep this sport real.

With that, I give my final plea. I’ve been to surf competitions where everyone is a great surfer. They know it, they act like it, and everyone watching them knows it and treats them like they are great even if they are mean people. This is not good. I’ve also been to competitions where everyone is a terrible surfer, they don’t really know it, but everyone watching them is still very supportive. This is also not good because the mediocre surfers don’t have a few good surfers to look up to. I’ve seen the same in racing. Don’t opt out of a “competition” because you’ll be competing. You’re not there to compete, you’re there to support and inspire. This is the Art of Competition. It is like a drama, we all have our parts we must play. Whether you’re a top athlete inspiring others with your skills or an aspiring athlete helping keep the event fun, you are IMPORTANT.

To my awesome SUP-surfing friend, you are talented. As a top female you will set the tone of the event. If you make it “competitive” and feel negatively, then others will follow your lead. If you enter and treat it like another fun day on the water with your friends, then that’s what this will feel like for the other ladies. There are a lot of up and coming younger paddlers, and I think you are a great role model. If you’re there just surfing the sidelines that isn’t the same as supporting the event. A young surfer hearing “good job” or “nice wave” from you will mean so much more if you are surfing alongside them.

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