Standup Before Standup – Jim Snyder, Fletcher Burton, Nigel Foster
Lately it seems as if standup paddling is everywhere you look. The movie stars are doing it, your river buddy just bought one, and the crossover sport utilizing bulbous surfboards and elongated single-blade paddles is even showing up in your favorite paddling magazine. But in case you missed it, let us be the first to remind you that paddlers have been standing on their chosen craft for years. Here’s a look at three athletes who’ve left their mark on the standup game, helping to broaden the appeal of ‘SUP’ without even really trying. - Kurt Mullen
Invention often comes from humble beginnings. Whitewater innovator Jeff Snyder (above, right) created striding-standing in an inflatable kayak-after watching a Mayan woman paddle a dugout canoe standing up. It was 1993 and he was with his older brother, Jim, in Mexico. A camera crew was filming them for an ESPN program called Rivers of the Maya when Snyder hurt his back on a 40-foot waterfall on the Agua Azul. His trip was over.
When he returned home, Snyder, 48, added elements from snowboarding to develop the striding technique to absorb the river with his legs instead of his back. He stands with one foot in front of the other about 20 inches apart. AIRE customized a Force XL for him, with cargo loops on each side of the boat. For leverage he wears shin guards and presses his shins against the thwarts.
He made his first striding paddle by gluing blades onto a vaulting pole. Then his brother Jim made him a 10-foot paddle from wood composite. He started running waterfalls on his feet, and Class V on the Gauley in West Virginia, the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy in Kentucky, and the Moose River in New York.
Snyder doesn’t run class V anymore because of a bum shoulder, which has been surgically repaired twice. And striding makes Class II and III more fun anyway he says. That’s why he’s not surprised by the SUP movement: “The amount of fun I’ve had in the 15-plus years I’ve been doing it, it’s hard to understand why it took so long to come to this.”
Fletcher Burton grew up surfing and kayaking in Pismo Beach, California. This remote enclave two hours north of Los Angeles is hardly considered a paddling hotbed, but Burton, 31, has developed arguably the most dynamic technique in the fusion of paddling and surfing.
When he paddles into a wave he’s seated on a waveski-a high-performance, sit-on-top surfboard. After planing on the wave, he pops to his feet using a quick paddle brace-inserting his front foot into a custom strap-to shred the face like a surfer, smacking the lip and tucking into the occasional barrel, riding the figurative seam between his two great loves: kayaking and surfing (Unfortunately, international waveski officials have made it illegal to stand in competion).
“You [always] had to make a decision before you went out: surfboard or kayak,” Burton says. “And I didn’t want to.” The waveski was natural for him. Then he saw Jeff Snyder in a Scott Lindgren whitewater film, whose striding inspired Burton to stand on his waveski.
When asked what he calls his technique, Burton likes to pay homage to Snyder. “I call it stride-surfing,” he says.
On a lake at in North Wales in 1977, Nigel Foster watched in disbelief as a friend stood up and paddled his kayak. Foster had never thought of standing on his boat. But to see his friend slide out of it and stand up, Foster says, “made me think, ‘Okay, it’s my boat. I’ve got to be able to do this.’”
Foster recalls a lot of wet sessions before he figured it out. To pop up, Foster sits on the kayak’s back deck and takes to his feet by sculling the blade back and forth across the water. He then uses the blade of one end of the paddle for propulsion once he’s up. Usually, he’s standing with his feet parallel on the seat. You can hop up in your boat without doing that. But if you have waves and wind, chances are you’re going to fall in.”
Foster likes to teach standup to his students because it helps them find the balance points in their boats. And when he’s coming into shore, he can jump off and grab his boat before it crunches sand and rock. “It’s that little touch that gives you extra input on balance,” he says. “[And] it’s exhilarating if you let your body be the sail and you can feel the wind pushing you along.”