Standing Room Only: Cape Cod’s stand-up paddleboard phenomenon

Even if you didn’t you know them by name, you’ve seen a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) somewhere. Maybe stapped to the roof of an SUV, on a ripple-free cove, or on waves off of the Cape Cod National Seashore. By now, there’s probably a good chance you’ve even tried it yourself.

Simply put, stand-up paddleboarding is a water sport in which the rider stands atop what looks like a double-wide surfboard and shovels a single-blade paddle through the water to propel and turn the board. It’s the middle ground between surfing and kayaking.

This Saturday, August 20, marks the 2011 Cape Cod Bay Challenge, a test of endurance in which a field of experienced SUPers traverse the 34 miles across the bay between Plymouth and Wellfleet. The challenge raises money for Christopher’s Haven at Massachusetts General Hospital. To mark the occasion, Shawn Vecchione, a Cape Cod surfboard shaper and Hawaii transplant who we profiled in our July 2011 issue, shares his thoughts on the SUP phenomenon.

Shawn Vecchione and his daughter, paddling across Salt Pond in Eastham

Stand-up paddleboarding is a pretty funny thing to talk about—I have love and hate for it. Stand-up in Kauai pretty much first started taking off when I was there. I was one of the first guys to make one out there. All of the top shapers there, we all helped each other. Laird Hamilton was the pioneer of it, the one really pursuing it and moving it to a new level. I worked alongside his father Billy, Dick Brewer, and Terry Chung, who were all working on Laird’s boards. And we were all working together with different board designs and dimensions.

I made a few, and there were petitions to get them out of the (surfing) line-ups. Too many older guys that used to get three waves in a surf session were then getting 100 waves in a session because they’re standing up, it’s a lot easier to see (the swells). I was one of the guys putting boards in the water. My friends were trying to get me to sign this petition to keep them off the break. I felt like I would have been a hypocrite if I went and signed it, so I didn’t sign it. And all my friends that signed the petition ended up ordering paddleboards from me three years later. Because they figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

When I moved back to Cape Cod, since I realized summers are really flat, I brought back a paddleboard. And no one even knew what paddleboards were in New England. I sent back (a retail shipment of) 40 SUPs. I had surf shops—surf shops that don’t need to be named—looking at me like I had 20 heads, and they said, “These aren’t going to sell.” As I’m pulling them off the truck at one shop, a guy in the store looks and says, “Dude, stand-up paddleboards? I want one of those, I’ll buy one right now.” I looked and the shop owner, like, “Do you wanna buy one? Because he wants one and I’ll sell it to him.” The shop owner said, “Okay, I’ll buy two.” That’s basically how it started. That 40 went within a week. I ordered another 150 and it took me a summer to get rid of them.

I have cousins that could never stand on a surfboard, but they could get on a SUP and paddle and be out in the ocean, and they’re getting a little bit of the love that I have for the ocean. There are guys that have never surfed before that are surfing on SUPs. Do I want to see them in the line-up when I’m surfing? Not necessarily, but the majority of guys keep their distance. They go to a different peak, and the let the surfers have their own spot.

I think [SUP] is the best thing to get all different variety of people in the water. I’ve sold SUPs to 60-year-old women. I take my daughter, who’s six years old, and we paddle together for miles … It’s not surfing. It definitely has its own identity. It doesn’t need to be used in the surf. It’s even better when it’s beautiful out and you go on a lake and paddle around and sightsee. There’s a broader appeal because there’s always a body of water without wind on it where you can go and have a good time.

When I first moved back to Cape Cod, I was always on an SUP because we didn’t always have waves and it was something that would keep me in the water. I was used to surfing every day while I was living in Hawaii. When I moved back here, it kept me in the water every day.

I’ve been a part of the Cape Cod Bay Challenge for the last three years—I help sponsor it and raise money for Christopher’s Haven at Mass General. The first year was my first year back from Hawaii and I was paddling all the time. I paddled across the bay and felt great, like I could go back and do it again. The second year I hadn’t paddled as much, but I got across the bay and felt pretty good. The third year, I hadn’t paddled since the last paddle—I’m more of a surfer, and I work, too. I decided to do it anyway. I paddled across the bay, and a month later, I was still sore in my shoulders.


Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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