English SUP champion Ollie Shilston visited Los Angeles this past week on a whistle stop tour to the Southland. Ollie was in town to pick up two new custom 12’6” SUP race boards from renowned local shaper Joe Bark. While here he embraced the hospitality of the Pro SUP Shop in Marina del Rey where he enjoyed some time on the water testing his new equipment and even managed to squeeze in a race against local paddlers. “It was a privilege to see him paddle and witness the speed and efficiency of his stroke,” said Mace Camhe, an experienced local paddler who competed against Ollie last Friday night at the monthly Sundowner Race in Marina del Rey hosted by the Pro SUP Shop and Del Rey Yacht Club.
Although he has only been active with SUP for a year and a half, the 30 year old Shilston is a lifelong competitor who garnered the attention of Surftech, a prominent California SUP and surf company. Back home in Cornwall, Ollie works full time as an ocean lifeguard with Britain’s elite Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). He was previously a competitive distance runner and first picked up SUP surfing as a means to spend additional time on the water. Ollie represented Britain this past year at the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Stand Up Paddle and Paddleboard Championship in Peru where he placed 12th in the distance race and 5th on the technical course. The latter discipline is similar to a Battle of the Paddle style race where competitors paddle multiple laps around a course which requires them to repeatedly enter and exit the surf zone and complete a short beach run between successive laps. Ollie has been selected to Britain’s National Team again for 2014 and is looking forward to competing at the ISA championships in Nicaragua this coming May.
In contrast to SUP racing in Southern California, Ollie said the majority of English SUP races take place on rivers. This is driven in part by the large sections of isolated and dangerous coastline – particularly in Cornwall, the home of big wave surfing in the UK. Holding events on inland rivers also allows for greater participation by precluding the necessity for competitors to travel to the coast. Another notable distinction is the widespread popularity of the 12’6” class over the prevailing 14’ class SUP here in the U.S. Ollie attributed this to the English SUP racing scene’s embrace of the Survivor format developed by well known Australian waterman Jamie Mitchell.
Ollie spoke of the level of competition at the large international SUP events and said several of the young athletes [such as Kai Lenny and Connor Baxter] are really “raising the bar by becoming all around watermen who do everything in the water”. Summers are the peak season for Ollie in his career with the RNLI and do not allow for extensive international travel. Even so, he would like to take part in one or two of the SUP World Series events in the United States and hopefully make his first visit to the infamous Battle of the Paddle at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point this coming year.