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Fighting the elements – group stand up paddleboarding

The unique water sport, SUP conquered Balaton in the past few years. What makes stand up paddling so big? We wanted to try it, so we dived in and applied for SUP Center Tihany’s Red Dragon group competition. Spoiler: we did not get away dry from it.

What is SUP?

SUP, aka stand up paddling exploded like a bomb in Hungary a few years ago. With the spreading of inflatable yet stable boards more and more people can enjoy this sport, which doesn’t require any pre-qualifications or license; you only need a sense of balance and some endurance to do it. SUP is about standing on a large board and then using a long oar to move. It moves every part of our bodies as the torso participates in rowing, while the lower body helps us to balance. To glide on the smooth water in the windless weather is like meditating, but we can also be parts of an exciting fight if the weather is windy. An hour of fumbling and splashing into water at SUP is a joy, but don’t be surprised if you’ll be too sore to leave the bed the next day.

It sparked attention

Balaton’s oldest surfing and sailing school is Sail and Surf in Tihany, which has been managed by Hetti and Andreas since 1988 – they would like to show that the beach is for more than just sunbathing and paddle boating. They acted quickly when SUP became a thing: they expanded their water sports basis with stand up paddling in 2011. They’re called SUP Center Balaton since then. They still have sailboats and surf boards, but we can also buy or rent SUP-boards of various sizes here. We can also choose from among the numerous programs they have, all of them are trying to turn this originally lonely sport into a community experience. They have SUP-yoga, SUP-tours around Tihany Peninsula, and this year they even organized the RED Dragon Stand Up Paddle tournament, that sparked attention among fans of water sports. Red Dragon boards are unique: as it’s 22 feet long it can fit four people. Standing up. At once. This combination is located on the other end of the SUP spectrum that ranges from meditation to water-fight.

The competition is simple: two teams compete on two boards. The organizers make an “up-and-down” track which means that the start line is perpendicular to the direction of the wind and the waves. You have to paddle in the direction of the wind for about 30 meters, then turn around a buoy, and paddle back to the start, now finish line. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

Those who already tried SUP know that it takes a little time to find balance in the beginning – now multiply this by four, as we’re using a board that's much longer, yet similarly narrow. To ensure proper progress and stability, all four of you have to paddle in the same pace, so first you’ll have to find the common rhythm, and that takes time. Plus, it’s not easy to turn with such a large board: there are multiple methods – paddling forwards, backwards, holding the oar – but they all require harmony. It’s definitely a lot funnier to fall into the water together than it is alone, so even practicing feels like team building.

We participated in one of the tournament’s rounds on June 4. Our team consisted of two girls and two boys who are all familiar with surfing and water sports, and, spoiler alert: we didn’t stay dry.

Four on a mega-board

The weather was perfect on the morning we arrived to Club Tihany: sunshine, warmth, almost no wind. We immediately jumped on the unrealistically large-looking board, and we went for a test-ride, which went quite well. We found our rhythm, we managed to turn, and we only fell once, and that was on purpose, because it was just too hot. It was calm when we were getting ready for the competition, but then the wind suddenly arrived from the south. Since SUP Center is on the north shore, the south wind can cause the largest waves around here. We had an hour and a half left until the races, and the waves kept growing, so we decided to do another test round. That one definitely didn’t go as smoothly as the other. We had to break through the waves with our oars, while on the way back we had to ride on them, thus our fight with the elements became rather dramatic.

Five teams were competing that day, and two raced at the same time. The organizers made an easy “up-and-down” track for us: the start line was perpendicular to the waves; we had to paddle for about 30 meters, then turn around a buoy, and paddle back to the start, now finish line. Due to the harsh circumstances, the organizers made it a bit easier by letting two people of each team kneel all along – this, in theory, is only allowed during turning.

We Love Balaton’s team participated in three races: we admit, we were defeated very badly in the first round. As an excuse, we could say that the thighs of the girls in our mixed team were about as thick as the lower arms of the guys in the other, all-male team, plus they are professional SUP-pers, but still, we were defeated.

We were better in the second race: we won with a coordinated team work and a fast turn, but the third race was the most exciting one. Our board and the other team’s touched three times: we couldn’t pass them on the way up, but they miscalculated their turn at the buoy, and so we managed to get in front of them. Then we just had to keep our advantage, and although they got close by the end, we won. We ended up being seconf, and was only beaten by the professional team.

SUP Center’s video perfectly shows how dramatic the situation was.

By the way, the competition series was a special event: those who participated in any of the races, could qualify themselves for the RED Dragon world cup which will be held in Barbados this October. We already received an invitation to this prestigious international event via e-mail – we have yet to decide if we will compete.

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