Paddling further, hiking higher seem like natural drivers and motivation behind the SUP and fitness challenges the Starboard Ambassador, Stacey Smithson-Grey, embarks on. Amidst the global COVID-19 crisis and SUP and surf life under lockdown, TotalSUP caught up with this inspirational endurance paddler, community builder and wellbeing advocate for land-based SUP exercise tips and to instil some positivity in these challenging times.
Hi Stacey! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, how did your stand up paddleboarding adventure start?
Hi! December 2010 was when paddling, the sitting down kind, first caught my attention. I had moved to Belize with my husband in the October, a posting with the British Army – it was work for him and holiday for me, and was asked if I fancied taking part in the La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge, “a gruelling multi-day canoe race travelling a perilous river route across the country of Belize. The route runs West to East along the Macal and Belize Rivers, once the only link between beautiful San Ignacio, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, and the bustling port of Belize City.”
So with twelve weeks notice my training began with the other British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) teams and paddlers for 170 miles of Rapids Rocks and Crocs. Oh, and on a SUP related note – Shane Perrin completed the Challenge on a SUP in 2012.
My first experience on a stand up paddleboard was in November 2011 when we met Victor Myers out on Glovers Island of Slickrock Adventures. I had always wanted to surf and never really had the opportunity, so to be standing on a board in the Caribbean Sea just blew me away. I didn’t need waves just the saltwater and the feeling of the board under my feet, HOOKED from day one.
Some may say luck, I say fate that I landed back in the UK just a day before the 2012 National Windsurfing Festival and it just so happened the festival had some SUP action going on, so I thought I’d go check it out. It is where I saw my first SUP race and thought; maybe I could give that a go. Walking around the stands and talking to a few people I knew I would have to find somewhere to SUP in the Midlands, yes that’s right, we had been posted to the middle of the country – Nottingham to be exact. Fortunately, we found stand-up paddleboarding in the Midlands – Central SUP and in October when my husband returned to the UK we went straight over to meet Chris Kenyon and Scott Warren to complete our ASI 1 & 2 awards. The guys were great, super stoked about the sport and the club scene that was happening in the UK, and we signed up on the spot.
Spring 2012 rolled around and consistently paddling weekly and paddling with so many other stoked people at Central SUP. It was easy to become addicted and want to learn more and paddle more. So when the opportunity came up in May to do my ASI Instructors Qualification with Steve West, who was I to turn it down? So with all this new information and technique, it was time to look at the Race Scene outside the Club where I had done a few 2km races in their Winter Series – for those of you who knew me back then you will remember my wellies. I got myself signed up to Battle of the Thames organised by Blue Chip – a 10 mile race – Yes, from 2km to 10mile, I do like a challenge and it was definitely that. Three laps with some nice headwind thrown in for fun. I also crossed the finish line with Ryan James – he was finishing and I still had one lap to go.
I didn’t stick at racing for long, but it did let me meet some amazing people who introduced me to some other awesome opportunities and paddling experiences and inspired me to paddle further this is where my love of endurance and touring came about, both for my own pleasure and to raise money for charity.
As I mentioned previously, I found a great Club in Central SUP and the guys agreed to support me when I approached them about setting up a sister Club in Nottingham. At the time I worked at the National Water Sports Centre right next to the River Trent, it was fate really. The Club was formed late spring 2013, giving me the opportunity to put my instructing skills to the test and introduce many others to the world of SUP – the best part of instructing was and still is seeing the smile on someone’s face when they stood up for the first time. The club ran for two summers before a change in work meant I could no longer commit to regular sessions so Social Sup was born. The purpose of Social Sup was to let others who had their own equipment know when and where I was paddling and if they fancied joining me they could. This led to exploring more waterways and getting about the UK more to meet up with other paddlers.
Fast forward to my most recent adventure: I moved to just outside of Monmouthshire at the end of 2018, within metres of the River Wye a well-known Canoeing River. To the excitement of regular Social SUP’er Jonny Hebert as his favourite river and knowing I liked a bit of a challenge suggested we look at the WYE 100, a 100-mile canoe trail normally covered in 4 days. Of course, I agreed and the #Wye100Adventure came about along with #PaddleandPitch. Fourteen paddlers and four days of SUPing and camping along the beautiful River in unbelievable unheard of UK bank holiday sunshine – makes this type of paddling addictive. I have since ran a shorter two-day Paddle and Pitch and will be looking to run more once the current climate settles down.
We’re all navigating unchartered waters amidst the global coronavirus crisis. What are, in your opinion the biggest challenges the SUP community is facing at the moment?
Interaction on the water, SUPing is a friendly community, and social paddling makes up a large part of that due to its accessibility, even the race scene is super social, you just have to look at the numbers attending the UK series, not just the top end racers but the recreational paddlers a lot will be there for the social aspect over the racing.
Could you tell us about your most recent #walkandtalk initiative for the Mind charity as part of The Ultra Challenge?
I like a challenge and even more so if it means I can raise some money for Charity. For 2020 I decided I wanted to raise funds for MIND. So I thought why do 1 x 100km Ultra Challenge when you can do 9 x 100km Ultra Challenges. On a personal level and professional level, I had three suicides last year to process, try to understand, and many more attempts I am aware of. Mental Health is a ‘silent killer’, and we need to help find ways to intervene before suicide even becomes an option.
I have chosen hiking for my challenges as it can be used as a platform for people to #walkandtalk, I love that walking is a free exercise. There’s so much research about how getting outdoors and simply walking is great for both your physical and mental health. My goal is to encourage people to get outdoors for a walk, even a short one.
Due to my location, I have managed to combine my paddling with my hiking through #PaddleandPlod. I am able to set off from Symonds Yat and paddle 16km home, drop my kit off and plod (hike) back to get my car making use of the Offas Dyke Path and the River path. These events are opened up to other paddlers to join me too. I had to cancel a few due to recent flooding and put others on hold due to the current restrictions. We all have to do our part to stop the spread, so I have chosen to not paddle for now, on the water anyway.
What drives you, and how do you stay motivated to keep training in these challenging times?
Knowing that the challenges will still go ahead one way or another and that what I am doing is helping others. I enjoy taking others out on both walk and paddle adventures and hearing them open up, talking really is good for us.
You’re a big advocate of distance and endurance paddling. What are your top tips for preparing for a long-distance challenge?
Regular activity on and off the water, but there is definitely nothing better than paddling to improve your paddling. As the paddles I do aren’t races, there is no time pressure to finish, and I always factor in extra time when planning events, it’s about enjoying the experience, sometimes we just float and if we finish earlier than planned, it’s a bonus.
Could you share some…
Land-based exercise tips that benefit paddling…
Paddling is a full-body workout and it’s important to remember this, so you don’t just focus on the upper body – your legs need work too, after all they are your base of support. There is no need to get fancy either but fancy can be fun, basic exercises are great and all these can be completed holding a paddle if you need your fix – just slow down the reps, time under tension to create resistance training effects, if you have a resistance band they can be adapted to use that as well.
1. LOCKDOWN SUP
10, 8, 6, 4, 2 then reverse
2. LOCKDOWN SUP
10 Lunges (Each leg)
10 Bicep Curl
10 Pull Overs
3. LOCKDOWN SUP
10 Front Raises
10 Shoulder Press
10 Lateral Raises
10 Upright Row
10 Single Arm Pull Outs
10 Bent Over Row
Mental strategy ideas…
As the paddles I plan are more casual these days, mental strategies are not necessarily needed. However, with the 9 x 100km hikes planned, these will be tough mentally. The plan for these is to break the events down into 25km sections, from experience it’s the night section that is the toughest so I will be saving the music for the 50 – 75km point and then look forward to the sunrise to energise me for the last 25km.
Hydration is key and is easy to grab snacks that fit in your buoyancy aid. Let’s not forget cake.
Could you tell us more about your relationship with Starboard?
I am a Starboard UK ambassador, my relationship with them began when I was racing but is more related to my social paddling, it’s about getting more people out and enjoying what SUP has to offer, paddling advise and sharing my activities via social media.
What’s your Starboard board of choice?
What are your SUP plans and new ventures for the coming months?
Land SUP training until I can get back on the water. Once we are able to get out and about again, it will be to get Paddle and Plods and Paddle and Pitch, back on the Social SUP events calendar and plan for a Scotland adventure.
Thank you Stacey and good luck with your challenges!
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