2 years ago, riders Shelby Taylor and Bicho Jimenez started a SUP association in Sayulita, Mexico. The idea was to allow children of all backgrounds to discover stand-up paddle and to help them gain a sense of commitment, accountability, respect, and sustainability. Today, the Sayulita Jr SUP Team has a new objective: taking its elite team to compete in the PPG.
Hello Shelby, you are the founder of Sayulita Jr SUP Team. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your association?
Sayulita Jr. SUP Team was started in March 2015 by Shelby Taylor and her husband Bicho Jimenez, following the ISA World SUP Championships that were held in our small town, where Bicho won a silver medal for Mexico.
The enthusiasm generated by watching the world’s best stand-up paddle competitors reached fever pitch among our local youth and we felt it would be great to harness that energy.
The idea was to share our skills in the discipline with the local kids, who were eager to learn a new sport. We saw it as a great opportunity to give them a productive activity to take part in after school, and the chance to mentor the youth in their daily life. Through SUP kids can grow stronger, healthier and be more prepared for a successful future.
We focus on teaching them our 5 core principles: education, commitment, accountability, respect, and sustainability. We started out with a group of seven kids who had a certain number of behavioural issues. This really took off and we now work with over 65 local kids. Our team is very diverse, both economically and socially, with kids from 6 countries aged between 6 and 17.
How do you organize the training sessions?
Trainings take place Monday to Friday. We have broken the team down into groups based on age and skill level. Each mini-team trains 3 days a week after school. Two days on the water paddling, and one day a week on land training in the beach boot-camp.
We focus on taking the kids from the beginners’ level and teaching them all the basic skills and racing techniques so they can move on to the intermediate level. Afterwards, new local kids can fill the entry level classes again. The elite group is undergoing a JR PRO program that focuses on advanced skills and longer distances.
How many kids are training with you?
As of now, we have a roster of about 65 kids.
How is Sayulita Jr SUP Team funded?
It is a community-based program, meaning we operate based on donations and fundraising. The uniforms that are given to the kids are sponsored. We designed the boards ourselves and they are available for all the kids. We started a fundraising campaign in town and online, as well as taking out a personal loan.
That made ordering a 20-board custom youth race order possible. All the boards are the same, which allows each child to be on the same level. This also means that all kids, no matter what their socio-economic background, have the possibility of training on high-quality equipment.
You created the association 2 years ago, how has it evolved since then?
The program has become something very competitive in comparison with the after-school club vibe it had at the beginning. We accredit this to the bi-monthly local competitions we hold with help from our local sponsors (Wakika Icecream, Yah-Yah cafe, Revolucion del Sueno), who provide food and prizes at each event.
The kids being able to race and see their hard work put to the test alongside their teammates has been something wonderful to behold. After racing, the kids’ mentality changed a great deal. They have really developed a sense of “wanting to be faster for the next race”, so we as coaches have been able to kick the program up a notch and raise the bar each time.
They’re constantly outdoing themselves. We now want to raise this bar even higher by taking them international and watching them shine in a competitive environment that they have yet to experience.
You plan to take your “Elite Team” to California for the Pacific Paddle Games. Is this a new step in the association’s future development?
Bicho and myself both attribute our life-changing experience as budding SUP athletes to our participation in what was previously known as the Battle of the Paddle, which is now the PPG. There is something magical about being in such a massive display of SUP racing.
The opportunity to race alongside the best athletes in the world, see all the brands that are the backbone of the SUP industry, meet friends from around the globe and feel that level of pressure and excitement. All these things make our hours of training and hard work worthwhile and it spurs us to go one step further.
This is the experience we want to give the kids on the JR SUP Team. The kids have worked so hard and they have such passion for the sport. If our team never came to be, they may never have had the opportunity to travel and participate in a world class event such as the PPG.
We plan to take our Elite team to participate in the PPG in late September, and we know that it will change these kids’ lives forever. It will also change our program forever. In the long term, we plan to make this trip to California with the team every fall. The idea is to push all of our youth to do their very best, to motivate them in school, and to maintain a healthy level of competition, as each one will be fighting for their spot on the “travel squad”.
Since this is a community-based program, our budget is based solely on donations and fundraising efforts locally and internationally. We have support from our local sponsors and some families on the team, but a trip of this kinds involves a lot of expense (as any SUP athlete knows).
Many kids are applying for their first visas. Beyond this, there are flights, equipment, transportation, accommodation, PPG entry fees, food and a host of other associated costs. We now need the support of people, however big or small this support may be, to help make this possible.
We are working tirelessly on the home front to fundraise, train and prepare to perform at a level that will make Mexico proud. We have started a GoFundMe page on which we will be posting updates as we get ready for our first international adventure. Each kid will be affected personally by each donation.
You can make a donation to help Sayulita JR SUP Team to go to the PPG on: GoFoundMe