North America Starboard Team Rider, Tim Oliver, has been leading the charge on the fast-growing Canadian SUP racing scene and he’s now ready to take on the upcoming APP World Tour stops (watch out London!) and then more. A full-time firefighter and father of two girls, Tim has just punched his ticket to represent Canada at the 2022 ISA World Stand-Up Paddleboard Championship in San Juan, Puerto Rico this Fall. TotalSUP caught up with this super driven athlete to chat about “elevating our niche sport”, constantly learning and progressing skills and what it takes to crush that next SUP competition.
Hi Tim, welcome to TotalSUP and congrats on your qualification for the ISA SUP World Champs and representing Canada! How did you get into the sport of stand-up paddleboarding?
Thanks so much for having me on TotalSUP! My family and I live in a town north of Toronto, Canada called Collingwood. It’s situated on Georgian Bay (a large bay on Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes). I came from a cycling and mountain bike background and enjoyed a fairly long race career before getting out of the competitive side of riding.
I started out on an inexpensive recreational surf SUP and found that I could catch waves on Georgian Bay out in front of my house when the wind was up. I was hooked after the first session but quickly figured out that the board was not good on flat days when there were no waves. After some research, I learned about the SUP race scene and realized that a race style board would be much better suited to going fast and building fitness.
I got my first race board and started training on flat water and in downwind when the conditions allowed. The following year after trying a few races, I sought out a more cutting-edge board and ended up on a Starboard Allstar! This was when my first daughter Ainsley was born and heading out on the water was an awesome way to get a workout in and not be away from the house for too long! I have been paddling ever since focusing on racing and SUP surfing.
Photo by: Warren Won
What’s your local SUP scene like?
Like I mentioned, I am lucky enough to live right on the shores of Georgian Bay, part of Lake Huron in the great lakes chain. We get some amazing conditions considering it is fresh water! Some days can be glass flat but with good NW winds, we get pretty good surf and quite awesome downwind conditions.
I have a solid crew of local SUP surfers that get after it when the waves come up. My race training is split between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario (another of the great lakes). My training partner and Coach Larry Cain lives close to the water on Lake Ontario so we spend lots of mornings grinding out epic sessions and pushing each other.
It’s always easier to push hard with someone else out on the water with you so I am grateful that he and the rest of the Lake Ontario crew are always up to train. On the racing side of things, there is a great local series the “Ontario SUP Series” that is run and organized by some Canadian Sales reps in the industry and they put on amazing races and spread the stoke for the sport. We usually have five or six events through the Summer that have served as great training and prep for some of the bigger races I attend.
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What’s your most epic SUP racing event to date?
I feel like there have been a few great events I have been able to attend in my short career but some of the highlights this year have been, the Carolina Cup, the APP World Tour stop in Santa Monica and most recently the Gorge Challenge in Hood River. I think Carolina always offers up a tough challenge with the different conditions and demands it puts on the competitors. The Gorge Challenge was pretty awesome too this year… it was my first visit to Hood River and I was baptized with some sick wind and some pretty big drops! I am still learning at every international event I attend and I feel so stoked to be able to experience some of these races.
Are you planning any more APP World Tour stops? Heading to London by any chance?
My current plan is to head for the APP London SUP Open after the ICF World Championships in Poland and then to attend the Paris and Alicante rounds of the APP.
I have the goal of solidifying myself as one of the world’s top paddlers and the APP represents a great opportunity to line up against a bunch of great athletes. Santa Monica was my first APP event and it was awesome. I was able to take my family with me to that race and they had a great time hanging out at the pier and playing at the beach. Both my daughters wanted to move to California after the trip!
Could you tell us more about your collaboration with Starboard?
My journey with Starboard began with me as a retail customer. As I had mentioned earlier, after I had gotten into the paddling and figured out that a race board was what I needed, I scoured the Internet and read up on all of the boards at the time and looked to see what the top guys were paddling… Starboard was clearly the board of choice for the world’s best and that’s what I ended up buying. After that first year on Starboard, I got noticed by the Canadian sales rep (and now my good friend) Glen Buchanan. He helped me get onto the National Team program in Canada and I have been on Starboard ever since.
Photo by: Warren Won
Over the past few years I have been continuously amazed at how the brand keeps making the boards we race faster. I don’t think that there is any other race board brand out there that puts in as much R&D as Starboard and it shows in the product. I have heard stories from guys like Connor Baxter and Boothy about the owner of Starboard, Svein Rasmussen…. They say that he is right in the trenches with them, cutting up boards and putting the long hours developing the designs along with all of the product team. That is the kind of leadership that drives innovation and I am super psyched to paddle Starboard. My goal for the future is to become a member of the “Dream Team” alongside a bunch of the folks I have idolized in the SUP world.
What’s your Starboard set up?
My quiver this year for racing has been, 2022 Allstar 14 x 23, 2022 Sprint 14 x 20.75 and a 2021 Sprint 14 x 19.75. At the ICF Worlds coming up I will be on an Allstar 21.75 which is the board I am really stoked about because it is the best of both worlds being amazing in waves and chop and still being super fast in flat water! For surfing I have a Starboard Longboard 10 x 31 and a Pro 8.0…. We need a bit of extra volume surfing the wind-swept fresh water!
Photo by: Warren Won
How are you preparing for SUP competitions?
As I have mentioned, I’m coached by Larry Cain. He is a multi-time Olympic medal winner in Sprint Canoe and really understands all aspects of paddle sports. We work together to build my program and try to include lots of time on the water focusing on technique, skills and of course going full gas.
Coming from a cycling background I still find it beneficial to do some cross training on the bike for base fitness and accumulating mileage that is not too hard on the body. I think for me it’s important to keep in mind that I should not pull hard every day on the water. The athletics world is just starting to really understand the importance of recovery and I am trying to educate myself and learn as much as I can about what works for me.
A big aspect of preparation for me at this stage is getting out to as many international races as I can. Each time I travel to race I get more comfortable with the situation and I am a bit less star struck being surrounded by the heavy hitters of the sport. Still lots to learn!
Photo by: Warren Won
What are the highlights and the challenges of the sport?
I think the sport has so many things to offer, but for me, being out on the water and getting the opportunity to live a little part of the waterman/woman lifestyle despite being in land of the Ocean is what it is all about.
There are so many aspects to SUP including technique, different water conditions, downwinding, riding waves, balance and board skills, not to mention fitness. There are areas to improve on every time I hit the water and not too many sports provide all these opportunities for growth and fun.
As far as challenges go, SUP racing faces some unique obstacles in its own way. The biggest by far is board logistics, at least from my perspective. 14 ft boards are pretty hard to travel with and finding solutions to have the fastest equipment at the start line can be interesting.
I believe another area of SUP that is challenging from a racing perspective is the governance of the sport. There has been lots of discussion about this topic out there and I am by no means an expert on the subject but I think that if there was a bit more harmonious relationship between all stakeholders in the game, we could progress the race scene and bring it to a new level.
How do you think the sport of stand-up paddle boarding will grow?
If we really want to see growth in the sport, looking at some of the past SUP history is important. I have probably watched the Pacific Paddle Games 2018 race on YouTube about twenty times and I think bringing back some of the spectator friendly events like that would be amazing. If we want to see SUP get to a larger mass audience as a pro sport, producing a really professional product for media consumption is where it’s at.
The WSL has demonstrated this on the surfing side with what they put out at events and continue to lead the way. Another great example of elevating and popularizing a niche sport is what Redbull has done with its coverage of cross-country Mountain bike racing. They have taken a product that was not actually that exciting to watch and changed it by combining great commentary and really good video coverage on a shorter loop with multiple laps. I feel that if we started to take this approach with SUP races, it would draw in more spectators and would encourage people to check out the spectacle.
What’s in the pipeline?
As far as what’s next for me, I want to finish off the 2022 season strong with some good showings at the remaining APP stops, ICF and ISA Worlds. The goals for 2023 are to get onto the Starboard “Dream Team”, hit the major races in North America like Carolina and the Gorge and if it runs again, the Molokai to Oahu. From there I hope to make a run at the World Championships and any other high-profile races that come up on the calendar.
Thank you for your time Tim and good luck with the upcoming competitions! We’re looking forward to seeing you in Gdynia and London!
To find out more about Starboard innovation and check out the 2022 board range, visit www.sup.star-board.com
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*All images courtesy of Tim Oliver