Peniche, Portugal — This week we talked with João Maya, who is part part of the team behind the Peniche Paddle Series, a series of SUP race and wave events that is fast becoming the most important SUP series in Portugal with some international ambitions. João was the winner of the first Portuguese SUP National event ever and 2013 Portuguese SUP Wave Vice-Champion. He was also the only person to cross (solo) from Farilhões Islands (the group of islands in the Berlengas chain of islands) to mainland Peniche, covering a distance of 23Km. Right now, he’s recovering from a knee surgery and he’s hoping to be back at 100% as soon as possible.
TotalSUP : Hi, João. Welcome to TotalSUP. Tell us a bit more about yourself.
Hi, my name is João Maya, I’m 35 and I was born in Lisbon. I lived a good part of my life in the beautiful village of Santa Cruz, on the west coast of Portugal. About 10 years ago, both my personal and professional life came together and I moved to Peniche, where I had been surfing since I was 10. This way I could do one of the things I loved the most on a daily basis: surfing Supertubos. In 2008 I had my first contact with Stand Up Paddling and since then it’s been an amazing ride.
In 2012 I was invited to be a part of Peniche Surfing Clube and to have an active role in the promotion of our beloved wave riding sports.
What is the Peniche Paddle Series?
The Peniche Paddle Series is a group of several paddling sports related events with the main goal to promote and push the boundaries of what is being done with these sports in Portugal. Some of them have already been around for some time as Kayaking, others (like SUP) are starting to get a lot of attention and others aren’t present yet – which is the case of prone paddleboarding. Our goal is to promote all these sports and bring the Portuguese people back to the ocean. Portugal has an historical connection with the ocean that was lost over time. We believe that by getting people to know and try these sports, as well as surfing, bodyboarding or skimboarding, they will feel a deeper connection with the most amazing thing on Earth: the ocean.
Beautiful Video edit of the 2013 Peniche Paddle Series :
This year, there will be four events taking part of Peniche Paddle Series:
April 12th – Long distance and Sprint races at Atouguia da Baleia Water Dam. This was the first stage of 2014 Portuguese SUP Racing Nationals.
Great video on the 1st leg of the 2014 SUP Peniche :
May 17th – Technical and Sprint Races at the water canal that runs along the city walls (Peniche was a strategic military fortress since the 16th century and the city lies within a fortified city wall). This will be the second stage of the 2014 Portuguese SUP Racing Nationals.
June 21st – Berlenga Ocean Challenge. This crossing starts from S. João Baptista Fortress in Berlenga Island and finishes at the northern end of the Supertubos stretch of sand. This will be the fourth stage of the 2014 Portuguese SUP Racing Nationals, as well as the fifth stage of the 2014 Portuguese Oceanic Canoeing Nationals.
June 22nd – Battle of Peniche and Sprint Races. This will be the first technical surf race to take place here in Portugal.
Along that, the local surf club decided to organize three SUP Wave contests on a local level, but everyone is welcome to join and participate.
If you are not Portuguese but want to join us, you are more than welcome. Just let us know and we promise we’ll do our best to make you feel at home!
When did the peniche Paddle Series start and how has it evolved since?
It all started in 2012. We have good waves in Peniche – really good indeed. We also have some of the first and best SUP riders in Portugal. And there’s also a third factor: the Berlengas Natural Reserve (the Berlengas Islands are classified by Unesco as World Natural Biological Reserve).
At the local surf club we wanted to get Stand Up Paddling rolling and growing so we started with the first Berlengas to Peniche crossing. It’s a grueling challenge that lasts for about 15km. The first year it was not even about the competition, it was more about the challenge, since there had only been three guys doing it on a SUP board before the event. Then, on the same year, we had a SUP Wave contest with about 30 participants.
Since then, it has grown into being a part of the Portuguese SUP Nationals and every year we try to bring something new to the event, either on the course side or on the logistical and safety side. Since its first edition, some international athletes have already accepted the challenge to paddle from Berlengas to the mainland. We’ve had people from Canada, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Italy and from the United Kingdom. We know there are more to come as we already had some people signing up for this year’s edition. There are also some Portuguese athletes who train and bought gear specifically for this event.
In my opinion it’s not really about the race. Everyone should try it at least once to know what the Berlengas Ocean Challenge really is about.
You start 15 km offshore and for the next 15km it’s just you against the ocean… and yourself. We’ve seen it all: competitors smiling, competitors frowning, competitors crying from feeling lonely in the ocean (even if the organizers provide a boat for every 8 paddlers) and we’ve also seen the amazement when the dolphins decide to show up and escort the competitors through their journey. In all its editions there wasn’t a single person giving up on the challenge!
How many participants were there on the last editions?
From 17 paddlers on the first crossing to about 35 paddlers last year. This year we had 24 paddlers on the first race and we are expecting that by the end of this year’s series there had been more than 100 SUP athletes and more than 80 Canoeing athletes participating in our races.
What events from the Peniche Paddle Series would you recommend?
To be honest? All of them. For the fun and progression of the sport.
We are trying to put together all the possible race formats into our events. From sprint to long distance (with the chance of the Berlenga Ocean Challenge to become an epic downwinder), with technical races and technical surf races on the schedule, we have them all covered. We will be starting a youth program as well, with races for kids under 14 years old.
But the icing on the cake is really the Berlenga Ocean Challenge. Because of the challenge, the natural beauty of the scenery, the pain and the fear. It is an oceanic race and you really get to feel how tiny you are in the middle of the ocean. I’ve done this crossing a few times now and it never gets old. Some of our competitors from past editions were kissing the floor as they got to the finish line – that’s how much emotion you get to feel!
On a side note, the Peniche Surfing Clube offers a Mega BBQ to all the participants, their families, friends and whoever wants to stop by to enjoy the show. This happens in all of our events.
What are your the expectations for this year?
Our expectations for the current year are to keep the sport growing and pushing the envelope with our events. We feel that we’re building a solid foundation and that this will take the event into the arena of the renowned international events.
Our goal is to get the feeling at the end of the year that we did a good job promoting the sport and the amazing city of Peniche.
What were your main challenges while preparing the Series?
Obviously the logistics of the Berlengas Ocean Challenge, especially when it comes to the safety of all the participants. We’ve been learning since the first edition and we are trying to create a safety display that will basically be bombproof. The only problem is that people can get very creative and sometimes unexpected things happen. There’s also the financial issue – if every participant had GPS tracking devices, personal floating devices (mandatory for the Berlengas Ocean Challenge) and flares, it would make our life a bit easier, but we’re not in a perfect world and all we can do is impose the use of pfd’s and leashes. We are currently negotiating with the maritime authorities to try to get a set of pyrotechnics to the participants, but it is complicated since there where severe accidents with flares in soccer stadiums in Portugal, and now you need to have a special permit from the police to be able to buy them.
Then, there has to be truth in the sport. We have to make sure that all the results are good, valid.
Right now, we have judges checking the buoy turns and checkpoints, dual timing (two chronometers to make sure times are accurate), photo-finish, a camera in a frontal position to check for possible paddling interferences during the straight line sprints, and since all our event are sanctioned by the FPS (Portuguese Surfing Federation), they are eligible for anti-doping controls.
What does the future hold for the Peniche Paddle Series?
At Peniche Surfing Clube we are a team of volunteers and we share some opinions of where it should be heading to. As I said before, we envision this event to become a major international event where everyone will come and see how beautiful the Berlengas Natural Reserve and the Peniche city are and the amazing conditions we have for water sports.
Who are the Peniche Paddle Series sponsors and biggest supporters?
First of all we have the unconditional support from António José Correia and José António Rodrigues – I take my hat off to these two gentlemen – without them, it would be impossible to make things happen. The entire event is co-organized by the Peniche Surfing Clube and Câmara Municipal de Peniche (the City Hall), being António José Correia the beloved Mayor of Peniche. José Antonio Rodrigues is the man in charge of all the operations on the Peniche Fire Department and also the Peniche Civil Protection and his teams give us all the safety and logistical support we may need.
We also have our longtime friends and sponsors Rip Curl, Ideias Aventuras, SET Wavewear and Águas do Vimeiro. We also have a partnership with Clube Naval de Peniche and Centro de Canoagem do Oeste. We also have been trying to bring some industry players, having already brought Lokahi Portugal for the first event, Starboard and Surftech for the second and we’re about to close an agreement for the last event of the series. I would also like to thanks all the volunteers that work with and finally the competitors who support Peniche Surfing Clube through our affiliation program and put their money in our events. These events are all about the competitors, so we try to keep the fees as low as possible, just to cover the expenses in order to keep people coming. We also have some discount plans in case you are participating in more than one event… and don’t forget the Mega BBQ!
The Peniche region is becoming one of the most well-known places for board sports in the world, what does Peniche has to offer for SUP riders?
In my opinion, Peniche is the best place in Europe for any kind of board sports.
It sits on a peninsula, meaning that no matter what wind or swell direction we have, there will always be a good spot to surf. Then we have the world class wave of Supertubos, which despite not being suited for riders of every skill level, is always a spectacle to watch. We have the smooth waves in the Baleal bay and the epic flatwater spots like the S. Domingos water dam and the water canal by the city walls. Peniche also has the most important fishing harbor in Portugal and the fish here is sublime, which makes it a nice place to visit even if you’re not paddling.
How is the competive scenario in Portugal?
On the SUP Wave scene, we already have a lot of SUP surfers but not a lot of competitors. Last season we had from 20 to 30 competitors on most events.
I think that as SUP stops being seen as uncool by some surfers the numbers will obviously increase. On the racing side, it’s still in its early days but a lot of race boards were bought in the last 12 months. There will be events with about 90-100 participants if the location is in one of the big cities and offer easy conditions like a lake or a river, and some other with about 30 people if the conditions are a bit more challenging. I think there should be about 25-30 competitors going for the long run. Everyone is super excited about the sport and in 2014 there will be 12 national events on the racing side and 6 on the wave side.
The city mayor, António José Correia, is one of the biggest sports promoters in the region, will we be able to see him SUP in any of the events?
Our Mayor really supports the local community, not only in what comes to board sports, but in any other sports.
He tries his best at surfing on a regular basis and he’s on a SUP board every time there is an event in Peniche. I think it will be just a matter of time until he joins one of our events as a participant.
Any last message for our readers?
We are all part of a golden moment of our sport. If we are into it, we can help share the beauty of it, if we don’t care, we can be the ones who ruins it. It’s up to us to be polite in and out of the water, spreading and sharing the love for the mother ocean. Keep on paddling.
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