Erik Antonson might be the best spokesperson for SUP surfing you’ll find. It’s a claim rooted in the irony of his love for it. “I am the shortboard guy who hated the sport,” he says. “I get that angle, but just like in sales, you can make a new decision with new information.”
For the expat surfer who lives and raises his family in Costa Rica, that new information came while surfing with his friend, three time ASP Longboard World Champion Colin McPhillips.”I didn’t understand what’s possible on a stand up paddle board until I saw Collin surf one in Costa Rica. When I saw him surfing a stand up better than anyone was surfing shortboards and having more fun, it really made me question my beliefs.”
And we can all relate to what those beliefs probably were; a mix of frustration and resentment toward the stereotypical old guy paddling out the back, snagging any and every gem that comes through long before you even knew a set was coming. So since that afternoon of watching McPhillips do his dance on a SUP, Antonson’s love for SUP surfing has grown and grown. He started getting barreled with a paddle in his hands as much as he did with a shortboard under his feet, he started getting familiar with athletes like Mo Freitas and Caio Vaz, watching them raise the bar for the sport and even started the Paddlewoo podcast, dedicated to exploring who was performing at the highest levels of paddle enhanced surfing as much as how they’re doing it. Then in 2015 he rounded up a handful of the best SUP surfers in the world at Blue Zone SUP, a Costa Rica Paddle Surfing Retreat, invited filmmakers Jason Maughan and Chandler Williams to join and did just what Erik does when he has guests in his Costa Rican home: he drove them anywhere and everywhere looking for waves while the camera rolled.
The film features World Champion Caio Vaz, who also happens to be a Wave of the Winter nominee for a freight train of a barrel he just raced at Desert Point. On that alone you can rest the argument this is anything but a bunch of weekend warriors pulling SUPs off their Range Rover in Malibu. These are incredibly talented surfers who just so happen to push their own boundaries on boards with much, much more foam in them.
The rest of the lineup wasn’t very shabby either. Maui’s Zane Schweitzer earned the title of world’s best all around waterman earlier this year, ISA Gold Medalist Sean Poynter, Brazilian Nation Champ Ian Vaz, surfing prodigies Fisher Grant and Giorgio Gomez, North Shore Waterman Noa Ginella and racing phenom Kieran Grant are the other eight surfers featured in The Progression Project. It’s a film Antonson justifiably believes can give the rest of the surfing population that bit of “new information” that flipped his own perspective so quickly.
The film has made its first premiers in the States along the East Coast and is arriving on the West Coast now as the SUP world comes to Orange County this month for the Pacific Paddle Games. While its main focus is on the performance aspect of the sport, Antonson says some of the athletes make a point to chime in on the responsibility SUP surfers have to surf with etiquette, not avoiding the sentiment many surfers have toward those who can run back out to the peak for each set wave. They encourage people to remember there are always others waiting for waves. The benefit of it all? “I think a lot of people will have a lot more fun. A lot of frustrated surfers out there are groveling on small days or not finding themselves in the right position – that can be remedied with a stand up. As a surfer I see stand up as an extension of surfing.”
After all, the whole point is to have fun, isn’t it? Riding a wave is amazing, whether on a McDonald’s tray, a hand plane, a shortboard, longboard, kneeboard or yes, a paddle. These guys are just really really good at it.
Editor’s Note: You can learn more about Paddlewoo’s September 29th West Coast/Orange County premier of The Progression Project on Facebook here. You can also sign up for the free download of the film, available soon here.