Athlete, owner of Banh Pho Surfboards and Crispy Noodle, Pioneer
By Thor Emory, owner of Thorfinn Expeditions (www.thorfinnexpeditions.com)
2013 should prove to be big for SUP in New England. It has been catching on the past few years. People are taking to it recreationally; races are popping up/drawing more competitors, and NE paddlers are becoming more involved in general.
New England (and especially Maine..) is however at a corner of the SUP Empire. “Cool stuff” tends to blow our way from the west and can take longer to develop here. There are some pioneers in the New England SUP community, and in a series of interviews we will profile some of these folks and share about the NE scene in general.
First up is the soulful waterman Patrick Broemmel.
Patrick is one of the top racers here in New England, but he is also a true SUP pioneer, and not just locally. Patrick seems to stand up quietly and carry a big paddle but he also has great perspective…and humor. Long before SUP exploded, Patrick was playing around with paddles in the surf which led to touring, downwinders, and racing. His voice is unique in the world of stand up because he has been involved from the beginning, participates in virtually all aspects of the sport, and designs and builds his own custom boards – all the while being a dude from New England (and sometimes Georgia…). His experience offers many valuable lessons for those of us who are seeking to become better and more competitive paddlers. Patrick is a passionate paddler and his views of the sport and what makes a good board all seem dead on.
Homeport: Martha’s Vineyard
What is your background?
I grew up in land locked central California before heading to Santa Barbara, CA as soon as I cleared high school. I moved to the Northeast/Marthas Vineyard in 1993.
I started surfing in 1987, and began shaping surfboards for fun in 1996. My first attempt at SUP was 1996 after seeing the photo of Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton playing around with canoe paddles in the Surfers Journal. I had a tandem board at the time and my wife paddled outrigger so I stole her paddle and went after it.
That was an incredibly humbling experience! So much so that I put the paddle away and never thought about it again until 2002. That year Outside Magazine ran a photo of Laird on the cover surfing with a full-length paddle. I went into my shop and built my first paddle and went back at it.
The next spring I practiced a lot. I remember it being difficult and frustrating. But in December of 2003 I caught my first wave while on a trip to Baja. That was it. I spent the next couple of years scouring the Internet for info, but there was nothing. I went to Surf Expo one year and in the whole place there was one board, a Jeff Timpone and one paddle, the very first Kialoa with the aluminum shaft.
I think at that time there were probably less than 100 people in the world doing SUP, mostly on Maui and a few in California. I did not know of anyone on the East Coast. I paddled alone for a long time out here. It has been very cool to see the whole thing evolve to where it is now.
Why do you SUP?
Coming from a surfing background, it started out as another way to ride waves. But the politics of surfing here on Martha’s Vineyard have just become ridiculous. With the private beach issues and crowds, a lot of the joy I got from surfing had been lost. There is so much drama just getting onto the beach and then when you do get there the crowds are just crazy. That’s where SUP has really saved me.
Now, I just drive to the beach a mile from my house and I can get in a few miles in the ocean. When the wind blows over 20 knots, being on an island, there is always a downwinder to be had and that’s where I get most of my surfing in. Even now with all the popularity, I am alone out there. I have the whole ocean to myself. It’s a great setup here. I can leave a bike at the end of my run, drive to the start and when I am done – I just throw my gear in the bushes and ride my bike or take the bus back to my car.
So in a nutshell? It gives me quality time on the ocean; it keeps me fit and healthy.
Plus its “like,, so cool right now!”
You are one of the top paddlers in the New England Race scene. Why do you like racing? What form of SUP racing do you prefer? What have been some especially rewarding races?
I never did any competitive sports as a kid. I never knew I had it in me. The first race I ever did was the 19-mile Run of the Charles Canoe Race in 2010 in Boston (when they let SUPs come in for the first time). I was hanging around this online forum and someone mentioned this race. I asked if anyone was going for it and only one guy, Mike Nunnery from RI, responded. We met up and there were only two other people there, Mike Simpson and Will Rich (The next year those two paddled from Key West to Maine as SUP the Coast).
We just blew that thing out, none of us had any idea what we were doing but we went really hard, just red lining the whole way – trying to beat each other. I actually shaped my first race board for this race.
I loved it and started looking for races on the East Coast and became hooked. I read about stroke technique and hull design and I would spent hours working on my paddling.
More than anything what draws me to racing are the people. I have met some incredible people the last few years many of whom have become dear friends. After that I would say that it’s the challenge. When you’re racing, it all comes down to the best average speed over the course of the race. It ‘s very cool to be out there as it unfolds. You come off the line and some kid gets the hole shot, jumps out in front and the mind games begin. “Is he going to keep that pace up?”. All this strategy happening, people making moves, just grinding away. It’s the greatest thing ever!
Afterwards you sit back and have beers with everybody and talk about what a great time you had.
Personally, I like the flatwater events. Anything from 5 to 30 miles.
These weren’t races but I did the first SEA Paddle NYC in 2007…25 miles on a Laird 12’1”… Epic… The Cape Cod Bay Challenge. 34 miles across Cape Cod Bay to help kids with cancer. If you live in NE and paddle, you MUST do this.
The Liberty Paddle 2012. 25 miles from Boston to Manchester. Benefits victims of spinal chord injury. There is talk of this one being a race in 2013, escort boats and all. Cross your fingers.
Molokai to Oahu 2010
A life long dream realized. I had always wanted to do that race from the time I read about it in the early 90’s. I just couldn’t imagine doing it prone. When Todd Bradley and Brian Keaulana did for the first time on SUP’s that got the ball rolling in my mind. First time across solo I did it in 6:15. Ground it out the whole way, I caught something like 5 bumps the whole way! Cried my eyes out after I crossed the finish line.
Life changing without a doubt! I’m going back this year.
The Blackburn Challenge 2012
Whoa. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically.
Not so much the course itself , although it is very challenging, but I was paddling against my good friend Will Rich on his home turf. I wore a heart rate monitor that day and I was in the 90% zone for nearly four hours.
Will was in the zone of zones. I would look up and say to myself, “ He’s going to pop, and there is no way he can keep that pace up.” But he did. For nearly four hours he laid down a blistering pace like I have never seen. It was really incredible to witness.
The last leg turns the corner into the harbor with four miles still to go, and at that point he just disappeared, like he had been resting the whole time. Incredible! I think he went on to a wedding or something ridiculous like that afterwards. One of the highlights of my paddling career for sure. I had blisters on all of my fingers the size of grapes, no joke. It took me several months to fully recover from that and I developed a keen awareness of life force or life energy that day and that if you burn too much in one shot, you pay.
How would you describe the New England race scene and where do you see it headed?
I think it is like drag racing was in the 50s and 60s – kind of this age of innocence. Not too many rules, just people getting together to test each other and have a good time. I hope it stays that way. A look back through history will show you how governing bodies and structure tend to take the fun out of things.
That’s one of the reasons I love it so much. It is just fun – plain and simple. I can show up to a race and paddle against the best in the world. How cool is that? Not too many other sports out there like that.
Just 2-years ago we went from 3 races to some crazy number last season. I did 16 events last year all within reasonable driving distance and I missed a few.
Some of these will go away as the popularity of SUP peaks and levels off, but I really hope we have at least a half a dozen races locally for a long time, like the canoe races. Some of them are going on 30-years now. There are people working on a few long distance races up here and I hope they take hold and become fixtures in the race community. It is great returning to an event, year after year, and seeing your friends from all over. It gets you through our tough New England winters.
Also, we are seeing a lot of crossover from other paddling sports, even some former Olympic athletes. As gear gets better people are starting to take SUP more seriously and they are getting hooked. We will definitely see more of that.
I would love to see a multi-day stage race get established in New England as well.
As far as gear is concerned New England is holding its own.
In the race board department we have myself with Banh Pho’ and Bob Blair at Speedboard USA in Newburyport. SUP surfboards you’ve got Vec on the cape and Chino in Boston, Twin Lights Glassing in Gloucester and then there’s Greg Behlman building these amazing custom paddles on the cape .We even have our own social media site dedicated to the northeast board sports culture, Boardliving.com.
You went out for the 2012 Battle of the Paddle. What did you learn from that experience and from the other athletes?
The Boy scouts nailed it with the “Be Prepared” motto. It applies to all areas of life but especially racing.
I went out to California half cocked, no board, hadn’t really trained… I wanted to witness the spectacle. Wow! It is getting serious. There are some phenomenal athletes out there right now!
I learned a few things…
First, Be ready. I borrowed a board for the distance race that I had never been on before and had not been designed for the conditions we experienced. That made for a most unpleasant experience. I was very thankful that I had something to paddle, but next time I will bring an appropriate board that I am familiar with.
Two, Train. From now on, if you want to be competitive in this sport, you must take your training seriously. There are people who SUP for a living and there is no way you will ever compete without a well planned training regimen.
Third, for that particular race, you MUST practice in the surf zone. There’s no way around it.
What are some of your goals for the next few years as a paddler?
I am getting up there in years but I still believe that I can be competitive for more to come. At some point it gets down to numbers, at 50 your not going to go toe to toe with a 20-year old. As the sport evolves and the age groups come into play I would love to be the best in my age group. 50-plus Masters. I would love to one day be the SUP Masters World Champ, why not?
I want to go back to Molokai at least a few more times. Love to make it an annual thing some day – a guy trip kind of thing.
11 Cities race in Holland would be awesome.
How do you train? Any tips?
For a long time it was just about getting in the miles but as the level of competition has grown you have to take training seriously. Right now I’m in an off-season strength building kind of phase. As spring approaches I will get back out on the water more and start doing some speed work, intervals etc.
Cardiovascular training is very important! I have learned through suffering and neglect.
A visible GPS is key. That way you can get real time feedback as you change up your stroke and monitor the effects on your speed.
Work on technique. Dedicate one session a week to just practicing mechanics. It is THE difference. When you start tiring in a race if you can keep your form together your going to do much better.
Study fast people.
Pace yourself through the season. One thing I’ve learned through racing, and aging, is that fitness is a dynamic thing (pretty simple huh?). You can’t be at 100% all the time. Train around a few key events that you want to do well in and try to have your fitness peak at those times. Rest is as important as work.
And the best advice ever (within its simplicity lies an infinite number of nuances and lessons that, like music, I don’t think anyone ever truly masters) – Don’t pull the paddle back towards you, pull yourself forward to the paddle. When I started to really understand that, my paddling evolved to where it is now. Simply the most important aspect of the stroke in my book.
And like most things, its always better to get 10 minutes of quality time in 6 times a week than it is to go blow out an hour once a week. With our winters you hear that a lot. House bound for two weeks then out for a 15 miler…
It’s a good way to injure your connective tissue and then, your out for much longer.
You are spitting out some pretty cool and varied custom designs. What is your philosophy around design and construction? What makes a good design/board? What are your goals for your company?
My philosophy is this, why re-invent the wheel? For a while SUP was going through this phase like windsurfing and kiting did with all these crazy designs. Like space ships. Every company had some Naval Architect optimizing their hulls, reverse rake bows, autoclaved pre-peg craziness. I did it. It’s all part of the evolutionary process and that’s how things move forward, by experimentation. Don’t get me wrong, I am one hundred percent in favor of using computers to aid in the advancement of board design. I use one. But, you have to remember one thing. If you design a board and the computer is telling you that in THEORY it will do 10 knots with minimal effort but there isn’t a human being alive who can stand on it, what’s the point? It’s all about compromise. Balance. Not too much of this, Not too much of that. Efficiency AND functionality.
If you look at the industry right now you will see a trend back towards one particular design, the Bark Dominator/Competitor style shape. Not everyone of course but there are a lot of companies with a similar design in their offerings. Why? Because it works. Because Joe Bark is the man and he put nearly 30 years of paddleboard design and experience behind that shape. When you get right down to it, how can a guy that’s never been on a paddleboard before ever possibly hope to design something that works? How can you design something that you have zero knowledge of? It would like asking a bike designer to design a car.
Do your homework, find out what works, take the functional elements of the design being careful not to blatantly copy someone and add personal attributes that make it your own unique shape. With this approach I can increase my odds of success and keep a bunch of waste out of the landfill while at the same time respecting the identity and hard work of the individuals who I look to for inspiration. From there the shape evolves. That is my approach.
Guys like Joe Bark , Bryan Syzmanski and Mark Raaphorst of SIC have years of trial and error in their boards and decades of design and end use experience . All of them world class paddlers. They have an intimate understanding of what they are building. I like that. Shape it, paddle it, refine as necessary. Their boards are simple in appearance yet state of the art. I think Yvonne Chouinard or somebody said, “ Perfect design is achieved not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away.” Brilliant. A good board is one that excels in the conditions it was designed for. I am playing around with some sandwich layups at the moment. Light weight and strength are the goal. I want my boards to last at least 10 years if not more.
I’d say the big four are:
2. Bottom contours
3. Rail shape
Goals for my company?
Slow growth. I’m on the tortoise program. Just as in racing, the first guy off the line is not always the first to finish. The industry is FLOODED right now. Something like 300 companies. As the dust settles over the next few years I would like to still be here. I really enjoy the process and I truly enjoy watching an idea come to life.
I would like to get to zero landfill status as the waste from this industry is staggering. It’s the one thing that holds me back most days. I don’t think I can keep doing this kind of damage to the environment in the name of fun.
I am keeping it in the U.S.A. Many people think that being profitable in this country is impossible but there are people still making things here.
I have been very fortunate to paddle for Werner the last few years. Last spring I had a chance to visit the “shop” as they call it. I was expecting aerospace clean rooms and million dollar machines but what I found was very human. Lots of wood. Real people building and assembling paddles on very uncomplicated machinery, start to finish. It was a real eye opener for me to see something so refined come from such a place. The factory is in an old saw mill! Good people making it happen, and making a living. That’s what I want for my company.
I will stay a flatwater, more specifically race boards and touring boards, company. Mostly at the higher end of the spectrum as the entry level market is full of imports that I can not compete with cost-wise.
I will stay out of the surfing aspect as well for the same reasons.
What types of designs/boards are you currently working on.
I’m currently working on several things.
Two all conditions shapes – a 12’6” and a 14’. By all conditions I mean BOP style race boards. Good in the flats, good in the chop, and good in the surf.
A flatwater specific shape, 14’-19’. I come from New England and having got my start at the marathon canoe races I will always be trying to find a way to go as fast as humanly possible under my own paddle power where it is just you and the water. That’s where it is at for me. We kept up with some of the canoes last year, this year we are going for the pack.
Two downwind shapes. A 17’6” and a 14’.
A full-fledged touring board, like a sea kayak, but SUP – hollow , hatches, storage, rudder, ability to sleep on board, the whole deal. Some big trips planned for that one.
Where do you see the sport/industry going?
Inland. The growth is going inland. And by inland I mean flatwater. It’s not just limited to the coasts anymore, which is awesome. Personally, I hope the surfing aspect of it slows down as it has become a bit of a problem in some places. Without getting into politics I just don’t think SUP’s belong out in certain conditions especially in the wrong hands. That being said, it is the people not the boards, but I’ve seen some horrifying accidents up close, like ambulance to the ER serious. My philosophy is, and its ONLY mine – if it is empty, have at it. If there’s a crowd and it is bigger than chest high, surf on your prone boards.
Have to ask…What are the origins of your company’s name?
My wife and a friend and I, were sitting around one cold January night talking about surfing. We had just made dinner using a bag of banh pho noodles, the clear Thai/Vietnamese style ones. A few beers later there was a logo and a new way of life, “Banh Pho Surfboards and Crispy Noodle!”
It’s also so not very serious. There seems to be a lot of people that take themselves way to seriously these days and this is a good way for me to keep it fun. I love it when people ask me what it means. It means nothing! It just sounds cool! In fact I’m going one step further in naming my boards.
As opposed to the current trend with names like, Hollowpoint, Assasinator, and Cruise Missile, I’m going with cute little animal names – Huggy Bunny 14, Cuddle Kitten 12’6, Goofy Guppy, and my favorite, Tubby Bubble. My wife came up with that one. Could you imagine getting beaten by someone on a Huggy Bunny? OUCH.
Also, I never had to worry about the domain name being taken.
In closing I would like to acknowledge some people who have helped and supported me through the years. I owe whatever success I have achieved to them. My wife and family first for putting up with, and encouraging me. Danny Mongo, Danielle De Forrest and everyone at Werner Paddles. Russ Laky, Alicia Wroblewski and the crew at Maui Jim. The New England Paddling Family. My friends in Hawaii, Mahalo. Thomas Bena and Todd McGee. Thanks! – Patrick
Thorfinn Expeditions is built on the belief that people inherently love to explore, learn, and have fun in the outdoors. Utilizing a highly skilled staff and first rate equipment, Thorfinn can deliver a custom outdoor adventure for any individual or group – from 2-hour SUP sessions for a family to a multi-day/multi-sport corporate training. Previous clients include: The North Face, Timberland, and College of the Atlantic.
Outdoor programs include sailing (day/multi-day) on a high-performance Presto 30, a full range of SUP lessons/tours/fitness training/downwinders, and multi-sport adventures that can include rock climbing through the Atlantic Climbing School.
The retail shop in Lincolnville Beach is stocked with the best SUP gear on the planet. Brands include Boga, Tahoe SUP, SIC, Laird, Coreban, Speedboard USA, Quicklade, Kialoa, Maui Rippers and many more. Perhaps now Banh Pho and the Crispy Noodle!