Stand-up guy: Former furniture maker brings new kind of surfing to South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — There are some key differences between a run-of-the-mill surfboard and a stand-up paddleboard, or SUP.

Obviously there’s the paddle, which is absent in a regular surfer’s kit. There’s the size, too: regular surfboards are about 8 or 9 feet long, while the average stand-up board is 10 to 11 feet. Stand-up boards are also thicker, about twice the thickness of a normal surfboard.

In this case, form is an effect of function. Stand-up paddlers, as the name implies, stay upright on their boards in the water. The boards are bigger because increased size means increased buoyancy. Longer boards mean more speed.

Another local difference is that South Portland doesn’t have a standard surfboard shop. But since April, it does have a dedicated stand-up paddleboard shop, SoPoSup.

Rafael Adams, SoPoSup’s owner, said his shop at 382 Cottage Road (across from DiPietro’s) is the only exclusive stand-up paddleboard shop in New England.

South Portland residents may remember Adams from his previous business, Rafael Adams Custom Furniture, which he operated out of the same storefront for several years. The transition from custom, high-end furniture maker to stand-up paddleboard businessman came after Adams hopped on his first SUP.

That was in spring 2010, and he got hooked. He would take an hour or so each day and paddle around, sometimes even heading as far as Peak’s Island before returning to his shop.

On a normal surfboard, riders straddle the board for most of the time on the water. When they see a wave, they paddle into it with their arms and try to jump up on the board in time to ride it.

On a stand-up board, the paddler never sits down. The paddle is used not only to get around, but also for balance and steering while riding a wave. The rider is upright on the thing the whole time, paddling through the water, looking for waves to ride.

Which is kind of the point, Adams said.

“The reason people surf is they want to stand on a wave,” he said. “I’m doing that the whole time.”

Adams said stand-up paddling is more bang for your buck than surfing. On a surfboard, he said, he gets about 10 waves every two hours. Rides last about eight seconds. A stand-up paddleboarder will catch 30 or 40 waves in the same time frame, he said. And the rides last longer.

“If you’re out for two hours on a stand-up paddleboard, you’re having fun for two hours,” he said. “There’s no waiting around.”

Eventually he bought another board, so he could share his new passion with friends and family.

While he was in the market, he visited other surf shops in the state. But most people saw stand-up boarding as a secondary interest to surfing. 

“They didn’t really know what they were talking about,” Adams said. “The people selling me boards were surfers. There wasn’t anyone in the state who knew a lot about paddleboards.”

By August, he knew he’d change his business. Goodbye furniture, hello to SoPoSup. 

Adams began transitioning away from carpentry, even while he still had a few more commissions to finish. By April, his store was transformed from what he described as a “dirty little shop” to a bright, open surfshop.

Business has been good, he said. He gives lessons and does weekly free demos, in addition to selling all the gear necessary to pick up the pastime. Boards range from $1,000 for a basic model to about $1,800 for premium stand-up rigs. Paddles cost from $175 to $350.

Adams said he plans to stay open for most of the winter, because stand-up paddleboarding is a year-round sport. If anything, he said, waves in the winter are even better than in the summer.

“I board all winter, ” he said. “One time last winter it was 15 degrees out with 20 mph wind. The water was freezing over my deck but the waves were epic.”

If he does close for a month or so, Adams said he’ll use that time to build his own stand-up boards. He said he’s not interested in making or selling hundreds of his own decks, but would like to get up to about 20 or 25 per year for people with special needs, like boards for kids.

Adams said learning to stand-up paddleboard is easy. Start in flat water, a pond or lake to learn basic strokes and balance. After that, move to a bay, with a little wind and side chop. Once riders are comfortable in a bay, usually after three or four weeks, they can move to the ocean.

“My goal is really just to get people on stand-up paddleboards,” he said. “I really enjoyed that summer I spent teaching my friends and family, sharing this thing I loved.”

If he makes money doing it, he said, then that’s fine, too.

“Right now it’s a question of just seeing where this thing goes,” he said. “It’s an adventure.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 730-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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Rafael Adams, owner of SoPoSup, a stand-up paddleboarding shop in South Portland, moves one of the boards onto a rack.

Nick Hall, 13, of Cumberland, checks out a paddle at SoPoSup in South Portland. Hall was attending Surf Camp Maine in Scarborough, a weeklong surf-training program at Scarborough Beach. He said he’s been surfing for about two years.

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