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Paddle boarding and SUP Racing with Cathy Nugent

An Interview with P2 Community Member Cathy Nugent

This winter we’re sharing a series of conversations with Portland Paddle guides, each one focused on a specific topic related to paddling the Maine coast. Today we’re talking with Cathy Nugent on falling in love with paddleboarding and getting started in SUP racing. Comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How did you first start paddleboarding? What drew you to it?
Cathy: I was working at LL Bean and a colleague encouraged me. They had just started to sell them, and I was intrigued. I didn’t think I would be successful, as I had tried surfing in the past and was awful. But I borrowed a SUP to take on a camping trip, and was instantly hooked. I started paddling with a small group from work, typically around the mouth of the Harraseeket. I borrowed a SUP weekly for several months before I purchased one. I kept exploring different areas and soon had 4-5 spots I was familiar with. I loved how versatile a SUP can be – you can stand, sit, lie down, fish, have a coffee – and how nimble they can be, getting you to nooks and crannies that a kayak might not reach. At the time I had an office job, and as much as I enjoyed kayaking, the last thing I wanted to do at the end of the day was to sit.

Three women on paddle boards on a foggy day

Cathy leads a group through Portland Harbor in the fog

Q: When did you start racing? What drew you to that element of the sport?
Cathy: Summer of 2019. I was entering a new decade, and wanted a physical challenge to mark this change, as I had done in the past. I had heard about paddleboard racing, and found a race in Rhode Island. I bought a second hand ‘race’ board locally. I had done competitive running and cycling races in the past and always enjoyed the camaraderie of the running and cycling communities, together with the excitement of racing.

Q: How has your experience paddleboard racing been different from what you expected going in? What met your expectations?
Cathy: I was really surprised about the community vibe at the races that I have done. At my first race in Rhode Island, everyone gathered at the end, and waited for the last person to finish. I found this to be the case at other events as well, including the East End race series! (I am typically at the back of the pack overall, so I really appreciate this!) For me, the races that I have done (all local and regional level) have been a fabulous mix of social and friendly competition.

Q: Why do you think someone who has only previously done “chill” paddleboarding should try out racing?
Cathy: I love chill paddleboarding as much as racing! However, I often find myself paddleboarding on my own and going to the same places. I love the community that racing offers. I look forward to meeting new people, learning from others, encouraging each other, and having a regular group to paddle with. I also like to mix up my paddling, and racing allows me to try something new – whether it’s going a little faster, going further, handling challenging conditions, or trying different routes.

A woman on a narrow racing paddleboard

Cathy ‘digs deep’ during a race!

Q: What advice would you give to someone getting started?
Cathy: I’ve learned so much from other paddlers… Don’t hesitate to ask questions about anything… gear, safety, favorite places to paddle, events they have done, etc. I have found the paddling community to be friendly and generous with information and advice. And be safe when you are training and racing… especially when paddling in the ocean. Bring the proper clothing and equipment, know the “rules of the road”, navigation, and other safety practices. If you are not sure what these are, find a mentor who does, or take a class (P2 offers several!)

And always, stay until the end of the race to cheer for the last paddlers!

Q: Do you train for racing or do you just show up? If the former, what does your training look like?
Cathy: I love to paddle regularly late spring through fall. I don’t follow a plan, but if I know I’m racing soon I might increase my distance or make a point of trying out different paddling conditions/locations.

Q: Do you have a favorite paddleboard memory or story, whether racing related or
not, that you want to share?
Cathy: Two come to mind!

1. When I was teaching SUP at P2, I had a client (B) with some challenges that
were getting in the way of him standing up during his lesson. Although I told my
students that it’s not necessary to stand – you can enjoy paddleboarding in a variety of
ways – this customer REALLY wanted to stand up… He decided to come back for another
lesson… so I consulted with Zack and we came up with a plan, which led to B
standing up for a couple of paddle strokes. We were both thrilled!

A girl on a paddleboard in a lake with hills and mountains in the background

Emma on her and Cathy’s SUP camping trip

2. “Dinner Cruise” with my daughter Zoe, who was 8 at the time- during a camping trip we had lost the sun at our campsite, but it was shining bright in the middle of the lake. We grilled burgers and packed them into a dry bag and both got on one SUP and paddled out to catch the last of the sun and have our picnic floating on the water.

Q: Any other thoughts you would like to share?
Cathy: Huge thanks Eric for offering the race series again! I can’t wait to see even more people at it this year!

A native Mainer, Cathy loves to SUP in beautiful Casco Bay and other surrounding coastal gems. Cathy was the womens’ SUP champion in the 2023 East End Race Series, and is a former Portland Paddle guide. Cathy also enjoys running, cycling, and gardening. She is currently part of the Talent Acquisition team at Specialized Bicycles.