One of the living legends of stand up paddling, Anthony “AV” Vela, has been announced as SUP manager for the ISA as the surfing crew begin to wake from their covid slumber and start getting shit done again now that the canoe boys have made their presence felt.
AV brings his incredible knowledge of paddling to the ISA as its official ‘Strategic SUP Advisor’ in a role that will see him even more involved with the World Championships (where he was already race director) as well as the Association’s overall SUP strategy. The press release is kinda vague but mentions “Vela will support to drive forward the ISA’s SUP strategy, which includes competition formats, course designs and event scheduling.”
That “strategy” has been sorely lacking the past few years with little direction from the ISA’s permanent staff – it has relied almost entirely on the overburdened shoulders of volunteer Vice-President Casper Steinfath who must surely be relieved AV is now helping carry the weight. The 2022 ISA Worlds are set for Puerto Rico in November.
The news was officially announced this week but has been in the works since last year. ISA President Fernando Aguerre telegraphed the move way back in December during a rare interview with Stand Up Magazin’s Mike Jucker. AV was the presumed candidate when El Presidente mentioned they were hiring a dedicated SUP manager but only now is it official.
(Interestingly, it would seem the press release was written some time ago as it includes the line “The 2022 ISA WSUPPC host destination and dates will also be announced soon,” despite those details already being released.)
There are few gangstas more original than Anthony Vela. AV is one of the true OGs of the SUP world — a pioneering athlete in the earliest days of the sport (he was a permanent fixture at the BOP and won the first ever Carolina Cup) who went on to help shape the biggest event in the world (the Pacific Paddle Games) as race director while also giving a platform to the next generation through his and Candice Appleby’s ‘Grom Fiesta’ long before junior events were in fashion. AV also kept the sport alive in the birthplace of modern racing, Dana Point, California, with his ‘Performance Paddling’ training squad and ‘Harbor Hoot’ event over the past few years.
The man has done a lot for the sport is what I’m saying.
AV’s experience in the ocean goes back a long way, too, with the SoCal local having been a champion lifeguard competitor in the Baywatch era — AV was one of the few Californians to compete against the unbeatable Aussies during the heady days of lifeguard racing (or “ironman” as it was known in Oz) in the 90s.
I’m hoping the notoriously micro managed ISA will give AV free reign to make changes to their SUP program. To say that would be long overdue is an understatement. I’m actually pretty excited to see what the man can do in terms of race formats and other potential innovations. Hopefully AV can also act as a bridge to improve the relationship between the ISA and the core SUP community (who are very suspicious of both the Olympic federations).
This is a major and desperately needed announcement for the ISA after the International Canoe Federation (ICF) made aggressive inroads over the past 24 months while surfing fell asleep at the wheel. Few paddlers have been around since the beginning of the sport and even fewer are held in such high esteem as AV. While my confidence in the ISA wanes with the passing of each new moon, having AV on board provides a glimmer of hope that surfing may still have something meaningful to contribute to our sport.
So even as my inner-cynic wonders why it took the ISA an entire damn decade to fill the role of SUP manager, I will grant you that the old “better late than never” line does occasionally ring true. This is good news no matter where you fall on the spectrum of skepticism.
Hopefully we can get an interview with AV in the coming days to hear more about what his role is all about and what his vision for the future entails (an ISA interview on SUP Racer, wouldn’t that be something?).
UPDATE: Mike from Stand Up Magazin has a good summary of the news on Instagram
(watch on Insta if the embed doesn’t load)