From Dancing to Shredding: Mel Wygal’s Journey to Standup Paddling
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Mel Wygal – Ambassador of Stoke
Hey Mel, how did you get into standup paddling?
My husband, Jack, taught me to surf in Waikiki 14 years ago, first longboarding, then tandem surfing. It quickly became a lifestyle and I surfed every chance I got. I was hooked right from the start, it brings so much joy to my life. We flew to California to learn tandem lifts from the best, Steve and Barrie Boehne of Infinity Surfboards. We also tried standup paddling for the first time with them, back in 2008 at San Onofre. I borrowed Barrie’s board, paddle, and wetsuit and it took me 3 hours to catch 3 waves, but I loved it! However, tandem surfing is still my favorite way to play in the water. Wow I had no idea you surfed tandem! That’s incredible!
It was natural. I was a ballerina until age 14 and a cheerleader in high school. It was a way to express myself, plus I love getting tossed around in the air. After college, I joined the Portland Trailblazers Stunt Team and got to cheer professionally for a couple of seasons. Then I moved to Hawaii, met Jack, and fell in love with surfing. Tandem surfing is pure trust. The biggest waves I ever surfed were on a tandem in Waikiki. Big waves make it easier to get the girl up in the air. My favorite lift is called a One Arm Back, where I get to watch upside down from the air as the wave breaks on the tail of our board. Jack does all the hard work and I just smile and point my toes!
Do you use that huge board Steve Bohene told me about?
Yes, the S.S. Quadnundrum! When we moved to California in 2010, Steve Boehne decided to shape a 4-person raceboard for fun. He ordered a blank from Texas, shaped it, and called it the S.S. Quadnundrum because it’s 21 feet long! It was the first standup paddle raceboard I ever paddled on. Steve loves introducing beginner paddlers to the Quadnundrum because it’s so fun and they get to see so much more than if they were paddling on their own. He calls us his “galley slaves,” and he still paddles it every Wednesday night. In 2013, Jack, Dave Boehne, and I paddled the Quadnundrum in the distance race at Battle of the Paddle. We easily kept pace with the race leaders and it was great cheering on team members and seeing the race unfold first hand! What a fun way to watch a race! Pacific Paddle Games (PPG) was fun too and you podiumed last fall. How did you train for the competition?
I train with Anthony Vela and Performance Paddling SUP Team. When AV started Performance Paddling with Candice Appleby, it was initially a training group for kids. Soon adults were asking for a training group, so PPSUP was born. My paddle skills went from a nil to pretty good in a matter of months. I had no idea how to turn a raceboard when I first started. Training with a group is so much more comprehensive. We learn skills as we draft, practice starts, and go around buoys together. Anthony teaches us all these skills, including mental training, motivation during races, and sportsmanlike conduct. I love my PPSUP family and paddle with them 3 days a week.
S.S. Quadnundrum at the 2014 Hanohano Huki race in San Diego.
I had a blast with you and everyone I met at last fall at the Pacific Paddle Games. What is the race scene like in your area?
Racing is super fun, and we have all kinds of venues, from flatwater harbor and bay races, to surf races and distance. Fellow paddlers are what make SUP racing so fun, I swear SUP attracts just the coolest people. PPG last fall was much improved, emphasizing the Open athletes and their contribution to the event. How great was it to have Elite racers, such as Danny Ching, waiting for us at the finish line to congratulate us? The event organizers really paid attention to feedback from the prior year and strengthened the event as a whole. The technical and distance courses were far better for both the racers and spectators.
The winter series in California is pretty fun, too. Newport Aquatic Center is an Olympic training center for canoe, rowing, and kayaks, and has welcomed SUP in their races throughout the year. It’s a fun way to keep in racing shape during the off-season. One of our favorite events is the Santa Cruz Paddlefest every March, featuring a SUP surf contest at Steamer Lane. Infinity rents a team house and the shenanigans are freaking legendary. You obviously love what you do.
Very much. I recently started a new position with Infinity SUP and I can’t believe how fun “work” is! September was a busy time with PPG and the new 2018 product launch. I have learned so much, trying to soak up knowledge like a sponge. As Ambassador of Stoke, I help with whatever is needed, from taking orders, bookkeeping, event planning, and assisting athletes. One of the many benefits is my flexible work schedule to go surf when big swells come in. Getting in a great surf session in the morning makes my day, and motivates me to get the job done.