Founder of Yuba Bikes becoming a dominant SUP racer
Story and Photos by Pete Gauvin
If you’re keen on starting a bike company but want to be able to get out on the water at a moment’s notice, it’s hard to imagine many places better than the Sausalito waterfront.
Benjamin Sarrazin doesn’t have to imagine.
He founded Yuba Bicycles, which makes affordable cargo-carrying bikes, in 2006 and had the foresight to locate the small office and warehouse in the colorful harbor district on Richardson Bay.
That’s convenient because Sarrazin is a standup guy, and a standup paddler, and when he stands up to go paddling, usually around midday, he doesn’t have to go far. Just a short ride on one of the Yuba bikes and he’s at Sea Trek Beach, ready to launch his 12.5-foot carbon Boga race board. When he’s done, he can strap it to his cargo bike for quick emission-free transport back to the office or store it at the Sea Trek kayak/paddleboard center (Want to get out on the water yourself? Sea Trek offers classes and rentals of SUPs and kayaks).
That easy access to the water is a good bet why Sarrazin wins many of the local races he enters, and often dukes it out stroke for stroke with some of the biggest names in the sport. At the Surftech Surf & Sand Duel-athlon in Santa Cruz in March, a 6.2-mile race, he blitzed the paddle course in first place only to lose on the final quarter-mile beach run to pro paddler Anthony Vela.
“I was the fastest on the water, but I hadn’t done any running,” says Sarrazin, 38, outside Yuba Bike’s brightly painted yellow warehouse doors.
He’s a one-man show this day, handling shipping and receiving, answering the phones, prepping for a business trip to Seattle, and tinkering with Yuba’s new Boda Boda model, a cruiser-styled cargo bike named after the term for an African bicycle taxi. Luckily he lives just a short ride away with his wife, Emily, and four-year old daughter, Océanne.
While Sarrazin’s running fitness was neglected this winter, he did log lots of board time. Contrary to the prevailing seasonal interests in watersports, the winter months are one of the best times to paddle in the bay, Sarrazin says, with less fog and less wind than most summer days. And just as important, it’s a quieter time in the bike business, allowing him to take off for two-hour paddles around Angel Island or out to the Golden Gate.
Battling the wind, waves and currents of the bay on a regular basis will make you strong. This has allowed Ben to put the hurt on other paddlers in several races, including recently The Great Russian River Race where he beat not just the SUP field but the traditionally faster kayak field as well.
In training, he likes to mix it up. He’ll do hard intervals a few times a week and longer, slower paddles in between. Often these are “adventures” around Alcatraz or Angel Island, or sometimes from the coast back to the bay. He’ll seek out a mix of conditions: chop, swell, up wind, downwind. And when time allows, he likes to get out for some wave riding on his Boga Mahina 10.6’ board.
Boga, Ben’s chief sponsor, is a smaller paddleboard company based out of Grass Valley, coincidentally near Ben’s favorite whitewater river, the namesake of his company.
Ironically, now that summer is on the doorstep, and along with it the heart of the SUP race season, Ben’s finding it more difficult to squeeze in training sessions. But don’t count out a well-rested entrepreneur even if he can’t train as much as he’d like.
Sarrazin’s background in paddling runs deeper than the reach of his SUP paddle. A native of France, Sarrazin started kayaking when he was kid and became a worldwide touring whitewater kayaker in the ‘90s. He competed in flat-water, slalom and downriver racing, as well as freestyle events. He first came to the U.S. in 1999 to paddle California’s famous creeks.
It was during his kayak travels in South America, Africa and other parts of the developing world that Sarrazin saw the need to develop bikes that could haul big payloads. He returned to the States to work with Xtracycle, another Nor Cal company that’s pioneered the cargo bike movement, before founding Yuba and designing the Mundo, one of the first complete long wheelbase cargo bikes on the market.
Now, Yuba is small but established, distributing bikes around the world. It’s making a difference and offering people an alternative to driving. But Sarrazin won’t be taking time off to pursue SUP racing full time anytime soon. He’s doing pretty well as is.
Ben Sarrazin, Seven Questions:
Where in France did you grow up?
I grew up in Alsace near the German border, close to the Rhine River, and the Vosges and Black Forest mountains.
Tell me a little about your paddling background.
I first started in my parent’s canoe at one year old. I really started whitewater at age 12 on the rivers of the east of France. At the age of 14, I started racing whitewater slalom and downriver racing. I raced all across France and in many countries in Europe. I stopped racing at age 23 and caught up the freestyle wave. My paddling took me to Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Africa, California, Canada and so forth.
What are your favorite aspects about standup paddling versus kayaking or other sports?
I love SUP and I love whitewater kayaking. Whitewater kayaking involves a lot of driving with shuttles. Stand-up on the ocean or on a stormy lake can be as adventurous but there’s no need for a shuttle. Stand-up racing is incredibly fun too because you are always racing with people; in whitewater, it is against the clock. I love the perspective and the game of balance when standing-up, it reminds me of skiing.
How has your kayaking background benefited you as an SUP paddler?
I think the paddling technique is one benefit. Another is the drafting strategy that I practiced for years as a kayaker. And obviously I can read currents very well which is a huge advantage in places with strong tides, islands or rock formations.
What are the challenges of running a company and competing as a top-level SUP paddler?
One of the main challenges I face is timing. My business season is the busiest in April through June and that is when the big races are taking place. I cannot train as much or race as much as I would like to in those months. But having a personal goal beside just the business really helps me keep my sanity.
Did you plan to locate Yuba on the shores of the bay for the access to paddling or is that just coincidence?
I guess I decided to keep my business by the bay because I want to have access to the water. This way I can go train at lunch time, but it is also easy to take my daughter on a paddle when the weather is nice.
Do you have any specific goals in mind as a competitor?
I would love to do well at the BOP (the Battle of the Paddle in Dana Point in late September). A