Stand Up Paddle boarding

Three years ago I stood on the shore of a lake in Napa, CA, and watched a young woman navigate the water with a long slender oar, standing on what looked like a surf board. She seemed relaxed and enjoying the serenity of paddling. When I returned a few hours later, she was finishing up at the shore. I took the opportunity to ask a few questions and immediately fell in love with an activity I hadn’t yet tried. Fast forward to this summer and I’m enjoying the same serene paddling excursions. And by August, I found many more paddlers on the water. (Yes, St. Louis, we are a bit slow to catch a new wave.)

Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boarding is staking it’s claim as the fastest growing sport in America. According to Jake Parr, Boating Area Coordinator at Alpine Shop in St. Louis, it’s easy to understand why. “Paddle boarding is low-impact and pretty simple to learn, even if you’re not extremely athletic,” said Parr. “It’s also a great workout, and allows you to see the water from a different perspective.”

What is a SUP? Exactly as the name implies, it’s a long, flat, buoyant board, designed for stand up paddling with a single blade paddle. Different lengths and materials are chosen based on the size of the paddler, the desired stability, and the body of water.

Here's a video of My first time paddle boarding. 15 seconds of "Wow, I can do this!"

After checking out several varieties, I settled on an 11.5 foot board (with the help of Alpine Shop's Jake), so my entire family could use it. Smaller boards won’t perform the same for bigger bodies, and I have a family of boys that enjoy it. My second board will be tailored for my size, although this one provides a great amount of stability. It’s a bit bulky to transport, but those same boys help when they’re around.

Even my most skeptical friends (who’ve cautiously agreed to try it) have been surprised by how easy it is to learn. Do you need some balancing skills? Yes, but not to worry if you aren’t the Tree Pose queen in yoga. With a little practice, it becomes quite easy to balance in calmer waters. Worse case scenario, say a tidal wave or obnoxious boater on a mission to dump you, just drop to your knees or hop off the board into the water. I know this from youtube videos and experience when a jet-skiing son thought rolling waves were necessary.

Interestingly, most of the paddlers I meet on the lake are women. Our low center of gravity and appreciation of nature make it the perfect water sport. In fact, I have a new water friend this year after spotting a fellow boarder across the cove. It took us all of two minutes to determine our common interests and exchange contact info, all while balancing on our boards. Since she lives at the lake most of the summer, she’s met even more paddlers. Perhaps we should start a SUP sorority.

The greatest challenge I’ve found is transporting the long board. It requires a roof rack, trailer, or long truck bed. Board weight is manageable for most once you reach your destination.

Perhaps the next challenge is deciding how long to continue paddling into the fall and winter months. Since I kayak year round, and already own a closet full of cold weather gear, I asked about winter paddleboarding.

“No problem”, said Parr, “provided you take the proper precautions with gear and safety checks.” Alpine Shop carries waterproof gloves, socks, drysuits, lifejackets, and emergency equipment. “It’s such a new sport to the midwest, it’ll be interesting to see if people continue on, or hang up the paddle until next summer."

That sounds like a challenge to me.