Paddle boarding off Martha's Vineyard
Photo by Taylor Ahearn
Paddle boarding — also called stand up paddle boarding/surfing, beach boy surfing, or SUP — might just be the coolest thing you've never done. With roots in ancient Hawaiian surfing tradition, the stand up paddle board re-emerged briefly in the 1960s and celebrated a greater renaissance in the 1980s, as a method for surfing instructors to keep a better eye on their students and surrounding surfing conditions. In the early 2000s, the sport became popular with Hawaiian and Californian surfers, and in the decade since has grown as a professional sport, as an outdoor leisure activity, and as a fun alternative to the gym.
Stand up paddle boarding is a hit for novice and accomplished athletes looking for something fun and different. It lacks the intimidation factor found in more complicated water sports such as wind or kite surfing, but still gets you out in the water enjoying nature and having fun exercising.
Paddle board equipment rentals, lessons, and tours have been offered on the Vineyard for a few years with The Boneyard Surf Shop in Edgartown and at Wind's Up and The Green Room in Vineyard Haven. People from each store say there has been a big increase in paddle boarding over the past couple of years.
Paddle boards are similar to, but bigger than, standard surf boards — wider, longer, thicker, yet are relatively light for their size. The larger size enables stability in the water, "So the learning curve is pretty small," said Jordan Voloshin of The Boneyard. "We offer tours for groups of up to three to four people. We'll meet you at your spot of choice with all the equipment you'll need and then go out on a tour. It's basically like a kayak tour, but standing up so you see more, and it's a much better workout than a kayak because your balance and core muscles are engaged the whole time." He adds, "It usually doesn't take long for people to get the feel of the board, so they're ready to go not long after getting on."
Wind's Up offers lessons for $65 per person and a beginner's package for $125 that includes two lessons and three hours of practice with the board. They cite their location in Vineyard Haven as a prime learning venue. "We offer lessons right out back on the lagoon," said Matt McCurdy of Wind's Up. "Beginners are better off starting on flat water ponds and lakes before attempting open water paddle boarding. Once you get a feel for it you can try waves and do whatever you're comfortable with."
Conrad Reusch, who brought paddle surfing to The Boneyard, has been surfing in the traditional manner for years and found stand up paddle boarding to be a great way to alleviate the stress of wanting to surf despite imperfect conditions. He admits that the first time he tried stand up paddle boarding he took a board out into open water with waves. "It was humbling," he recalled. However the next time he tried it on a flat water pond he quickly became adept at the sport. He is now able to ride in much bigger open water surf and uses his paddle board as a way to find and explore new surf breaks.
"A couple of weeks after I started paddle boarding I really started to notice the physical benefits. I was able to stay out and surf a lot longer before my upper body got tired.
"Paddle boarding is getting really popular with groups of women looking for an outdoor alternative to the gym," Mr. Reusch said. "It's a better workout than you can get in a gym, you can hang out with your friends, and have fun doing it. Kayaking, it's mostly just an arm workout, and even surfing focuses more on your arms and upper body, but paddle boarding works your entire body while you're doing something really fun and enjoyable."
Local equipment rentals are available at The Boneyard Surf Shop in Edgartown (508-627-7907), Wind's Up in Vineyard Haven (508-693-4252), and The Green Room in Vineyard Haven (508-693-6888). These locations also sell equipment.
Freelance writer Sarah Omer, of West Tisbury, is a 2004 graduate of Franklin and Marshall College.