On chilly Lake Superior, paddleboarding a hot sport
By Sam Cook
Duluth News Tribune
DULUTH, Minn. — In one sense, stand-up paddleboarding is a new thing - especially in northern Minnesota.
In another sense, it's very, very old.
"It's the most ancient form of surfing. When (Captain James) Cook discovered the Hawaiian Islands, he was greeted by stand-up paddleboarders. It's in the early photos," said Duluth's Randy Carlson, whitewater, surf and snowkite coordinator for Recreational Sports Outdoor Program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Carlson has been introducing college students to stand-up paddleboarding for the past three years. Participants stand on 11-foot surfboards, propelling them with long-shafted paddles. The paddler wears a "leash" on one ankle that attaches to the surfboard.
"It's a ton of fun," said Duluth's Megan Kress, a manufacturer's rep in the paddlesports industry.
Stand-up paddleboarding has two distinct applicati ons - flat-water touring and wave surfing. In both cases, the paddleboarder must master the art of balancing on a surfboard about 30 inches wide, which is wider than most touring sea kayaks.
On lakes, stand-up paddleboarders can travel much as they would in a canoe or a recreational kayak, essentially touring along shorelines, among islands or across bays.
"My kids have a good time with them," Carlson said. "And if a younger child can sit on the nose with swim goggles and the adult can paddle around, it's like a free underwater show."
Carlson can see a time when cabin owners have stand-up paddleboards at their cabins just as they might have a canoe or a kayak. A stand-up paddleboarder can go out for a tour with a kayaker or canoeist alongside, and the two can trade off.
The perspective while standing is much different than while paddling a canoe or a kayak, said Duluth's John Abrahams, who owns and sells the boards.
"The stand-up paddleboard is interesting because you can really see more than you can when you're sitting," Abrahams said. "It doesn't sound like an advantage, but it is."
Carlson and colleague Drew Keto have put stand-up paddleboards in at the Lester River and paddled them all the way to the Fitger's Brewery Complex with a tailwind and small waves.
"When you have the waves and the wind at your back, it's a kick," Carlson said. "You're going easily 5 miles per hour without trying that hard."
Even longer trips are possible, said Randy Strohmeyer at the Ski Hut, which now sells stand-up paddleboards.
"Some people are crossing big bodies of water," he said. "You can definitely go long distances, and they're really stable."
Kress thinks the growth in stand-up paddleboarding will be in the flat-water world.
"I was out in the (Duluth-Superior) harbor last week," she said. "I paddled around Hearding Island. It was awesome to be standing on that board. It's very freeing."
The sport remains in its infancy, Abrahams said.
"I would be surprised if we don't see more stand-up paddleboards on cars in coming years," he said. "We're blessed with fantastic natural amenities for paddling."
For some, the appeal of stand-up paddleboarding is surfing waves pushed toward Duluth or Superior's North Shore by a northeasterly wind. Paddlers can kneel or stand on their boards to push out through incoming waves, then stand up to catch a wave.
Having a paddle is a great advantage to using just your arms to get up enough speed to catch a wave, Carlson said. That speed is important for catching a wave early and setting an angle down the line, he said.
Paddleboarders can not only catch a wave earlier, but they can successfully ride smaller waves, too, Carlson said.
But be careful, he says. Stand-up paddleboarding can become a compulsion. He has done stand-up paddleboarding in Hawaii, California, Florida, along the East Coast and in B aja, Mexico, in addition to Lake Superior.
"Once the surf bug bites you, you tend to chase waves in a variety of locations," Carlson said.
Beyond the joy of riding waves or touring on a stand-up paddleboard, the sport is good for a body.
"It's a great activity for fitness, for balance," Strohmeyer said.
"You're having so much fun, you forget the fact that it's great exercise," he said.
Kress said stand-up paddleboards are being used for fitness classes in the Twin Cities. They're offered for rent at UMD's Recreational Sports Outdoor Program. Kress thinks renting the paddleboards is currently the best way for people to try them. Boards are priced at $700 to $1,700, Carlson said.
"The price points aren't great," Kress said. "But with the growth of the sport, we're going to see the prices come down."
(c) 2009, Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.).
Visit the Web site of the News Tribune at http://www. duluthsuperior.com