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What's Up Magazine

Have Paddle, Will Stand and Surf...?

Jun 09, 2011 04:00AM ● By Anonymous

One of the fastest growing water sports today combines the freedom and the challenge of surfing with the rhythmic relaxation of rowing. Stand Up Paddle Surfing (SUP), an age-old sport that resurfaced relatively recently, was revived by the surfing community and soon adapted by people everywhere. More commonly known as paddle boarding, the versatile sport appeals to athletes looking to diversify their training routines, fishermen seeking a new means of transport to otherwise inaccessible honey holes, and even sightseers in want of an unrestricting vessel.

Both SUP and traditional, hands-free surfing are ancient water sports with roots in Polynesian and Hawaiian cultures, but until the 1960s, SUP trailed significantly in popularity. SUP was mainstreamed by the “Beach Boys” of Waikiki, primarily as a teaching tool, because it enabled them to provide an easier route to surfing proficiency. The Beach Boys often utilized SUP while instructing rookies, for the added height provided a better perspective on the water. By standing, instructors could not only keep a closer eye on their students but also scan for threats above and below the surface.

As a leisure activity, SUP may appear a watered-down version of traditional surfing, but the two sports are hardly comparable. SUP boards are considerably more stable than traditional surfboards and require less balance to use. The paddling itself, however, takes effort. “You can learn to stand-up paddle [surf] in five to ten minutes,” said Ben Butterwei, an instructor with an Annapolis outfitter. “It’s a great workout, both for the upper body and lower body, and it’s so easy to do.”

Interest in SUP has spread partly by word of mouth, partly by publicity, and its availability grows with its popularity. Local outfitters, such as Stand Up Paddle Annapolis, offer lessons to those just testing the waters and sells boards to those ready to make a commitment. The boards themselves are an investment; prices usually range from $550 to $3,000 dollars, but all outfitters let buyers test the boards before purchase.

Some of the best regional locales to give the sport a try include the calmer back waters of Spa Creek in Annapolis and the many coves of nearby rivers, including the Severn, South, Magothy, West, and Rhode.

“Once you start, you’ll get hooked,” says Butterwei. “You’ll want to do it every day.” As paddle surfers become increasingly comfortable with their skills, the challenge of actually surfing waves becomes a very real goal. Maryland and Delaware beaches are prime proving grounds. This summer, when you’re at the beach, keep an eye out for paddle surfers. You might just see your neighbor “catching a wave and standing on top of the world.”