WHASUP! Ahem, I mean what is SUP? Standup paddleboarding, or SUP, came about several decades ago with surf instructors and photographers. The instructors would paddle about on the water to better watch and teach their students, while photographers could move and get closer to their subjects. In the past decade, SUP began to really take off as a recreational sport and moved from the coast to inland waterways. Pioneers on all fronts of the sport began to emerge from SUP companies like YOLO Boards to swift water rescuers, fitness enthusiasts and houseboaters seeking additional recreational water activities.
For me, I began houseboating over two years ago, loving every aspect of houseboating and what exploration of waterways had to offer. Naturally, everything water now peaks my curiosity and standup paddleboarding was no exception. On a sweltering hot summer day, my wife began talking about a water sport that she had read about in a magazine. As we floated lazily in the water off the stern of our houseboat, she told me how indulging it would be to have a way to move about skimming off the surface of the water and jumping in whenever the fancy struck. My immediate reply was, “sounds good” and before I knew it, my brother, wife and I were standing in a store with pretty colors and a not-so-great salesman on the main strip of Destin, Fla.
Being newbies, we had a lot of questions and the first was how much did a SUP cost? We were told the price of this shiny orange board with a paddle emblem in the center cost nearly $2,000 and if we could not afford it, we should look elsewhere. He delighted in telling us that they were a premiere company selling standup paddleboards by the hundreds and their paddles were industry leaders that would soon flood the market. Therefore, their product only goes to the most elite class of buyers. Whew! So with that, we disappeared like wraiths in the night taking our “Gonzo” attitudes to a nice lady at the local Bluewater Bay Marina in Niceville, Fla.
We had seen signs for renting a standup paddleboard at the marina and decided to call the number. A cheerful hello greeted us and told us she was more than happy to meet us at the marina. In the next hour, she taught us how to standup paddle, how to avoid injuries, rules and regulations governing standup paddleboarding and what to look for when buying a board. She then left us to explore the marina where my wife and I laughed, giggled, played and took goofy pictures of each other, the wildlife and the beautiful sailboats that were there at the marina. The only thing missing was a dolphin.
After falling in love with standup paddleboarding, we made the decision to buy. This took us on the next leg of our journey to a little warehouse near Santa Rosa beach where smiling people came out from every part of the woodwork to chat with us. We were told in detail about the SUP boards and what to look for and why. Jeff, Josh, Misty and the others were like old friends that just got back from exotic lands and regaled us with stories of their forays. We lived every moment vicariously through their words and eyes, their passion spoke volumes and we stayed enchanted for hours. The corner of my brother’s lips crept upward and a blue Yolo board became the first of our standup paddleboard fleet. Those smiles became contagious.
Before long, every water way we came across began to see three familiar figures standing atop standup paddleboards. Marinas, coves, inlets, ocean surf, rivers, creeks and waterfalls were the dynamic and inspiring backdrops to sparkling eyes and laughing hearts. At other times, my wife and I found private moments to share from quiet time to just sitting on the standup paddleboards with our legs dangling in the water and sipping wine at sunset. Yet other moments were spent underneath the night sky where the stars winked at us with their diamond allure and the moon danced a radiant reflection off the surface of the water.
To this day, we have continued our expeditions along the southeast USA and competing in SUP races, pulling off wins with our blue Yolo board and the carbon fiber addition to our family. I wholeheartedly encourage you to try standup paddleboarding and carrying it on your houseboat. To give you some ideas, here are the moments that merged our houseboat lifestyle with a “surfs up” battle yelp into sizzling romance!
First, don’t be intimidated. This is a low-impact activity, which means there is no running and therefore low impact on the knees. The only time you run is when you are falling off the SUP while trying to regain your balance, which is more comic relief than the fear of falling. Many SUP races are finding all ages of competitors with a large group in the 40s and 50s. In fact, one of the dominating riders that I came across in the race series is a gentleman named Rand Perkins of Team Yolo who is 60 years young. Rand has placed first in just about every event he has entered and inspires me to push the envelope of physical exertion. On the opposite side of phenomenons like Rand are the children races where they bump, glide and fall their way to an epic finish. At the end of the race, the children are happy to indulge in an ice cream bar atop of the SUP and flash toothy grins for a candid photo.
The United States Coast Guard considers a standup paddleboard a vessel. This translates that the SUP rider must have a life jacket unless surfing, which is a loose translation on how far from the beach can a person be considered surfing. I have been pulled over (I thrive on attention) on the SUP by park rangers and have been told this rule on several occasions. Ultimately, safety first regardless of what you may think, always be prepared for other boaters (who also thrive on attention) that want to see how close they can get to you. You do not have to wear the life jacket at all times, but it must be aboard the SUP in order to avoid a possible fine.
Selecting the SUP that is best for you and your family will equate to a far better experience on and off the water.
Storage is just one of the many things you need to consider before buying. Where would you store a SUP that is 11 feet to 14 feet long? If you do not have storage space for rigid boards you may consider an inflatable SUP. Storing a rigid SUP on a houseboat is fairly simple. You can attach it to railings or place on the top deck of your houseboat using merely ropes and swimming noodles.
Another thing to consider is how you plan to use your SUP. Do you want to surf? Do you want to race? Do you want to do Pilates or Yoga? Do you want to “shoot” river rapids? Do you want children to play on it? Would you like to take it along on vacations? Do you want to explore?
Each SUP will fit a certain area or will have multiple function combinations like race/touring or fitness/fishing.
Portability can also be an issue. SUPs are impressive in size, but typically weigh around 35 pounds at the heaviest to 24 pounds at the lightest. Rigid SUPs require roof racks whereas inflatables can be put into the trunk of a car.
SUP is very easy to learn for most, while a small percentage will have a difficult time. This is one of the most common reasons that many people pick up the sport. It is not gender dominated so on any given day, there is a 50/50 chance it may be a woman racing or a man practicing yoga.
Also, you don’t have to stand. The versatility of SUPs allows a person the option of prone paddling, sitting on the board, knees only or standing. When it heats up, jump off into the water for a cool down.
With a SUP you can explore the hard-to-find areas only the locals know how to get to. On Lake Allatoona in Georgia, there is a hidden waterfall which boats—and definitely houseboats—cannot access. This gives you an opportunity for a scenic trip for two. You and your mate will feel the giddiness of discovery in unchartered country, so to speak.
How about a camp fire on water? A floating amber light that flickers will give you the sense of a campfire out on the water. The floating light will bob on the water or can be placed on the SUP. With he light reflecting off the other person, it will feel like an intimate talk for two by the campfire while being on the water.
Pack a lunch and paddle to a secluded area and sit on the SUPs as you view nature from six inches off the water. Share your favorite beverage, take pictures and email them to a friend. If you and your mate like to fish, sit on a cooler and fish to your heart’s content.
Seeing other marinas from a SUP is a very different perspective. The houseboats, sailboats and other boats are like a supermarket on water where interaction with boat owners is uniquely different. At State Dock in Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, we paddled across to Jamestown Marina and found a nice older couple who placed bets on whether we would fall off the SUPs. They invited us up on dock for breakfast.
In the sun or at night, lounging around on a SUP, mere inches from the surface of the water, will either put you to sleep or build a conversation that forms the bonds of love. Late one evening around midnight, my wife and I decided to launch the SUPs from our houseboat and just float. We flopped back onto the SUPs and stared into the night sky. No words were spoken, but the magic was unmistakable. The next day, a fellow houseboater commented that she thought she heard voices on the water and looked out to see what she thought was drift wood. She then realized it was us floating in the harbor and marveled at the serenity.
I have been fortunate enough to get into houseboating. If it were not for houseboating, I would not have found the sport of standup paddleboarding. SUP has moved from the coast to the inland waterways by way of inflatables and found communities such as fitness, racing, houseboating, adventure racing/tours and fire rescue for disasters such as floods. Even more fortunate, I found true love in the eyes of my wife. I see her love of life echo choruses of smiles and a youthful heart beating the rhythm of the surf. Together we are a part of nature where time stands still for the two of us as we explore where our heart charts us.