"When I first saw stand-up paddleboarding," Nicholas Vandervelde says, "I didn't want anything to do with the sport." Like so many other surfers who share that initial reaction, the 27-year-old Green Lake native has since become a convert.
Resistance is futile. Often referred to by its acronym, SUP is shaping up as recreation's next Big Thing. Spreading from Hawaii to coastlines around the world, it's now dispersing to inland waters. A growing number of surfboard manufacturers are producing oversized paddling-specific boards, with a comparable proliferation of long-handled paddles. The sport has spawned races, blogs, websites and online videos galore, and was the hit of last summer's annual Outdoor Retailer convention in Utah.
SUP gear makes its Canoecopia debut at Rutabaga's annual paddlesports expo this weekend, and a few early adopters here have already logged a season on local lakes and rivers.
Brad Werntz first tried stand-up paddling last spring in La Jolla, Calif. Hooked, the principal of Madison-based Pemba Serves Inc. - regional representative for such outdoor brands as Atlas Snowshoes and Mountain Hardwear - bought his own board at Rutabaga last fall and paddled it home across Lake Monona to the downtown condo he shares with his wife and children.
A founder of Boulders Climbing Gym and skateboard enthusiast, Werntz was soon paddling his board three times a week. "I'd always wanted to own a surfboard," he says. At 13 feet long, this is a mighty big stick by surfing standards - large enough to get out on the lake with his kids on deck. "I can be back in half an hour having had a good workout."
Vandervelde, who joined Rutabaga's staff after riding waves in Oahu for three years, notes that a proliferating variety of board shapes and sizes makes SUP "a sport that anybody can do."
The learning curve can be shortened by boards designed to be less squirrelly than big-wave surfboards. "These boards are very stable," Vandervelde says, gesturing to the Surftech boards Rutabaga stocks. At 11 feet long, 27 to almost 30 inches at their widest, and more than four inches thick, the display models look buoyant indeed, with tailfins to make them go straight and true.
"No matter what your experience is in paddling, you're at least able to kneel on the board to get going," Vandervelde explains. As you work your way up to standing and proficiency grows, imagination becomes the limiting factor. People are doing long overnight trips along the coasts, Vandervelde reports. "I've actually seen guys running whitewater on them."
Distributing the propulsive effort throughout the body, SUP engages legs as well as shoulders and arms but shifts much of the workload to the torso, making for an incredible core workout. And standing up raises a paddler's perspective, broadening and deepening the horizon. "It's just a completely different feeling," Vandervelde says.
Depending on manufacturer, materials and features, board prices can range from about $800 to somewhere north of $2,000, with an average in the neighborhood of $1,200 to $1,500. Durable epoxy boards are worth the extra cost for those who are rough on their gear, Vandervelde contends, and a deck pad spares the time and trouble involved in repeated applications of a product like Mr. Zog's Sex Wax for traction underfoot. A decent long-handled SUP-specific paddle might set you back another $200 to $300, with light yet strong carbon-fiber construction, adjustable-length handles and stroke-extending bent shafts toward the higher end.
Stand-up paddleboards are passenger-friendly, Vandervelde adds. You can put kids in a life jacket, seat them on the nose of the board and make like their gondolier, as Werntz often does.
"Kids love it," Vandervelde says. "Dogs too. I've seen cats, even."