Stand-Up Paddling

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

South from downtown Minneapolis, the City of Lakes’ most popular body of water, Lake Calhoun, is a choppy mess, with little swells and whitecaps whipping up as windsurfers drift by in the breeze. I’m standing on the water, legs spread out, feet solid on the deck of a surfboard.

Sunlight cuts through green water, seaweed gliding by beneath. My hands grip a paddle for propulsion, long reaches and pulls moving my upright frame through the wind, away from shore.

“You got it!” shouts Tara Krolczyk, owner of LakeSUP LLC, a local surfboard reseller. “As easy as standing on a sidewalk.”

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SUP’ing Minnesota-style: Landlocked surfer Jesse Daun digs in on Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun.

It is a Wednesday evening in mid-July, and I’ve come to try a sport new to the Midwest. Stand-up paddle-surfing has roots in Hawaii, where the discipline was created decades ago as a means of flat-water transportation. Over the past three summers, stand-up paddling — often shortened to “SUP” — has sent waves through the surf industry.

SUP is probably the fastest growing current trend in surfing,” said Sean Smith, executive director of the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Smith attributes the sport’s popularity to its versatility — it can be done when there are good waves or no waves at all. It’s also great exercise, Smith said.

Further bolstering the sport, surf stars like Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama have embraced SUP. ESPN recently reported that World Cup skier Julia Mancuso crosstrains standing up on a surfboard.

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Tara Krolczyk, owner of LakeSUP LLC, demonstrating the standup technique.

Hollywood types including Matt Damon, Jennifer Garner and Pierce Brosnan have been caught on camera SUP’ing, adding a populist fuel to the fire. “It is very trendy right now,” Smith said. “But it does have a lot going for it in terms of staying power.”

SUP in MN
Krolczyk formed LakeSUP LLC, based in Minnetonka, Minn., this spring after a family vacation to Florida. A former professional dancer and Radio City Rockette, Krolczyk, 38, fell in love with SUP after just two hours on a rental board off Key Largo. “It was an amazing core workout,” she said.

Established in May, LakeSUP now sells stand-up surfboards and paddles on its eponymous website, www.lakesup.com. Krolczyk runs free monthly demonstration clinics on area lakes and travels to give private lessons.

A handful of Minnesotans have bought boards, including Jesse Daun, a 34-year-old engineer from Minneapolis. “I was wanting a canoe or kayak for the summer, but they wouldn’t fit in my apartment.”

Instead, Daun bought an 11-foot inflatable SUP board from a distributor in Hawaii. He blows it up on the shore of Lake of the Isles near his Uptown apartment then paddles off for hourlong workouts, thousands of strokes and up to six miles at a time.

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Jesse Daun working on his form.

Daun, a marathon runner as well as a self-described “nature guy,” said he loves the view. “Standing up you can see ahead and down into the water where there are minnows, bass and snapping turtles.”

Board Time
At the LakeSUP demo in July, I joined a dozen surfers attempting the sport for the first time. Krolczyk advertised the event on her company’s website, but drew most of the attending SUP’ers from people walking past and windsurfing nearby.

Dean Rizer, 66, of Minneapolis, appeared to be walking on the water, his board half obscured by waves, as a crowd gathered to watch. “What is that?” someone shouted. “Can I try?”

Krolczyk said funny looks are part of the experience. “We get a lot of attention,” she noted.

My session on the surfboard began with a wade into waist-deep water. I put my hands on the center of the board and hopped on, the platform wobbling some but supporting my weight with an immense buoyancy.

“Reach and pull,” Krolczyk shouted as I drifted away.

The chop bit at the nose of the board, a slight turbulence with waves rolling onto the deck, washing my toes. But the board — an 11-foot-long platform that’s nearly three feet wide — floated steady as a pontoon.

Standing up and reaching with a paddle blade digging in and pulling deep, a SUPer can generate more power than a kayaker sitting down. Indeed, in five minutes, paddling while staring straight ahead, I could skim nearly to the center of the lake.

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Tara Krolczyk paddles off at sunset.

The board spins with a backstroke, a couple dips rotating the deck 180 degrees. Out from the beach on Calhoun, windsurfers coursing by, I was comfortable controlling the craft after just a few minutes of paddle time.

But near the shore I found my board’s tipping point. Playing around, walking on the deck and paddling from new positions, the edge dipped underwater, my feet zinging off, paddle flying.

The water was bright green, a hazy, translucent type of putridity. Seaweed grabbed at my ankles, tangling and tugging.

Then I popped up, my board drifting away. I found my paddle and swam, pulling back on deck, replanting my feet.

I stood up and paddled. Krolczyk was skimming ahead, her frame a silhouette on sky with a setting sun. I reached and pulled, the board gliding easy, spinning and tracking away, one last SUP before the sun went down.

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

Posted by Yeti - 08/27/2008 06:33 PM

Nice article! Thanks for consistently great write ups!

With this SUP thing I did not see any leashes or wax on the boards, I understand with the inflatable decks wax would not be the greatest idea, but with the rigid decks it could really make a difference! And if you bailed from the board the leash would be nice. I can see it now paddling to and from work across a bay or lake, gear in tow. EPIC!!

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 08/28/2008 08:43 AM

No need for wax or a leash. They have grippy top sides and the board will not get too far away if you fall off. Though in the ocean it may be different,

Posted by Shauna - 01/09/2009 08:04 PM

Hey, if you want a stand up paddle experience of a lifetime, come join us on a Stand Up Paddle Camping Expedition in Palau. Here’s a description of what you will experience!

This is a customized stand-up paddling camping expedition for one to ten nights through Palau’s majestic Rock Islands. With more than 500 limestone islands and a countless number of beaches, camping opportunities abound. Tour itineraries can be customized to suit your interests, abilities and time budgets.

Expert guides will lead you on an unforgettable paddle, snorkel, exploration, and camping experience. In addition to all of the Day Tour attractions, we’ll also add sunset & moonlight paddles, night snorkeling, and camp bonfires under the Micronesian skies. Our local naturalist will not only teach guests about Palau’s flora, fauna, and history, they also take care of all the cooking & camping chores.

We will provide all of the creature comforts and necessities for camping, including tents & air mattresses, sheets & pillows, solar showers, and tiki torches. Guides and assistants will paddle all of the food and cooking equipment in coolers. Guests need only bring their personal items and camping gear. We also provide dry bags & boxes, as well as waterproof storage pods.

Our typical three day, two night expedition would include Nikko Bay, Risong Bay, and the German Lighthouse. Itineraries of up to five days could include added bonuses like Long Lake, Jellyfish Lake, as well as sites not visited on the Day Tours like Giant Clam Beach, and Rainbow Reef. A trip of up to seven days would allow guests to enjoy the drama of outer reef snorkeling at Big Drop off and Turtle Cove, and depending on the wind and tides, you could even journey to Carp Island, Peleliu, or Ulong Island.

The tour cost $250.00 per person, per day, includes all stand-up paddling & camping gear, food & beverages, expert local naturalist guides, and any necessary speed boat shuttles. Our beautiful equatorial climate allows us to run camping tours year-round. Generally, we need a minimum of four guests to run an expedition.

Posted by M Hindin - 06/01/2010 12:10 PM

Where are the PFDs? Even young people have strokes seizures, or injuries that preclude effective swimming?

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