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Stand-Up Paddling

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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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.)

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