Driving past a creek or marsh or walking on the beach of late, you might do a double take. “Who’s out there walking on the water?” Then you notice the board, the paddle. The graceful way the rider glides across the water, standing tall, looking almost effortless. But looks can be deceiving. Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) may be the newest board sport on the block and the area’s fastest-growing water sport, but it’s also a hard-core workout.
For Dean Johnson, a longtime surfer and former professional cyclist turned SUP enthusiast, paddleboarding’s appeal is that it offers multidimensional opportunities to enjoy the water. “I fell in love with it because it was a way to surf that was refreshing and new,” says Johnson, who bought his first SUP in California five years ago and has recently launched a custom SUP board-shaping business, Dean Watersports. “You don’t have to wait for a wave or the right wind conditions. You can surf on a SUP and catch a wave quota that’s considerably higher than traditional surfing offers, or you can paddle flat water and explore endless waterways.”
The fastest-growing segment of the SUP industry is in paddleboard racing, and here Charleston is holding its own. Last summer, Charleston Watersport presented the Shem Creek SUP Shootout, a WPA points race in qualifying for the national finals that hosted more than 40 paddlers, as well as the six-week Charleston SUP Race Series to benefit Surfers Healing. Another series was held this spring. SUPs are entering the fray with kayaks and canoes in races like April’s Patriot Challenge at Brittlebank Park. “There’s been an explosion in the number of races we have on the East Coast,” notes Johnson, an elite endurance paddler who typically competes every other weekend.
“It’s a great way to meet people and be out on the water,” says Beth Lovett, a SUP convert and local competitor. “The paddleboarding community is incredibly welcoming and supportive. Really, anybody can learn to do it. It’s challenging and relaxing at the same time, and it’s all about having fun.”
As local recreation departments fill up their SUP summer camps for the younger set, you can be sure the waterways will see more and more people of all ages out there, dallying with the dolphins and happily “walking” on water.
A new paddleboard and paddle will set you back about $1,500, but you can rent one for only $40 a day.
Local outfitters and lessons:
• Air, 1313 Long Grove Dr., Mount Pleasant; www.catchsomeair.us, (843) 388-9300
• Charleston Watersport, 1255 Ben Sawyer Blvd., Mount Pleasant; www.charlestonwatersport.com, (843) 884-9098
• Half-Moon Outfitters, locations in Charleston, West Ashley, and Mount Pleasant; www.halfmoonoutfitters.com
• Island Paddle Adventure, Bohicket Marina, 1880 Andell Bluff Blvd., Seabrook; www.islandpaddleadventure.com, (855) 559-0559 (fitness), (843) 768-1280 (tours)
• Kiawah Island Surf School, www.tidaltrailskiawah.com, (843) 768-5680
• Nature Adventures Outfitters, 483 W. Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant, www.kayakcharlestonsc.com, (843) 568-3222
• Oli Nah, 1204 Palm Blvd., Isle of Palms; www.olinah.com, (843) 886-3337
• Inland waterways where the water is flat is best for newbies. Brittlebank Park has a floating dock that’s easy for beginners, and Shem Creek Boat Landing is also favorite launching pad (but beware the oyster beds at low tide).
• Time your outing with the tides if paddling on creeks and inland waterways; mid-tide tends to be easiest.
• Join local SUP meetups on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m., at Brittlebank Park. It’s an all-comers, fun way to try it out and meet fellow SUPers. Call ahead to reserve a board through Charleston Watersport: (843) 884-9098.
The Coast Guard now requires SUP paddlers to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) or face a $100 fine. Paddlers in the ocean breakwater do not need one.
Get Tips from the Pros:
Get the right length paddle and take a lesson to learn the proper paddle stroke. “Paddle technique can make or break your experience,” says Johnson.