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Riding the wave of stand up paddle boarding enthusiasm

By Cindy Atoji Keene

The feeling of “walking on water” is a description that’s often given by stand up paddle board (SUP) enthusiasts. “From a distance, stand-up paddle boarding looks exactly like walking on water,” said Cape Cod native Justin Labdon, founder and owner of Adventure Chatham, an outfitter for vacation recreation, including stand-up paddleboard lessons, tours, rentals and equipment sales. While on the board itself, the deck is literally only an inch or two above the waterline, bringing you much closer to the water than you feel when on a large boat or other watercraft, said Labdon, himself a paddle board devotee.

Q: Is there more to stand up paddling than meets the eye?
A: For basic stand up paddle boarding, there really isn’t that much you need to know. There is definitely a sweet spot on the board, though, that’s the best spot for balance. Paddlers also should be familiar with different paddle strokes. It can also get a lot more technical – making turns and maneuvers take time to master. But for general family fun and just going out to the pond and paddling around, it’s a quick learning curve.

Q: What’s the latest gear for stand up paddle boarding?
A: As the sport has progressed, boards have gone from looking like big surfboards to more specialized niches. The biggest advance are displacement boards that are longer and more streamlined, shaped almost like a sailboat or kayak. They cut through the water 30-40 percent better and handle open chop better.

Q: Is it a good workout?
A: I like to compare it to biking, which can be either leisurely or strenuous, depending on how much effort you put into it. With paddle boarding, if the paddle motion is done properly, using your body and not arms, and it develops core body strength. Going into the wind and waves is even more of a challenge. I feel it in the hips and in all sorts of torso muscles that I didn’t know existed.

Q: How did stand up paddle boarding get started?
A: Some say that back in the 1950s, Hawaiian surf instructors would stand on their surfboards to take photos of their students. About a decade ago, big name surfer guys like Laird Hamilton reintroduced the sport, experimenting with new types of boards that could be used even where there were no waves. From there it really took off.

Q: What are the best places to go stand up paddle boarding?
A: It’s important that newbie stand up paddle boarders learn their paddle skills on flat water before venturing out into the surf lineup, both for their safety and that of others. I try to direct people to the fresh water ponds that so abundant on the Cape – they have warm water and are sheltered from the wind. Marshes, little inlets, rivers, and the harbor are also great.

Q: Ever seen any sharks?
A: I’ve never seen a great white shark, but if you wear polarized sunglasses, you can see tons of fish, crabs, and starfish. In the Chatham Harbor, the seals will pop up right next to you.

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