Whaz SUP? Stand Up Paddleboarding in Duluth

Stand Up Paddleboarding

Proof that a 50-year-old can learn new tricks!

It all started so innocently. I was biking on the end of Duluth’s Park Point Recreation Area when I noticed the sign for Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) rental. I’d been wanting to try SUP for a couple of years so I stopped and spoke with the attendant. The price was right ($15 for an hour) so I made a reservation for the next day.

The day dawned with perfect SUP weather – calm waters and gorgeous sunshine. But I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Despite being half-mermaid, I’m a warm-water mermaid. The harbor water was 73 degrees – pretty warm for these parts, but what if I fell in? It would be shocking. And what if I made a fool of myself? Leave it to me to practice Fall Down Paddleboarding. Okay, this last one was only a slight fear. I’ve been on the planet long enough and made myself a fool several times over and survived. But still . . .

I went anyway. At the boat access, I met Heather with North Shore SUP. She had me sign a waiver (“SUP is an inherently dangerous sport,” blah, blah, blah) and read some rules, the first of which was, “Always SUP with a partner.” Guess I broke that one right off. I’d tried to find someone to join me during the past 24 hours, but my friends were all otherwise occupied. Heather let me go anyway.

Next, Heather’s partner Garrett gave me some cursory instruction. I could tell he’s given the spiel many times; he went a little fast for a newbie like me, but the other issue was that he was instructing me on land. I learn better by doing. But I must have absorbed enough because I’m still alive to write this. And, by the way, he’s one of the few certified SUP instructors in the country, so he knows what he’s talking about.

Heather introduced me to my board and instructed me how to get on it and stand up, and what to do if I fell. Then she cast me adrift. I’m thinking, Shouldn’t there be more to this? You mean no one’s going to come out with me for a few minutes to make sure I stay alive? Nope.

I kneeled on the board for a few moments until I got a feel for how it handled, then I took a big breath and stood. My first impression was one of tallness. I’m used to seeing the water from sitting in a canoe or kayak. My second impression was that it takes a lot of leg and core body power to make the board move. My legs began shaking in no time. BUT I didn’t fall.

Accompanied by distant cheers from a different paddling event across the way (the Dragon Boat Festival on Barker’s Island), I tooled along the shore, going into a bay where several sailboats were moored. I had this sudden sense of freedom. I could go over and see the sailboats more closely if I wanted, which I did. After a while circling the bay and enjoying the bright stands of purple loosestrife (a pretty, but invasive plant), I reversed direction and headed toward a nearby seaplane base.

Two balance challenges presented themselves along the way. One was a rock that my board scraped against and the other was the wake of a boat. Although not the most graceful, I remained upright. I made it part way to the base when my legs told me it would be a good idea to turn back and stop soon. So I did, enjoying the feeling of walking on water along the way.

Once I beached the board, I got to talk to Heather. She said that SUP can burn 500-800 calories per hour and that she is also a yoga instructor. She even teaches a yoga SUP class – imagine that! Both of my new interests combined. With the strength required for yoga poses combined with the workout of balancing on water, I bet a person must burn about 1,000 calories doing SUP yoga.

Heather mentioned she and Garrett used to run a whitewater rafting business out West. I didn’t get the chance to ask her what drew them to Duluth because another customer was waiting to buy one of their end-of-the-season boards.

Once home, my mom called me to be sure a storm didn’t blow me and my board away.

I guess the lesson is: don’t let your fears hold you back. Use common sense, but don’t sit out life!

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