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New to the Midwest, paddleboarding offers users a unique view of water

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Neil Johnson
June 24, 2013

— From the top of a 12-foot paddleboard, the waters of Geneva Lake pushed and tugged like a gentle dance partner in the morning sun.

The weather was 65 degrees and sunny, the water 69. Light waves splashed over the bow, soaking the deck. To bare toes, the lake felt like soft bathwater.

The paddleboard, a long, cigar-shaped vessel similar to a surfboard, bobbed along in the waves, buoyant as a bar of soap as its paddler, a Gazette reporter, cut a soft zigzag through the shallows of the lake.

In the mouth of a boat harbor at the Abbey Resort, a mother duck and her ducklings swam next to the paddleboards, curious about the quiet, smooth-cut vessels.

Inside the harbor, a half dozen 4-foot carp shot from an underwater weed bed and bulleted beneath the paddleboard. They circled back and disappeared into the deep green shadows.

“Whoa! Those were monsters!” said Cory Anderson, manager of Fontana Paddle, a kayak and paddleboard outfitter along Geneva Lake in Fontana.

Anderson is a paddleboard instructor and races paddleboards competitively. He has paddleboarded for six years, and he’s still surprised at how every paddling experience brings something new, such as mondo carp.

Paddleboarding, also known as stand-up paddleboarding, has its origins in Polynesia, where it’s been a mode of water transport for centuries. In the United States, paddleboarding became popular as a sport and recreational pastime decades ago in coastal California and Hawaii.

Paddleboarding is relatively new to the Midwest, where it’s seen growing popularity in the last four or five years, both as a competitive sport and a unique way for people to tour the Great Lakes and other bodies of water.

Anderson said interest by locals and vacationers in paddleboarding reached a peak this year in the Walworth County lakes area. His company sponsors Halau Tribe, a club of over 40 local and long-term vacationers along Geneva Lake who paddleboard the lake together.

Others race paddleboards at a handful of nationally sanctioned paddleboat races held a few times a year at Geneva Lake and other lakes in the Midwest.

People even take paddleboard exercise courses. They do pushups, squat-thrusts and other calisthenics on paddleboards as they balance on the wavy waters of Geneva Lake.

“It’s getting very out-of-the-box,” Anderson said. “People like it for all different reasons. Exercise, relaxation and stress relief, tourism or just the experience of trying something different.”

Paddleboards, which range from 10 to 16 feet, vary from narrow-bowed racing models to ultra-stable, slower-moving recreational types. They have a rudder or rudders, and are shaped similarly to a surfboard.

Riders on paddleboards balance on top and use long, carbon fiber paddles. Navigating one is like being captain of your own personal gondola/surfboard. It’s a combination of paddling, balancing and riding the waves.

People can rent paddleboards from a handful of local dealers.

The cost is $70 for an eight-hour day, according to Fontana Paddle.

New paddleboards cost between $800 and $1,600, depending on their design and construction. The boards can be built from plastic, fiberglass, bamboo or a combination of materials. They’re relatively easy to learn to ride and navigate, and they’re much quieter than a boat.

The mondo carp in Abbey Harbor were a sight that someone idling in a boat or rattling a wooden paddle against an aluminum canoe might not have seen. Too much noise.

That’s the draw for many paddleboarders—quiet and relaxation.

“I crushed seven miles this morning paddleboarding on 3-foot waves, and that was a workout. But this is good. It’s calm. And great views of those cool fish. See? It’s a total balance for my overall Chi,” Anderson said.

The art of paddling anything through water is Zen-like. But riding a paddleboard is like practicing yoga on water.

First, there’s the repetitive form a paddler must use to propel the craft. Feet are at shoulder width, knees are bent, and torso and legs are loose. They rock with the dip and rise and fall of the waves.

The paddling goes like so: dip paddle, thrust paddle handle with top arm, curl bottom arm, pull paddle out, repeat. Switch sides, then dip, thrust, curl and repeat.

Anderson, who plans to race on his paddleboard at several competitions this year, likes to showboat on his board. He showed off pushups, a headstand and a yoga-like warrior pose.

For a newbie, the warrior pose isn’t advisable. A Gazette reporter almost dumped while posturing as a quasi-Polynesian demigod.

It was a shaky moment in an otherwise chilled-out experience.

“Nice recovery,” Anderson said. “Now let’s get you back to shore.”


 

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