Stand Up Paddleboards

Photo by Carolyn Bates.

2013 report identified stand-up paddling as the outdoor sport with the most first-time participants in the United States that year. Though variations of stand-up paddling have been around for centuries, the current craze began in the early 2000’s. At that time, Hawaiian surfers brought the sport to California. Stand-up paddling proved to be an easier entry point for novices to the surfing world and rapidly grew in popularity, spreading throughout the country and to inland waters like Lake Champlain.

The stand-up paddleboard has two distinct benefits over a kayak. First, because your eyes are so much higher above the water surface, the paddleboard provides a better platform for watching the underwater world and spotting fish beneath the surface. Second, the paddleboard is remarkably easy to transport. It’s lighter and less awkward than a kayak for loading on and off the car and getting to the water. You can strap it to a roof-rack in half the time you spend wrestling with a kayak. The paddleboard is easier to get onto and off of than a kayak. Many people have taken an unexpected dip at the very beginning or very end of a kayak trip.

The kayak still is great for lake-based adventures. They are better for long trips or on rough water due to better stability. The kayak tracks straighter and is more comfortable for long-durations. It’s also easier to pack a lunch and some gear for a picnic, wildlife watching, or camping out.

For those who just want a taste of paddleboarding, rentals are available around Lake Champlain. In the Burlington area, Paddlesurf Champlain offers lessons, tours and rentals and has a base of operations at Oakledge Park; Umiak offers rentals from North Beach, and the Community Sailing Center rents boards and has lessons from their facility near the Moran Plant on the waterfront. To the north, Kite n Paddle based in St. Albans offers guided tours around the Inland Sea. Bayside Paddle Sports offers rentals on Mallets Bay. To the south, Middlebury Mountaineer boasts the largest rental fleet in Addison County. In New York, the Kayak Shack offers rentals at Bagg’s Landing along Route 9 at the Ausable River. 

If you are considering a purchase of a board, the three key variables are material, size and shape. REI offers a series of videos to help guide you through purchase considerations and introduce people to using paddleboards.

Boards can be either of solid construction or inflatable. Solid boards offer greater stability since there is no give to them in the water. They have less resistance in the water so travel more easily too. The downside of solid boards is that they are more difficult to store and transport. Inflatable boards can be stuffed into a back pack to limit storage space and make access to more remote locations easier. Once at the water’s edge, inflating a board takes 10-15 minutes.

When considering the size and shape of a board consider your confidence level and how you would like to use it. Generally speaking, wider boards (greater than 30 inches) are more stable and will support heavier weights, but they lose out on maneuverability and speed. If you look at the front tips of boards you will find some that are rounded (plane boards) and others that are tapered (displacement boards). The wide rounded nose of Plane boards improves maneuverability. Displacement boards cut through the water more efficiently and are better for distance. Most boards for Lake Champlain will be nine to twelve feet long. Anything shorter is designed for surfing or for children. Longer boards are for people more interested in travelling distances or racing.

Once you have your board, it’s time to get to the water. First, check that your paddle is the correct length. When standing place the paddle on the ground, and the top of the handle should rest at the bend of your wrist. If you intend to kneel on the board rather than standing (a way to build confidence and minimize the likelihood of falling) you will want to adjust the paddle height accordingly. Place the board in knee deep water before mounting it to avoid damaging the fin. Stand on the board just behind the carry handle for stability. Paddle with angle of the blade facing away from you, so when you put muscle power into the stroke the flat of the blade pushes against the water. Keep your arms stiff when directing the blade through the water for efficiency. Your paddle stroke should maximize the strength of your shoulders and torso rather than your arms. When bringing the blade forward for the next stroke it shouldn’t come in front of your feet. Bringing the paddle too far forward wastes energy and disrupts your balance. Finally, improve your balance by keeping your head up, rather than looking at your feet.

Stability is a theme in selecting and using boards for a reason. An ankle leash prevents the board from moving too far away. The ankle leash will also pull the board toward you when you go under; a fact you should be aware of when you resurface in order to avoid getting knocked on the head.  

Remounting the board after a fall is fairly simple. Rest your elbows on the board to secure it; grab the carry handle and kick your feet to propel yourself across the board to grasp the other side. Then you can pull and kick yourself back onto the board.

Adherents of paddleboards rave about the full body work-out. You develop balance in your legs, a tight core for stability, and upper body strength provides power for paddling. Yet even better than the work-out is the opportunity to enjoy the lake from a different vantage point. Underwater fields of aquatic plant provide cover for myriad fish and invertebrates living their lives mostly oblivious to your presence.  A paddleboard can’t completely replace a kayak, but it is another way to further your enjoyment of the lake.