What's SUP?Aug 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard
Maybe you’ve seen the long boards tied on vehicles and wondered what the heck they were doing around here, so far from ocean waves. Though stand up paddleboards began in Hawaii in the ’50s and ’60s as an offshoot of surfing, the activity has morphed to include paddling on flatwater, in river rapids, and SUP yoga. As far as water activities go, paddleboarding is one of the most versatile, affordable, and accessible ones.
An inimitable peace comes from being on the water looking back at shore, as if the land holds all the chores, responsibilities, and disappointments. Lie on the paddleboard and look up at the clouds. Watch the osprey soar and dive while the babies hidden in trees call in hunger. Listen to the fish jump.
If all you do is paddle out and float, there’s no judgement. Bring a book or a beverage. Cry—who will see? Or burn off the stress with an easy-on-the-body complete core workout.
Maybe it’s the physical awareness of not being on solid ground that reprograms the brain. A person doesn’t need to be far from the shore to experience this peace, though perhaps far enough not to hear the kids call. Wait—you want to hear the kids? Want their laughter and stories? The average paddleboard will take a small kid or two (or kid and dog) with an adult for lazy paddling or just floating (standing up is optional). Use the SUP as a base to swim from. They weigh much less than a plastic kayak, so whether going solo or as the only adult, loading is easy.
No boat rack or shed is needed either, as inflatable SUPs (the most common for beginners) are less expensive and more forgiving of being knocked around in the load/unload process. When the marine-quality PVC board is inflated to the recommended pressure (typically around fifteen psi) it feels hard, though it won’t be as fast as rigid boards. Most come with a hand pump, which is a workout in itself, but fine for those once-or-twice-a-season inflations. Small electric pumps are available—they run off the car battery, making transport as well as storage pretty simple.
It might sound intimidating to paddleboard for the first time on one of the Finger Lakes, but if it’s not windy that can be a great first experience. New York’s public boat launches don’t require a permit (Pennsylvania does), but, unlike in Pennsylvania, most New York state parks do charge a day use fee to use their launch. Champlin Beach at the south end of Keuka Lake is free to access and you can rent a board right there. Keuka Water Sports (keukawatersports.com) has a tent and trailer by their dock from June 15 through Labor Day. Rentals range from hourly ($30 for one hour, $35 for two hours) as well as for the day or week. The staff will give you a basic introduction, as well as a life jacket renters must wear. Adults using their own boards or kayaks are required to carry one per paddler, except for November through April when everyone on a small watercraft must wear a life jacket. Children twelve and younger must always wear one.
With only a gentle breeze and no real current to contend with, beginners can paddle around on their knees until trying to stand up. Stay in swimming distance of shore—or closer to chat to the friendly woman tending her garden. Mention you’re hungry, and she’ll point across the lake and up the ridge, saying Bully Hill Vineyards serves a lovely lunch. (Village Tavern in downtown Hammondsport is great, too.)
In the Northern Tier, SUPs have started showing up on the local lakes and even on Pine Creek. Hills Creek State Park’s 137-acre lake, near Wellsboro, is a great place to paddleboard. Tim Morey, Natural Resource Specialist for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, says, “We’re seeing them more and more. People seem to really like them once they try them.” Many local outfitters have them, including Pine Creek Outfitters (pinecrk.com), which provides rentals on location at Hills Creek and Ives Run Recreation Area on Hammond Lake.
Chad Zengerle, who, with his wife, Jess, co-owns Crooked Roots Adventures and Crooked Creek Campground (crookedrootsadventures.com) along Route 6 in Gaines, says this activity appeals to folks who don’t necessarily identify as adventurous.
“Families come to rent SUP or take lessons, and mom and dad really get into it. At the end of the day, they’re like different people,” he says. Chad’s an American Canoe Association certified Level II SUP instructor, giving individual or group lessons, usually on Nessmuk Lake in Wellsboro.
“People want to come camp, but they also want adventure—and they want you to plan it for them,” he says. Jess is certified in SUP yoga, so you can do some adventurous relaxing, too.
A first lesson starts on land, covering equipment, how to enter and exit the water, and how to go from kneeling to standing. Then you practice on the water, learning the basic strokes, as well as how to get back on the board if you fall in. “If you can go from kneeling to standing on the land, you can paddleboard,” Chad says.
After two lessons, he’ll guide you down the Upper Pine if you want to try moving water, putting in near Galeton and paddling to their campground. A less-challenging and more dependable river (when water levels are low) is the West Branch of the Susquehanna where it runs wide and slow. You can get a quick workout by going upstream as far as you want before heading back to your car. Park at the Arch Street river access of Susquehanna State Park in Williamsport, and afterwards grab food and a beer at New Trail Brewing, just a half mile away, where you can toast your latest adventure and plan your next one.