Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stand Up Paddle Boarding In Austin, Texas

Living most of my life in various parts of the landlocked Midwest, I’ve somehow missed a growing trend in water recreation which has been getting increasingly popular around many areas around the globe. It’s called, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, or "SUPing," for short.

Although I’ve been to Hawaii many times (although it is true that it has been quite a few years since the last visit), I never saw it there. The same is true for California. While I’m told these are major areas for the sport, and perhaps, where it all began, I never saw it. Perhaps, my eyes were focused on other things at the beach. Whatever the case, the sport is here to stay, and I saw it on Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas for the first time.

As I just recently discovered this water sport, I’m not an expert by any means, but it consists of a person standing on a board, with a paddle to maneuver, in whatever water body the person happens to be on at the time. Austin’s Lady Bird Lake, of course, is no Pacific Ocean by any means. In Austin, Lady Bird Lake does not experience the 20 foot waves common during the winter months on Hawaii’s North Shore or, the 10 foot waves in California, but, it still looks very challenging and a lot of fun.

Like traditional surfing, I presume that balance is important, especially if the water is rough. Having not seen someone "SUPing" in large ocean waves, I’m not sure if, at times, they use the paddle like a balancing pole on a high wire act. In any event, it looks like a certain amount of skill is required.

After a little homework, I discovered a couple of interesting things. First, the boards are not inexpensive. They range from around $700 to $1,500, with the paddles being an additional cost. I also learned that a supplier of Stand Up Paddle Boards is headquartered in Austin, Texas. SUP ATX, of Austin, focuses on providing boards for lakes, where it believes there is a large market potential. I don’t disagree with the company’s assessment on this point. As there are far more lakes in the world than oceans (as evidenced by just the Highland Lakes found here in the hill country), it makes sense that the market promise on lakes is substantial. Additionally, from the perspective of someone on one of these boards, it has to be easier to navigate on a lake, of whatever size, than any ocean.

The first time I saw someone paddling a board on Lady Bird Lake, he was outrunning the tourist boat I was on (which was powered with an electric motor), not exactly a speed boat, but with a motor nonetheless. Since I wanted to get a photograph, I was hoping our boat would catch up with him, but he just kept pulling farther and farther away. As you might imagine, I was more than a little annoyed. I finally got the photographs I wanted only after he turned around and started heading back in our direction. Either our boat was very slow, or, he was very fast. My vote goes to him. While a bunch of us sat in the boat passively listening to someone ramble on about the sights of Austin, he was getting exercise, balancing himself on a floating board, paddling away, and putting great distance between us and him. And, although I don’t wear a cowboy hat, if I had been wearing one, I would have taken it off and waved to him in respect.

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