Revived sport likened to “skate boarding on water.”
Stand up paddling (SUP) seems to be catching on here in Western North Carolina where there is no shortage of rivers, ponds, and lakes for recreational use.
Though the activity originated in Hawaii, it has caught on quickly in the rest of the country and in 2013, according to a the Outdoor Industry Association's Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, it was deemed as having the most first-time participants of any sport in the year.
The sport itself, according to Cullowhee resident Rick “Sharky” Gorton, can have a very positive impact on people who participate.
“I started doing it to build strength in my upper body,” he said. “I've gotten relatively good at it I think. I like the thrill of it. It's like skateboarding on water.”
Traditionally SUP boards are similar to surf boards except they are larger. They are typically made from laminated layers over foam cores.
But Gorton uses an inflatable board that can be used on whitewater to satisfy his need for thrills, like ones he used to get when surfing back before making a move to WNC. When kayaking didn't quite fill the void, he looked into the budding sport of SUP. At 60 years old, he says that he feels young again.
“I did 10 miles yesterday,” he said of a trip he made down the Tuckaseegee River in Cullowhee. “I wish I could go every day.”
Though he says it's a fun activity, he also points to other positive health contributions that he gains from taking part in SUP.
“Along with constantly working my arms when I'm paddling and strengthening my upper body, I also have PTSD to deal with and part of my thing is that I can't sleep at night so this helps me sleep. I also work with the Wounded Warrior project and I think it would be beneficial to many veterans as well. It's all about gaining your confidence. It's a great way to do it,” Gorton said.
He recommends that beginners start out on slower moving water, lakes or ponds and everybody that participates should make sure that they have safety equipment regardless of skill set.
“I always make sure I have two of everything. PFDs (Personal Floatation Device) are a necessity and it's a good idea to wear a helmet if you know that you are going to be in more shallow waters,” he said.
According to Rob Gasparro and Cory McCall, the proprietors of Outdoor 76, SUP is gaining a lot of momentum right here in Macon County. Since they rent boards out by the day, they have a pretty good idea of just how popular the activity is becoming.
“It's definitely catching on,” said Gasparro. “I would say that we have a steady flow of rental requests. In fact, Cory and I were just discussing inflatable boards earlier as something to maybe look into.”
For more information about SUP rentals, visit Outdoor 76 located on Main Street in downtown Franklin.