Nov 07, 2010

New Water Sport Rides Wave of Popularity

Photo by Rachel Schultz

By Rachel Schultz

Standing atop a 12-foot board while paddling along Lady Bird Lake takes a little getting used to. This is stand-up paddle boarding which, in Austin, offers a total body workout and a new way to connect with the beauty of Austin’s downtown waterfront.

Part workout, part recreation, stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP for short, has grabbed an immediate audience in the Austin area.

Nick Matzorkis, founder of the company SUP ATX, brought SUP east from California to Austin last year. Matzorkis noticed that a few random paddlers were floating around Austin waterways for the last few years, but it wasn’t until the arrival of SUP ATX from Malibu that the trend caught on.

“There are several factors that make Austin the ultimate market for such a sport,” Matzorkis said.  “Unlike surfing communities in coastal areas, the calmer lake and river conditions in Austin allow people to participate in paddling more frequently.”

SUP traces its lineage back to Hawaii where surfers first practiced the craft. Austinites today use SUP in a variety of ways.

“I board for the exercise in my arms, shoulders, core and to appreciate the scenery around me,” said Katherine Reagan, an employee of Pure Austin Gym.

Kelton Miller and Christa Alexander, students at The University of Texas and first-time boarders, said they enjoyed the sport enough that they want to get boards of their own, each at about $600 a pop.

“Stand-up paddle boarding is the perfect combination of familiar fitness practices as well as a fun way to get outdoors,” Miller said.

SUP ATX is the number one maker of boards, producing close to 13,000 this year and expecting 30,000 in 2011 – growth that shows the popularity of stand-up paddle boarding. But for those not ready to shell out for a board of their own, all Austin-area RunTex stores offer rentals at $10 for two hours.

Those prices, which undercut most established canoe and kayak rentals in Austin, have helped draw many newcomers.

Harold Ambler, an employee at Texas Rowing Center, which offers canoe and kayak rentals, said that SUP has not hurt his business and that “this new sport attracts a different group of people.”

Ambler also said that people come out to the water for “nature, exercise and community,” which kayaking, canoeing, and SUP all offer depending, of course, on your workout of choice.