Standup paddleboarding is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States. It’s basically the next gold rush of sports. That makes it a ripe market for shysters selling anything to anyone. Everybody wants a piece of the action-the money. You can rent standup paddleboards all over the place now. You can buy cheap ones at Costco and go out on your own.

That doesn’t mean you should. Especially if you want to have fun and live.

That’s a bit overdramatic, but not by much.

Thursday evening we had our third Sunset Sup race at Wrightsville Beach that went from the Blockade Runner sound-side beach to the causeway bridge, around the bridge, back around a buoy at the Blockade Runner, and then back around the bridge and back. (And two more times if you enjoy killing yourself. I’m working up to that.)

During the trip around the bridge I noticed a weird sight. Right near the pilings and the docks there was a girl on a paddleboard and a guy on a surfboard. The wind was absolutely howling–at least 20kts–and the water was choppy. I wanted to yell at the guy “THIS IS REALLY NOT A GOOD PLACE TO BE TRYING TO TEACH A BEGINNER TO PADDLEBOARD AT THIS PARTICULAR TIME.” I thought it was a boyfriend and girlfriend, with the girlfriend looking pretty miserable. I learned this morning that it was actually someone giving a “lesson.”

THAT WAS NOT A LESSON.

That was someone who knows how to surf but not how to paddle taking an unfortunate customer out in the worst possible conditions in the worst possible area at the worst possible time. Cracking head on concrete bridge piling, much? We’ll come back to that. I have yet to hear someone in town say to my face that paddleboarding is for wussies. Probably because they know I’ll let ’em have it. The chatter I’ve heard revolves mainly around shops that sell surfboards getting in on the paddleboard sales action, simultaneously taking money from innocent people who don’t know any better–selling them boards that are not appropriate for them–while turning their noses up at the sport. If you don’t like the sport, don’t sell the boards.

Find a Paddle Shop

If you want to get into the sport, I suggest you do two things:

  1. Find a shop that does mostly, if not all, paddleboarding. Few surf shops are really dual paddle and surf shops.
  2. Take a lesson from a WPA (World Paddle Association) certified instructor.

I was in my local shop–SHOUT OUT TO CAROLINA PADDLEBOARD CO.!!!!!–talking to the owner, Jason, about some people who came in to rent and said to him “Nah, we don’t need lessons.” He said “Show me how to hold the paddle.” They picked up the paddles–backwards. He reached over, turned the paddle around and said “Consider this your free lesson. Hold it this way.” Paddleboarding is not as easy as sticking a paddle in the water and dragging it. If you don’t learn how to hold the paddle and stand on the board, you will be miserable. You’ll get tired really quickly. If you don’t know about the currents and wind you can put yourself in an unsafe situation. If you don’t know how to fall correctly you can quickly hit your head and drown. It’s summer, which means there are a lot of boats out there, and boats don’t much care for paddleboarders. Usually they won’t get out of the way, either, and they have the right-of-way, so they don’t have to.

I took lessons from John B, The King Mullet, when I started learning. Which brings me to another point: If you want to learn, at some point, you’ll have to spend money. John is my friend, but when I started paddling, he was a friend of a friend doing me a favor. After one “freebie” outing, I paid him $150 for a set of lessons. You can borrow a board from someone a couple of times, but dragging boards around can be a drag, not to mention the liability.

I have a second set of equipment so I can take my friends out; however, if any of them get serious in the sport, they’ll have to buy their own boards eventually. John was really nice and loaned me one of his twenty gazzilion Whoppers he had at the time. (I think he knew it was  gateway drug. When he called me two months later to say he had to sell, I bought it on the spot. He did give me a good deal!)

If you want to try boards for free, go to a demo day. Our shops have them all the time. There are always demos during race weekends, too. If you want to learn, take some lessons. A WPA certified instructor will teach you how to paddle correctly, and how to have fun. A guy on a surfboard babysitting you in the water isn’t a teacher. He’s a shill.

Anywhere that paddling has started to become popular, there’s somebody with experience. Find that person. Take a lesson. Carolina PaddleBoard Co. in Wrightsville Beach offers a $50 lesson, which includes equipment. Their instructors have been all over the world, paddling, racing, and teaching. $50 isn’t much to pay for peace of mind and the right instruction that will help you have fun while you learn. We have several other great companies in the WB area, too–all with certified instructors.

Wherever you are, find someone who knows what they’re doing, and spend a few dollars to learn from them. It costs a bare minimum of about $1,000 to buy your own equipment, and that’s for crappy equipment. It’s worth a few hundred dollars in lessons and rentals to get yourself off to a good start.

The truth is this: If you can’t afford a lesson, you can’t afford this sport. Sounds mean, but it isn’t. It’s realistic. Once you make the initial investment for equipment, the big money is out of the way. There are no greens fees in paddleboarding. And, if anyone ever tries to take you out for a “lesson” while they’re on a surfboard and you’re on a paddleboard, get your money back and go home.

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