When Laurie Dayon of Crystal Lake was surfing during a recent trip to Mexico, she saw people standing up on boards that looked similar to hers, paddling in the water.
It looked exciting, so as soon as the 39-year-old got back home, she started investigating the new sport she had found — called SUP, or stand up paddleboarding.
She was so intrigued with SUP that she bought a stand up paddleboard from Alpine Accessories in Lake in the Hills without ever having tried it out, sure that she would enjoy the experience.
“You just [saw] these people out on their board ... out in the ocean,” Dayon says of her recent south-of-the-border trip. “It was intimidating, but they’d get out past the break, and they’d sit and talk, and I just thought it was so cool. How often do you just get to float above the water?
“I was trying to bring an element of my surfing to the Midwest.”
Dayon is one of many Midwesterners exploring the new world of stand up paddleboarding, says Rick Pasturczak, owner of Alpine Accessories. He recently brought the sport to his expanding ski and snowboard shop not only to keep business flowing during the summer months when skiers and snowboarders weren’t thinking of snow, but more importantly, to allow those same outdoorsmen and women the opportunity to find a passion when the ice melts.
“It’s a good carry-over sport for skiers and snowboarders because it gives everyone a core workout,” Rick says. “And you have to stay balanced on the board, so it’s a good balancing sport.”
Rick first was introduced to SUP while attending an outdoor retailer show in Austin, Texas. After seeing paddleboards there, Rick and his wife, Laurie, went to the OutDoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, Utah, to further investigate, and they saw an opportunity they couldn’t refuse — the chance to bring SUP to McHenry County.
He and his staff then tested and learned how to paddleboard last summer, and soon he had stand up paddleboards for sale in his newly expanded shop on Route 31.
“It was extremely easy to do,” he says of stand up paddleboarding. “It was actually more fun than I anticipated. I thought it was going to be a little boring, but it’s far from that.”
Stand up paddleboarding evolved from surfing, so Dayon’s immediate gravitation toward the sport isn’t surprising.
Surf instructors traditionally had a difficult time seeing their students out in the water because they were all on the same level, Rick says. Standing up to critique a surfer wasn’t easy because, just like a bicycle, it’s easier to balance on a moving object than one that’s stationary.
About 15 years ago, however, surf instructors had surf shops design them a board that was slightly longer and wider than a surfboard so that they could stand and watch their students ride the waves. Because of the wider dimensions, it was easier to get around by paddling, and so, paddleboarding was born.
The sport has exploded on the European scene, Rick says, and it is growing quickly in the U.S. In fact, a vendor recently told him that there are more paddleboards registered in San Diego than boats.
“That’s how fast it’s taken off,” he says.
Why it’s cool
Because it’s an emerging sport, many people in McHenry County may not be familiar with SUP.
“A lot of people don’t know how fun the sport is,” Rick says. “A lot of people probably don’t think there’s a lot of excitement to the sport.”
But there are similarities to SUP and other sports that are paving the way for a generation of new SUPers in the Midwest.
Paul McPherson, the assistant site supervisor at Three Oaks Recreation Area in Crystal Lake, is another local SUPer who bought a stand up paddleboard having never stepped foot on one before his purchase.
An avid canoer, McPherson said he knew he would love the sport because it used a paddle, and it was a way to get out on the water.
“I’ve been a canoer for years and years ... and when I saw SUP, I said, ‘That’s a canoe paddle, just a long one,” he says. “I just wanted something that was quick. It takes two people to lift a canoe, but this thing weighs [about 35] pounds, it’s great exercise and you’re out in the sun. It’s a good thing to do when I don’t have the time to do something else.”
“What’s neat about it, too, it’s a perspective you don’t normally have,” he continues. “When you’re in a canoe, you’re right next to the water. I was standing up, and I could see all the way [to the bottom of the lake].”
Rick agrees, noting that being on top of the water allows an SUPer to see 25 to 30 feet down in clear water, whereas a person kayaking or canoeing can’t see as deep because their proximity to the surface distorts their depth vision.
While paddleboarding at Lake Atwood in The Hollows Conservation Area near Cary, Rick has seen frogs, turtles, snakes and fish, and he says the experience is amazing.
“It’s like another world underneath you — it’s really a different perception of nature,” he says. “It’s almost like walking on water.”
SUP is similar to other sports, too. Like skiing, there are a variety of ways to enjoy SUP, Rick says. Skiers can choose from green, blue or black runs for different levels of difficulty, and a skier with 20 years of experience can still enjoy a simple green run if he or she so desires.
SUP is the same.
“You can go out, just put the board in the water and just have a nice, leisurely paddle,” Rick says. “But, if you want to make it a little more challenging, you can go to a river that has a little more current so you have to work a little harder.”
In fact, you can even use certain SUPs to surf, he says.
Additionally, like skiers and snowboarders, SUPers can take off on their own and enjoy nature by themselves, or they can go with a group of people — making SUP both a personal sport and family sport.
However, unlike winter sports, where 60 percent of skiers are men compared to just 40 percent women, and snowboarding ratios come out to 75 to 25, male to female, SUP is finding itself more slightly more female-dominated, Rick says, with 55 percent of SUPers being ladies.
It’s a sport anyone can pick up, and pick up quickly, Rick says.
All a person needs to start stand up paddleboarding is a paddleboard and paddle — plus a registration sticker that allows a person to put a board in a body of water in Illinois.
Paddleboards at Alpine Accessories start around $795 and can reach $1,490, depending on the size and type of material the board is made out of, Rick says. Paddles start at $99.
However, Alpine Accessories was started in 1993 in the basement of Rick’s house to provide skiers with accessories for their sport — ways to make the sport more enjoyable — and the store has the same philosophy toward SUP.
Some of the most popular accessories Alpine offers include leashes — and not for a pet. Similar to a surfboard leash, a paddleboard leash and paddle leash are nice to have just in case a person falls into the water, Rick says. If there is any current in the water, a board or paddle can quickly float out of reach unless it’s attached to a person.
SUPers shall have a life jacket onboard, and there are specific vests made for paddleboarding that feature cutout sleeves so a person doesn’t chafe their arms while paddling, Rick says.
Then there’s a shoulder strap that can be used to carry a board from the car to the water. While most boards are only 35 pounds, the strap can help out smaller SUPers or those who have a far distance to travel.
Alpine Accessories also offers E-merse — a waterproof, padded cell phone case that still allows a phone to be heard and used through the casing. It’s an incredibly popular — and ingenious — item, Rick says.
Today’s summer clothing line at Alpine is meant for paddleboarders, as well, with lightweight materials providing sun protection for SUPers.
Alpine Accessories offers stand up paddleboard lessons for just $49, Rick says. The hour and a half lesson includes 20 to 30 minutes of instruction on land, with the remaining amount of time spent on the water. Those who want to tag-team a lesson get a $10 discount and pay just $39 each.
“For the price of a lesson, you could enjoy the sport much more and enjoy it quicker than if you didn’t take a lesson,” Rick says. “It’s also a great way to try stand up paddleboarding before you decide if you should purchase a board for yourself.”
It’s easy to pick up the sport, but there a few nuances that people should know, he says.
For instance, when a person tries to stand up on a board in the middle of the water, it’s best to start by kneeling near the center of the board, he says. He or she should start paddling, then hop up into a standing position and continue paddling, with his or her feet waist-width apart, slightly behind the center of the board.
“Most that try it don’t fall into the water,” Rick says, noting that SUPers don’t even have to get wet if they don’t want to. They could push off straight from the shore and never take a step in the water.
Sean O’Meara, an instructor from Alpine Accessories, recently took Dayon out to The Hollows for an outing, and Dayon said the experience was everything she had hoped it to be.
“It’s just like you’re gliding on water,” she says. “It’s peaceful, and I saw turtles and fish and everything going on beneath me … . Not only is it peaceful, you’re doing something really great for your body, as well.
“I’m hooked. I’m absolutely hooked.” mc