Lady of the Lake: What's SUP

No, really—what is S.U.P.?

It is the acronym for Stand Up Paddling. Stand-up paddleboards are those large surf boards where people stand on top, using a long paddle to move them along the water. I had never heard or seen anything like this before our Paddle for Clean Water event last August. Since then, it has shown up everywhere; it is the new water sport craze. I see them at boat shows, in outdoor sports shops, and marine supply stores. It's like they showed up over night.

I decided to research the history of this newfangled sport and called one of the first retail SUP suppliers, YOLO Paddleboards out of Florida. Their website states: "With the motto ‘You Only Live Once' as the company's guiding principle, the idea of YOLO Board was born. The two founders set out to introduce SUP to the Sunshine State with the production of a variety of high quality, stable and soundly designed stand up paddleboards. Making SUP accessible and easy for anyone, no matter the age or skill level, has been the company's foundational goal since day one and continues today."

Mitzi Archer, one of the founders, told me that the idea of stand-up paddling first arose in the 1950s as photographers in Hawaii needed to be out in the surf and positioned for surf-competition photos. These innovators used big surf boards for stability and borrowed paddles to move themselves and expensive cameras though the water into position. Archer said that it grew slowly in California and some other ocean towns until 2005 when her husband and his best friend saw an opportunity to rent out paddleboards to outdoor adventurers. This initialized an introduction and the commercialization of this new sport otherwise experienced only by those paddlers who were "in the know."

The "old school" surfers shunned this new craze as sissy surfing, yet the bridge had been made between hardcore surfing and a surf sport for the not-so-hardcore. As more and more people began to try it, they started to notice the fitness benefits of this sport. Mitzi said that one customer, who had previously been a couch potato, took up the sport and lost 30 pounds—and he was 60 years old! Recently, the fitness world has caught wind of this sport and is offering SUP fitness classes. I've been told it is a workout from the neck down and you get to see the lovely water and shores from a peaceful pace and place. Last fall I was at the Lake Eden Arts Festival and I witnessed a yoga class on these boards in the lake! What will they think of next?

I think the greatest appeal is the participant does not have to be in incredible shape and the stable boards and demonstration classes entice people to try it and get hooked. I told Mitzi that I had not experienced it yet and her response was, "Dude, you gotta try it."

Motivated by her encouragement, I looked around for SUP opportunities and found Knoxville has loads. Billy Lush, a small local provider, sells the YOLO boards and long boards with a stick for "land paddling." Blue Ridge Mountain Sports sells several different models and offers "Paddling 101" classes and try-before-you-buy boat demos all through the summer. Visit their website or their stores for more information. River Sports has been carrying SUP boards for five years and saw the rise in popularity really hit the mainstream in fall 2012. Laura Jones of River Sports told me that rentals are booming and that she predicts that if the trend keeps going, SUPs may outsell their kayaks. She said it offers paddlers a whole new dimension and that for the older crowd, it is a fun and easy way to get a workout and socialize with friends: "You can sit, stand, or even lay down and generally do more on a SUP than a kayak."

A large SUP is 14 feet long and holds 350 pounds and is stable enough to do a little fishing. Jones reports "just this year alone their sales have increase 100 percent." With that kind of market response, it's no wonder why River Sports has added SUP fitness classes and SUP socials to their summer schedule. You can visit their website, stores, or download their new app river.sports to join in the fun. Oh there's more, once you get confident, you can enter the SUP race series hosted by River Sports. The net proceeds go to support FLLA and help keep our lake clean.

I guess it's time for me to go out and try one of these boards to keep up with my contemporaries. With all these opportunities, there's no excuse not to. m

Angela Howard is the executive director of the Fort Loudoun Lake Association. Visit for more info.