Get on board!

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By Jane Bartnett

It’s one of the fastest-growing water sports around.

Stand-up paddleboarding is low-cost, peaceful, relaxing, easy to master, great exercise and, once you get the hang of it, excellent for practicing balance.

Tracing its lineage as far back as ancient Peru, the modern-day version got its start on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii in the 1950s.

On Siesta Key, Turtle Beach is one of the best places for paddleboarders. To learn more, we sought out Kayaking SRQ, one of the recommended vendors found on the Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources website. It has a full set-up on the south end of the Key where it also offers kayaking. Company employee Justin Oliver, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with eight years of paddleboarding and kayaking experience, gave us a private tutorial on the fine art of paddleboarding.

“Anyone of any age can paddleboard,” said Oliver. “It takes about five minutes to learn and you don’t have to be a superstar athlete or a big-deal surfer. It’s like riding a bike — it just takes some practice and learning how to balance.”

The board, made of rubberized plastic and filled with foam for buoyancy, runs 8 to10 feet long with a rudder on the bottom. A coiled leash with an ankle strap that tethers the board to the rider sits on the top.

In keeping with U.S. Coast Guard regulations, each board is equipped with a life jacket – it’s considered a vessel. Although adults are not required to wear one, children are.

There’s ample room for a cooler at the front end and experts advise bringing a whistle along for the ride. It’s a smart way to warn other vessels that you’re nearby. 

Kayaking SRQ also supplies each board rental with a “dry bag” to store cell phones, keys and wallets.

Most people paddleboard barefoot. It’s wise to wear a swimsuit. “Everyone falls in at some point,” Oliver said with a laugh.

Justin Oliver demonstrates the paddleboard process. (photos by Jane Bartnett)

While people of all ages, shapes and sizes have taken up the sport, our instructor reported that having strong core muscles helps. With practice, it can build muscles.

“Some first-timers get back to land feeling a little sore,” Oliver said. “Paddleboarding makes use of your core and your legs. After a few times out on the water, it gets much easier. And it’s just plain fun.”

To get started, Oliver explained the basics. After placing the board at the edge of the shore in shallow water, he began our class by saying:

  • Hold the board at the edges with your hands and facing forward, kneel in the center of the board.
  • Start to stand up slowly by moving one foot at a time to the position of your hands.
  • For balance, lift your chest first and, keeping your knees bent, slowly stand up.
  • Stand with your feet in a parallel position, at hip-distance.
  • Stay in the center of the board, keeping knees slightly bent.
  • Shift your weight by moving your hips.
  • Look to the horizon and, keeping your knees bent, put the paddle in the water and push it front to back — paddle three strokes on one side and then three strokes on the other side.

And, he added, “Don’t look down or you’ll lose your balance and fall into the water. Look ahead. If you fall in, that’s OK. Don’t panic.”

He then explained how to get back on the board when the inevitable happens and you fall in:

  • Hang onto your paddle.
  • If you lose the paddle, get back on the board first.
  • To get back on, grab the paddle handle in the center of the board.
  • Kick your legs and pull yourself up on the side of the board.
  • Once you’re on the board, get to a kneeling position and then stand up again.”

He explained that it’s also important to have a good understanding of the paddle:

  • Keep your hand at the top of the paddle.
  • Move the paddle from the front toward your ankle, pushing down as though the board is moving past the paddle.
  • Alternate. Paddle for three strokes on the right and then three strokes on the left.
  • If you’re finding it hard to paddle, move to a kneeling or sitting position and take nice big paddles.

With our lesson complete, we learned that the fun part begins out on the water.

Just moments away from the sandy shores of Hidden Beach, the official name of the paddleboard and kayaking launch site at Turtle Beach, lies Bird Keys, also known as the Jim Neville Marine Preserve, in Little Sarasota Bay. Part of the Sarasota County parks system, the island is a treasure for wildlife, birding and fishing. It’s also a place where paddleboarders will find beautiful secluded beaches. Traveling through the water also offers a chance to see manatees, dolphins and many migrating birds.

Kayaking SRQ offers individual and group paddleboarding rentals as well as guided tours. To learn more visit KayakingSRQ on Facebook, online at kayakingsrq.com, or call or text at (941) 799-1863 or (941) 275-2971.

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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