In the past few years, standup paddleboarding has grown to be a commonplace sport on the South Fork — “the new activity that everyone wants to get into,” in the words of Khanh Ngo, the owner of Khanh Sports and EH Eyewear, who’s always on the go.
Lars Svanberg, who helped oversee a large fleet of SUPs that traversed the some 18 miles of ocean between the Montauk Lighthouse and Block Island Saturday as a Paddlers 4 Humaniy fund-raiser for East End children, said, when questioned, “Paddleboarding is the new bicycle because everyone can learn to do it.”
Several years ago, there were only a few people who carried around paddleboards here; today, there is a large variety of outfitters, tour groups, and stores.
Gina Bradley, who started Paddle Diva in 2009, said recently that she had a vision to make standup paddleboarding “more accessible to the masses.” Driven by her own passion for the sport, she initially focused on women because she felt they were “underserved,” and began teaching them with a meager inventory of four boards. Now, she’s got 40 at the Shagwong Marina, where Paddle Diva is based, eight instructors, and four other employees.
“Our goal is to keep people coming back for more,” Bradley said. “We try to make it accessible to everyone on a daily basis. . . . The number of our clients has grown exponentially.”
She added that the appeal of Paddle Diva’s SUP yoga program overseen by her Paddle Diva partner, and yogi, Jessica Belloffato, had also significantly increased. A typical session/tour begins with a basic lesson and ends with yoga poses on anchored boards.
“The yoga program has taken time to gain momentum,” said Bradley, “but this year interest is peaking.” Paddle Diva offers other tours as well — sunset tours, moonlight tours, fitness tours, and tours led by South Fork naturalists.
Weekend Warriors, founded by Ed Cashin and David Lys, who began selling paddleboards and offering paddleboard tours in 2007, has also helped bring the sport to the East End.
“It’s gone over the moon,” said Lys.
While Weekend Warriors doesn’t have a shop in Sag Harbor anymore, it continues to offer paddleboarding and kayaking tours, clinics, and one-on-one lessons. “If you have the right equipment and the right location, paddleboarding is accessible to all skill levels,” Lys added, agreeing that at present “there is a lot of interest out here. Accessibility is a huge selling point.”
Ngo recently opened a second store on Pantigo Road. The new store, he said, enables him to offer a larger amount and variety of products. Khanh Sports has been selling paddleboards for three years, and, in addition to sales and rentals, it offers tours for customers with certified SUP instructors.
Svanberg’s Main Beach Surf and Sport Shop launched its paddleboarding effort eight years ago after he learned about the sport while in Hawaii, where paddleboarding is thought to have originated.
George McKee, one of Svanberg’s employees, said, “It’s not hard to pick up — there’s a better learning curve, for instance, than you’d have in surfing or other water sports.”
“Every single waterway becomes available to you with a paddleboard,” said Svanberg, who added that flatwater paddleboards account for almost 90 percent of the store’s SUP sales.
Main Beach offers rentals, guided tours, and lessons, and it delivers anywhere in the tristate area. The store also runs a series of a half-dozen races under the Hamptons Race Series banner.
Typically, Svanberg said, 100 entrants will turn out for a race, testimony to the sport’s growing popularity. Providing demo boards to potential clients has also helped, he said, at least at his store. “It could be described as one of the secrets to our success,” he said.
Standard recreational boards are light, easy to carry, and manageable. Besides the standard board there are the shorter and wider ocean boards designed to go through surf and waves, and the longer flatwater boards, ranging from 12 and a half to 14 feet, which are fast and easily maneuverable.
Paddleboarding apparently is here to stay. “Interest definitely hasn’t peaked yet,” Svanberg said in parting.