Paddleboards come with a hefty price tag: expect to pay about $1,000 for an entry-level vessel, and even more for a custom-fitted board. But while the start-up price is fairly steep, the learning curve isn’t. “It’s literally that initial time you get up,” says Amy Hotchkiss, who instructs beginners through Osterville’s Stand Up and Paddle Cape Cod. “It’s that fear of falling in and of not being able to do it.” After 10 minutes on the water, perspectives change. “A lot of people will tell me, ‘This is so easy,’” she says. “Well, yeah, it is.”
Del Rosario began incorporating SUPs in part to get his students on the water during flat spells. “Some people have no desire to surf because they’re scared of the waves, but they’ll give stand-up paddling a try because it’s something different,” he says. More than just a flat-water substitute for surfing, paddling through choppy waters is great standalone exercise for the shoulders, back, legs, and stabilizer muscles in the body’s midsection. It’s not uncommon to find classes full of yoga practitioners on the water, contorting their figures atop SUPs.
The bodies of water around the Cape and Islands are inexhaustible. If you want to paddle in flat water, hop in your nearest kettle pond, marsh, or harbor. To catch waves, head to the south side of Nantucket or the eastern-facing beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore. This August, if you’re up for a test of endurance, you can join the Cape Cod Bay Challenge, a 10-hour, 36-mile journey organized—and paddled three out of four times so far—by Babcock and co-founder Mike Brown. It’s not as rigorous as a marathon, Babcock says, but it requires preparation. “For someone who hasn’t been paddling a lot,” he says, “it’s going to be a struggle.”
Here and elsewhere, stand-up paddlers looking to catch waves sometimes face the derision of many surfing purists. SUPs allow easier maneuverability to get into position to spot and catch incoming swells. This gives older, less mobile surfers a second career in wave riding, but it allows greedy paddlers to steal all the waves they want by moving more quickly than traditional surfers. There is a fear of the water being swamped by kooks—inexperienced riders oblivious to the social hierarchy in the line-up who make boneheaded, sometimes dangerous decisions. There’s a simple solution: stand-up paddleboarders looking to catch waves should cluster away from surfers looking to do the same. “We can certainly all learn to get along,” Babcock says. “It’s just a question of educating the new stand-up paddlers—and some of the more aggressive surfers—that everybody has a place out there.”
Five years ago, when Babcock first began paddling, he says he rarely ever saw another SUP on the water. Now they’re everywhere, and he doesn’t begrudge the phenomenon. Now, he’s evangelical: about paddleboarding beyond improving his balance, stand-up paddling helped him lose 50 pounds, meet some of his best friends, and find a new purpose in life—now he just needs a house without a lawn so he can spend his weekends paddling instead of landscaping, he says. Still, he knows the unabated growth of interest in the sport will probably taper off the same way as any other new pastime. “But it’s never going to just go away,” he says. “There will still be at least one person out there paddling, even if it’s just me.”
Jeff Harder is managing editor at Cape Cod Life Publications.