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Paddle Up!

Riding the Cape’s Paddleboard WAVE


Photo by Luke Simpson

Bob Babock stood up on a stand-up paddleboard because sometimes it was tough to stand up anywhere else.

In late 2003, Babcock was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. The subsequent treatment literally left him out of balance. “I was having a hard time even walking sometimes, or driving a car,” says the Carver resident, now 54. “Normal things became very difficult for a while.” Years of doctor-prescribed exercises produced little improvement. Then one autumn day in 2007, Babcock’s older brother, a former windsurfer, arrived with a gift: a stand-up paddleboard. Babcock was a “typical suburban dad,” he says. He had never surfed, but he had a lifelong love of the ocean. And the ocean seemed a better place for rehabilitation than a doctor’s office.

Day after day, Babcock went into the water, rose to his feet, dug his paddle in, and glided across the surface. He fell here and there, but mostly he didn’t. With time, he retrained his equilibrium to rely on his field of vision and he restored his balance. And with time, he was able to join his closest friends in steering their boards 36 miles across Cape Cod Bay.

Even if you didn’t know what it was called, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a stand-up paddleboard lashed to a car’s roof rack or floating in a kettle pond. It’s a fast-growing sport that is deceptively simple—you can learn enough in one lesson to spend the afternoon on the water—and friendly for all ages, from middle schoolers to septuagenarians. “If you can put one foot in front of the other on land, you should be able to stand-up paddle,” says Christian del Rosario, owner of a stand-up paddleboarding retail shop on the north shore of Massachusetts and instructor at Nantucket Surfari during the summers. “I think it’s easier than riding a bicycle.” And in a region surrounded and permeated by water, it’s a sport built for the Cape and Islands.

Here’s how it works in a nutshell: The paddler enters a body of water and works his way up from his knees to standing, spreading his feet and pulling a single-blade paddle beneath the surface in broad strokes. In a lot of ways, it’s like kayaking without all that sitting around. Measuring around 32 inches wide and 10 feet long or more, stand-up paddleboards—SUPs for short—are usually bulkier than their surfboard relatives.

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