Living

Surf's not up? Go paddleboarding

The waves in the Lowcountry reflect the region's lifestyle: laid-back. Not an ideal quality for local surfers like Glen Barroncini, who get frustrated by puny waves the size of speed bumps.

When he saw a TV show about paddleboarding, Barroncini's interest was piqued. Instead of catching bodacious breakers, riders stand on a wide board and use a long paddle to maneuver their way through the calm water. "It's perfect for beaches with low waves," the TV program said. Barroncini soon tried it himself, enjoyed it and became a paddleboarding instructor about six years ago.

In the time Barroncini and others started holding classes, paddleboarding has taken off on the beaches and marshes of the Lowcountry. Barroncini said he's given about 300 lessons so far this year. Outside Hilton Head hosted paddleboard races and clinics on the May River in April.

"It's great exercise, it's relaxing, it's fun -- it's something everyone can try," Barroncini said.

Before you hop on board, here's the lowdown on this summer's hottest beach activity.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

Publications such as SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) Global trace the roots back to 1960s Hawaii, when surfers from Waikiki would paddle out to the Pacific with their cameras to take pictures of surfing tourists. Professional surfers took to the sport about 10 years ago as a way to train when the waves were low. Competitive paddleboarding is now a worldwide sport, with races as far away as Australia. Paddleboarding is the fastest growing sport in the country, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

GET STANDING

Instructors say most of their students take to paddleboarding pretty quickly. The first challenge is finding your balance while standing on the board. Most students kneel on the board, then slowly stand, finding their balance. From there, it's like learning to walk -- take small strokes at first until you get a feel for the water, Barroncini said. By the end of an hour lesson, most students are paddling with confidence, he said.

"The hardest part is just standing on the board for so long," he said. "I've seen everyone do it, from seniors to children. You just do it at a pace that you're comfortable with."

Don't feel embarrassed if you lose your balance -- you are standing on water and not ground, after all. But, hey -- the fall isn't so hard.

"The worst thing that happens is that you go swimming," said Mike Overton, an avid paddleboarder and CEO of Outside Hilton Head.

WHY GO

Getting into the sport isn't just fun, it's a solid workout. The paddling helps with strength, balance and serves as a good core workout. Jiva Yoga on Hilton Head has even had classes on the water, practicing basic yoga while floating in a marsh.

"It's like riding a bicycle," Barroncini said. "You set your own pace; you can go for a heavier or lighter workout."

Like kayaking, it's also a good way to explore the marshes and creeks of the Lowcountry, Overton said.

"You get a different perspective from just standing up, compared to sitting," he said.

THE GEAR

The name tells you everything you need to go paddleboarding -- a paddle and a board.

The paddleboard differs from a surfboard. It's typically larger than a surfboard, ranging between 10 and 19 feet long and about 26 inches wide. The larger board allows for greater stability. Together, a paddle and a board can cost anywhere between $600 and $2,000, Overton said.

Because the Coast Guard does consider a paddleboard a vessel, a lifejacket would be a good idea, too. Wear clothes you wouldn't mind getting wet, of course. And, as in any beach or water activity, don't forget to lather on the sunscreen.

  Comments