Standup grows up
SUP events appealing more to those seeking a change
Thanks largely to enthusiastic event organizers and an easy learning curve, standup paddleboarding is stirring more Midwest waters. The popularity of the sport - "SUP" for short - is evidenced by the many stand-alone SUP festivals and races scheduled throughout the region the summer.
Increasingly, paddleboards are being floated at events amidst kayaks and canoes and not only on quietwater. SUP racers are seeking challenging courses and competition, not satisfied with the placid experience the sport initially presents.
Take, for instance, the approach of the Tom Blake Board Across the Bay Race and Festival set for Chequamegon Bay in northernmost Wisconsin, July 27-29. At this first-time event, SUP racers will tackle 17- and 8.5-mile courses on Lake Superior. A one-mile course will also pit paddleboarders test their agility against the clock.
"This is not a little dance on an inland lake," festival organizer Rik Pauli said. "It's going to be a world-class, challenging course."
No fewer than 44 classes of racers will take to the unpredictable waters of the Great Lake. There will be races for surf skis, kayaks, outrigger canoes (open-deck canoes are not a wise choice for Lake Superior) in single, double and four-person team categories. But the main emphasis will be on standup paddling, Pauli said.
A self-described "convert from kayaking," Pauli insists SUP is as versatile as any other paddlesport. "You can do on a standup paddleboard everything you can do in a kayak or canoe," he said. "I can fly fish and run whitewater rivers."
By associating his new event with Tom Blake, the legendary Washburn-raised inventor of the surfboard fin and hollow board, Pauli is consciously positioning SUP on a continuum of paddlesport innovation.
Pauli said proceeds from the Tom Blake festival will fund a life-size statue of the man to be erected in Washburn's West End Park, where the events will be staged.
SUP may be the fastest growing water sport in the world, but it's been slow to leave coastal areas. "In the Midwest, we're just getting a taste for it. We're just getting started," said Pauli, the owner of Fluid Adventures in Paddlesports in Cable, Wisconsin.
As a northwoods Wisconsin denizen, Pauli envisions the long distance SUP races at Board Across the Bay on par with the American Birkebeiner ski marathon - a goal race for which competitors train year round.
The connection between paddleboarding and cross-country skiing is not far fetched, Pauli argued. "I'm a big cross-country skier, and the benefits I get from the core workout standup paddling provides is beyond belief," he said.
The Tom Blake Board Across the Bay Festival will benefit from the involvement of other experts, such as Randy Carlson, coordinator of whitewater kayaking, canoeing, SUP and snow kiting for the University of Minnesota-Duluth's Recreational Sports Outdoor Program. Carlson is also founder of the Two Harbors Kayak Festival.
Pauli said he's also lined up multiple Coast Guard boats and fellow members of the Bayfield County Dive Team to ensure the safety of participants. "If you have problems, just put a hand up. You'll be plucked out of the water before you know it," he said.
Even in Chequamegon Bay, which is shallow and protected, the wind coming in off Lake Superior can change direction quickly. And while the lake water is crystal clear - something paddleboarders in particular can appreciate from their vantage point - deep cold water can be blown in even in July.
"It would be wise to bring wetsuits," Pauli said.
Pauli put on the 2011 Lake Superior Standup Paddleboard and Kayak Festival held in nearby Cornucopia, Wisconsin. "Last year we had terrible fog and wind and the race was cancelled," Pauli said. "But we had demos all day in two- to three-foot waves. People were falling off their boards but having fun."
For more information about the Tom Blake Board Across the Bay Race and Festival, check out the website sites.google.com/site/tomblakefestival.
Another Wisconsin SUP event will try a changes of venue and focus to appeal to enthusiasts eager for more advanced instruction and competitive opportunities.
The Midwest Standup Paddle Festival will reinvent itself in a new location July 13-15. Besides moving from the northeast to the southwest end of Lake Mendota in Middleton, Wisconsin, the event will focus more on racing by elites and amateurs, without diminishing the instruction available to first timers.
Standup paddlers wanting to refine their technique can attend a two-hour clinic on Friday evening, July 13, led by four-time Olympic canoeist and Quickblade Paddles owner Jim Terrell. A reception and dinner at Bishops Bay Country Club will follow.
On Sunday morning, attendees will travel about 20 miles northwest to just below the dam on the Wisconsin River at Prairie du Sac. There whitewater SUP expert Dan Gavere will teach paddling techniques for moving water.
Otherwise the Midwest Standup Paddle Festival will be held at Bishop's Bay on Lake Mendota. And newcomers to the sport will be welcome. In fact, a short two-mile recreational course has been added to the itinerary. Pro and amateurs alike will race a six-mile course but will compete in separate divisions.
Gary Stone, event organizer and owner of Paddleboard Specialists, said the races will be especially spectator friendly. After laps of the one-mile course on water, the racers will be required to run through 100-yard chicanes on the beach.
"Some of the pros then dive back on their boards and are up and paddling so fast you'll wonder how they do it," Stone said. "You'll be able to see every minute of every race."
For more information and to register, go to midweststanduppaddlefestival.eventbrite.com." target="_blank">midweststanduppaddlefestival.eventbrite.com.
Joel Patenaude is the editor of Silent Sports.
Midwest Standup Paddleboard Championship Series
This 12-event series takes in lakes and rivers in six states - Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. For more info, go to midwestsup.com.
June 6: SPRINT & SPLASH AT LAKE ST. CLAIR, 6 & 3 miles; Harrison Township, MI; www.sprintandsplash.com; 586/469-5285; SprintandSplash@yahoo.com
June 16: SWEETWATER SUP CHALLENGE, Benton Harbor, MI; 920/208-7873; www.thirdcoastsurfshop.com
June 23: SUP 'N' SURF, Sheboygan, WI; eosoutdoor.com
June 21-23: PADDLEFEST, 14 miles pro canoe, 11 miles amateur kayak & canoe, 5 miles SUP, Cincinnati, OH; www.ohioriverway.org/paddlefest
June 30: LAKE MAX CHALLENGE, 8-10 mile & short course, Culver, IN; lakemaxchallenge.com
July 7: MIDWEST SUP MASTERS NATIONAL, 6-7 miles elite, 3-4 rec., 0.25 mile sprint, Lake Geneva, WI; clearwateroutdoor.com
July 13-15: MIDWEST STANDUP PADDLE FESTIVAL, 6 miles elite & open, 2 miles rec., Middleton, WI; 877/473-1199; firstname.lastname@example.org; midweststanduppaddlefestival.eventbrite.com
July 21: GREAT LAKES SUP CLASSIC, Holland, MI; 616/396-5556; www.hollandoutpost.com
July 28: DETROIT SUP FESTIVAL, 6 miles elite, 3 miles rec., Milford, MI; 888/840-9518; detroitsupfestival.com;">email@example.com; .detroitsupfestival.com
Aug. 4: LAKE SUPERIOR PADDLE FEST, Duluth, MN; www.superiorsurfsystems.com
Aug. 11-12: WINDY CITY WATERMAN CHALLENGE, Chicago, IL; www.skylinesup.com
Aug. 18: TC WATERMAN SUP CHALLENGE, 10 miles, 3.5 miles rec., kids' races, Traverse City, MI; tcwaterman.com
Western Lake Superior Paddlesport Racing Series
This series of races and clinics are for SUPs, prone paddleboards, surf skis, sea kayaks and outrigger canoes. For more information, email Randy Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 6: FREE SUP RACE CLINIC, UMD's Lester River Surf & Kayak Shack, Duluth, MN
July 7: TOM BLAKE BOARD ACROSS THE BAY, free race course tour, West End Park, Washburn, WI
July 27-29: TOM BLAKE BOARD ACROSS THE BAY RACE & FESTIVAL, West End Park, Washburn, WI
Aug. 2-5: TWO HARBORS KAYAK FESTIVAL, Burlington Bay, Two Harbors, MN
PaddleQuest participants paddle canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards, follow maps to treasures and challenges and gather trash along the way. For more information, got to paddlequest.org.
July 14: CROSS TOWN PASSAGE, Laacke and Joy's, Milwaukee, WI
July 28: WAUPACA MYSTIC CHAIN, Clearwater Harbor Bar, Waupaca, WI
Aug. 11-12: THE BACKWATERS, Lakeside Bar, Stevens Point, WI
Sept. 15: LAKE DUBAY, Shipyard Bar, Lake DuBay, WI