What’s SUP? : Coastal Carolina’s Favorite New Watersport
Head out to any beach and most waterways this summer and you’ll see a strange sight: people walking on water.
No, it’s not a miracle. It’s a sport that in the last five years has spread across the region and the globe, bringing surfers, kayakers, whitewater rafters, nature enthusiasts and fitness buffs together with uncanny speed. The sport is standup paddleboarding. Or SUP to those in the know.
From the shore, SUPing looks like a combination of longboard surfing and kayaking, and that’s no too far off. A standup paddleboarding is 30 to 36 inches wide and anywhere from 8 to 12 feet long. It has an ankle leash and fins on the bottom, much like a longboard, but you propel yourself with a paddle, more like a kayak. You can take a paddleboard almost anywhere you can take a kayak, from the waterway to the marsh to the ocean to inland waters like lakes, rivers and creeks.
“We have unbelievable access to the water here on the Cape Fear Coast,” says Chris LaCoe, owner of the Carolina Beach–based surf school, Odysea. “From Topsail [Island] all the way down to Calabash, there are thousands of miles of shoreline, marshes, creeks, bays and, of course, the Intracoastal Waterway to explore.”
LaCoe, who came to SUP through surfing, says that interest in the sport has exploded.
“I handle as many SUP lessons, trips and questions as I do for surfing,” LaCoe says. “That wasn’t the case not too long ago. People love this sport.”
Climb on a paddleboard and you’ll find out why it’s so popular.
From the top of a paddleboard, you have a different vantage point of the water and your surroundings. In the marsh, you can glide silently to the edge of the grass and watch, undisturbed, birds on the nest or hunting for periwinkles and crabs. When the water is clear and with the help of a good pair of polarized sunglasses, you’ll see schools of fish as they go by, and not just finger-sized baitfish, but flounder, red drum and some of their larger cousins.
“SUP is a pretty easy sport to get the hang of,” LaCoe says. “We do many of our first-time classes in the Fort Fisher Basin where it’s shallow – only 3 to 4 feet – and where there’s little boat traffic. Oak Island has some great spots for learning to SUP and we do a fair number of classes there year round.”
Ryan Meddock, co-owner of Wilmington’s Hook, Line and Paddle, has found a safe place for Brunswick Countians to try their hand at SUP – Brunswick Forest.
“We do regular SUP events for residents in Brunswick Forest,” Meddock says. “We bring down a trailer of boards and let folks give them a shot right around the dock and kayak launch. My partner, Chris Tryon, leads residents on tours on Towne Creek that have become quite popular.”
Meddock, LaCoe and Tony Silvagni (of Tony Silvagni Surf School in Carolina Beach) all agree on one thing: When SUP draws you in, you’re in it for life.
“I’ve had students from [age] 10 to their upper 80s, and they’ve all loved it,” Silvagni says. “The reason they’ve been successful is because we make them feel comfortable on the land – teach them techniques for standing, paddling and falling – before they get in the water. Once they’re in the water, that’s it, they’re hooked.”
• Take a lesson. Don’t underestimate the value of good instruction before you head out.
• Bring a PFD. The Coast Guard requires a PFD in some areas of water, and it’s also just a good idea in case you fall off, especially in deep water.
• Leave the phone, camera and keys on shore. Unless you have a good, proven waterproof case, leave the valuable electronics (and anything else you’d hate to see sink) on the shore. Most outfitters rent or sell cases and bags (like the DryCase) for cameras and phones.
• Get a feel for the board in calm water before hitting the surf. SUP is easy on flat water, but waves add a whole new dimension. Prepare to get wet when you hit the ocean for the first time.
• Wear a good pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses let you see through the glare on the water and protect your eyes.
• Try before you buy. Paddleboards are expensive ($600 for intro boards, $2,000+ for racing and expedition boards), so rent boards a few times to see if you love SUP and want to invest in your own board and paddle.
• Don’t be afraid to fall. It’s only water and you’re only falling over into it. The worst thing it hurts is your pride.
• Apply sunscreen generously. Of course you’ll put sunscreen on the obvious parts – your nose, ears and shoulders – but don’t forget your feet and all the parts that will be hit by the sun’s reflection – under your nose, your jaw line and neck, among other places.
• Have fun.
Where to SUP
A lot of the SUP community is centered on Wrightsville Beach, in New Hanover County. The ocean, marsh and waterways around the beach offer some great spots for SUP, but for beginner and experienced SUPers, Brunswick County has some waterways that are worthy of exploring.
Bald Head Island — Coastal Urge rents SUP equipment for on-your-own exploration, provides lessons and takes guided tours on paddles of the marsh creeks and bays surrounding the island.
Southport, Oak Island or St. James — Head into the Intracoastal Waterway and explore the shores and marsh creeks between the mainland and Oak Island. Dutchman’s Creek and the Caswell Basin are good spots to paddle.
Towne Creek (accessible at Brunswick Nature Park and via Rice Creek) — It offers a view of a changing blackwater creek and it flows toward the ocean. Take it from its inland roots out to the Cape Fear River (11-plus miles; it’s an all-day trip) and see how Brunswick County’s landscape changes from coastal forest to marsh and river.
Rice Creek — This gateway to Towne Creek is another blackwater creek surrounded by towering trees. Access Rice Creek from the Wildlife Ramp off Governor’s Road in Winnabow.
Near Leland — Explore the Brunswick River and the network of marsh creeks between the Brunswick and Cape Fear rivers.
READY TO SUP?
Most of the SUP instructors and rentals are located in New Hanover County, but they will gladly come to Brunswick County for a day of group instruction and paddling.
Chris LaCoe, owner
607 N. Lake Park Boulevard
Lessons | Equipment | Tours
Providing lessons, tours and all the equipment needed for a day of SUPing in Brunswick and New Hanover counties.
Ryan Meddock | Chris Tryon
Hook, Line and Paddle
435 Eastwood Road
Hook, Line and Paddle has paddleboards (and kayaks) for sale and rent and offers lessons and tours in Brunswick and New Hanover counties.
Tony Silvagni Surf School
308 S. Lake Park Boulevard
SUP (surfboard and body board) lessons, trips and rentals in Brunswick and New Hanover counties. If you’re feeling adventurous, Silvagni also gives paddle-surfing lessons.
12B Maritime Way
Bald Head Island
Located in the marina on Bald Head Island, they rent equipment on an hourly, daily and weekly basis; give lessons; conduct tours; and sell SUP boards and equipment.