Stand up paddle boarding can be fun for anyone

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Colin DeVine of 7th Street Surf Shop gives a stand up paddle board lesson in the bay. Colin DeVine of 7th Street Surf Shop gives a stand up paddle board lesson in the bay. OCEAN CITY — The Hawaiian translation is Ku Hoe He’e Nalu; to stand, to paddle, to surf a wave. Whatever you want to call it, stand up paddle boarding is a great way to paddle long distances and have some fun on the water. It’s particularly useful on calm days when the waves are flat.

Interested in learning more about the sport, I called 7th Street Surf Shop and talked to the manager, Colin DeVine.

DeVine suggested that I meet him on the beach, on the south side of the Longport Bridge, for a demonstration. He told me to bring some volunteers, who might be interested in a lesson.

Finding volunteers wasn’t hard; my son and daughter-in-law, John and Andrea, were visiting last week. They jumped at the chance. We picked a beautiful day with calm winds and little chop.

It was a reunion of sorts as Colin and John were Ocean City High School classmates, class of 2003. They share a love of the water and adventure. Andrea loves just about anything. Oozing enthusiasm, she couldn’t wait to get on the water.

Stand up paddle boarding is not as easy as it looks, Colin advised, but it’s much easier to learn than surfing. Within an hour, he promised, just about anyone can master the basics. A big part of the lesson takes place on the sand, before a novice hits the water.

“Boat traffic is the main concern,” he said. “You have to avoid the channel as much as possible, skirt the docks and stay as close to a land mass as you can.”

Protected lagoons are good paddle boarding locations, he noted. Aside from boats, the tide and wind are big factors.

“If you go paddle boarding, you have to be aware of the weather,” he said. “You have to be observant, pay attention to your surroundings. The wind can be your enemy. If the wind is really strong, when you stand up, your body will act like a giant sail.”

With that in mind, he said it was best to plan your trip with the first leg against the wind.

“You paddle into the wind first; then you have it easy on the way back,” he said. “You might push yourself to exhaustion, and you’ll get pushed back effortlessly. You don’t want to go with the wind first and have a hard time getting back.”

Don’t sweat the small stuff, he said. The paddle floats, so no worries if you drop it.

There are three parts to the paddle, the blade, shaft and handle. The hooked end of the paddle, he said, faces out.

“It’s not a shovel,” he said. “It seems confusing but out on the water it becomes clear,” he said.

A paddle board, he said, is thicker and wider than a surfboard, with fins in the back. The boards are soft, and usually between 10 and 12 feet.

Like skiing, you stand with your feet on the outside of the board.

“You want a nice, wide stance, if your feet are any closer, it gets tippy-er,” he said. “You set your shoulders and hops straight over your ankles.”

He advised not to look down when you’re standing on the board, but to look up and focus on what’s on the horizon.

“If you bend over, you’re more than likely going to fall in,” he said.

Hitting the water, he said, was not the end of the world when the ocean temperature is hovering near 80 degrees.

“On a hot day like this, it’s going to feel good,” he said. “It’s nice and refreshing to fall in. It’s not like skateboarding when you hit the concrete.”

When the blade of the paddle hits the water, he said to “pull all the way through.”

“Use your hips to pull forward,” he said. If you start to feel “tippy,” he said to touch the water with the paddle.

“You’ll feel an amazing sense of stability,” he said. “If you fall in, don’t panic. The tippy-est part is trying to stand up. As long as you don’t have cranking winds, you’re alright.”

John and Andrea, Colin noted, both former Division I track athletes and passionate road racers, would be an easy fit for paddle boarding. Athleticism helps, but it’s not necessary.

A former Ocean City Beach Patrol lifeguard and an avid surfer, John picked the sport up immediately. Andrea was more cautious, but had little problem acclimating to standing on the water. They were joined by Becky Friedel, a veteran paddle boarder and co-owner of the surf shop.

After a few minutes, getting the feel of the paddle board, the group disappeared around the corner. About a half hour later, after a tour of the Gardens Lagoon and bay front, they reappeared, smiling.

John was the only one to fall off the board because he tried to do a few tricks.

“It was pretty challenging,” he said after arriving back on the beach. “It was a lot of fun, a great workout.”

Andrea said it was “much harder than it looks, but so much fun.”

“Once you get used to it and learn how to balance, it was great,” she said. “It was a great workout, I felt like I used just about every muscle.”

“You could really feel the wind and current,” she said. “It was much easier gliding back. I think it was so cool to be standing out in the middle of the bay, walking across the water. That’s what it felt like.”

Noting that it takes a tremendous amount of upper body strength, Becky said the sport is growing in popularity because it’s fun, while providing a full body workout. While some paddle for fun, others paddle to stay fit.

Becky, who divides her time between New Jersey and Florida, said she paddles seven to 10 miles a day. She’s often accompanied by her dog, Fletcher.

“You definitely use every muscle,” she said. “It’s very versatile, an all-purpose sport. A few guys I know fish while they are paddle boarding. The possibilities are endless.”

A sport for the ages, Becky said young children are learning how to paddle as is her 68-year-old mother.

“That’s what’s appealing,” she said.

Three generations could hit the water and paddle together.

“Anyone can feel comfortable on a paddle board. Everyone has fun.”

Colin said the fact that paddle boarding does not require a wave to make it exciting is one of the big things pushing the growth of the sport. When the swells aren’t big, surfers are out of luck; paddle boarding doesn’t need big waves to be fun.

Paddle boarding can be done just about anywhere there is water; while it’s fun in the ocean, it doesn’t require an ocean. Harbors, lakes, rivers and ponds are suitable.

Colin said the surf shop’s bread and butter is surfing, but paddle boards are gaining strength. They recently added a new room at the downtown Asbury Avenue store to accommodate a larger inventory of boards.

The shop offers lessons, individually or in groups.

“The paddle boarding program is not like the surfing program yet,” he said.  “We have between 75 and 100 people a day in the surfing classes. With the paddle boarding we have, in a week, about 50 to 75, but it’s growing.”

For more information about paddle boarding lessons at 7th Street Surf Shop, call 398-7070.

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