Recreation | Paddleboard a 'natural' for Gulf Coast water enthusiasts

Paddleboarding grows amid calm waters, beautiful sights

jdill@bradenton.comJuly 6, 2014 

ANNA MARIA -- It has become a hot attraction for almost anyone.

In roughly six years, the sport of Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) has taken the area by storm.

And it's a perfect fit.

"I think Stand-Up Paddleboarding was made for the Gulf Coast of Florida," said Rich Schineller, marketing director for the Sarasota SUP Racing Series. "Whereas we don't have the surf that the East Coast has, we do have beautiful, calm water that makes paddleboarding. It's just a natural here."

Anna Maria Island Paddleboard Adventures on Holmes Beach has operated recreational tours for enthusiasts for the past four years.

Ben Webb, a certified instructor and lifelong Manatee County resident, teaches beginners safety and offers lessons for SUP.

"We found that when we give the tours, the people learn as well if not even better," Webb said. "Because you are getting up, you're getting down. We're going through mangrove tunnels. So we've kind of evolved into teaching people as they get to see the wildlife and everything, instead of me just barking out instructions."

The beauty of the sport is that it can be done at the recreational or competitive level.

A board and a body of water are all that is necessary.

Whether you use the ocean, a river, a lake or wind through mangroves for some scenery, SUP can be a relaxing and thrilling experience at the same time.

Webb said his company has had people as young as 4 and as old as the mid-80s come out and try SUP, showcasing just how long people can perform the sport as a leisurely activity.

A single-person tour runs $60, with a paddleboard rental for an hour going for an additional $25.

It's something to enjoy with family or friends, too.

"The boards are large and they have a lot of flotation," Schineller said. "So they're not like surfboards, where you get on them and you have to have speed. They float you very well. You feel very safe on them. And there's a handle in the middle of the board, and that implies where your center of gravity is. So you put the board in the water. You hold it by the handle, you carry it in. They're fairly light. ... Then you get on your knees on it ... when you are on your knees, it's very easy to paddle along and get a sense of how hard you can paddle, how hard you can stroke, do two or three times on each side and try to maintain a straight line. From there, you progress to getting up on your feet. And getting some comfort on your feet. In a half hour, even if you've never done it before, in a half hour you'll be paddling with the best one."

Coastal Watersports, also on Anna Maria Island, also offers lessons to beginners. In addition, there are several places in the area that offer paddleboards for rental.

Once a person becomes equipped with the basics, he or she can attempt to move into racing.

The Sarasota SUP Race Series began in late June at Siesta Key. The second annual series holds three races with the upcoming one taking place at Nathan Benderson Park in August.

The races consist of a six-mile pro course, three-mile recreation course and a half-mile short course.

Schineller said he expects 200 racers and about 2,000 spectators for the Aug. 23 race at Benderson Park.

"That's going to be a great race, because the park is one of the top rowing facilities in the world. They've got an active wave continuation system there that dampens any swells," Schineller said. "It gets rid of any wakes. It really makes it for a fast, classy race. It's going to be a big festival atmosphere."

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