“I’ve shipped so many of these over the last two summers,” a deliveryman recently told me, after leaving an enormously long box at my home. Inside was a beautiful, 12-foot fiberglass paddleboard.
Shortly after hitching a ride on said board down the Provo River into Utah Lake, I instantly understood the growing popularity of stand-up watercraft. While there’s no official data on the number of paddleboards in use, mainstream media and even my UPS guy all agree: they’re growing at a tremendous rate, if not doubling every year. Here’s why:
Unless you buy a waterproof case, you’re not going to want to bring your phone while paddleboarding. And even if you do, you’ll likely be too busy balancing, paddling and frolicking in the water to care. With exception to extreme cold and latitudes, paddleboards can be enjoyed for nearly two-thirds of the year. Netflix binging will have to wait ‘till winter.
Everyone loves surfing—until they discover how difficult it is. Not so on paddleboards. Because they’re larger and paddle faster than human arms, paddleboarding makes catching waves 10 times easier, longer and more thrilling for most people. “With traditional surfing, you’re lucky to catch a handful of waves within an hour,” says Nick Lanfranco, creator of POP Paddleboards. “With paddle-surfing, you can easily catch 15 to 30 waves in that same time frame.” Having verified his claims, what he says is gloriously true.
For anything above class-two rapids, kayaks are still your best bet. But other than that, I’m convinced that paddleboards are the superior personal watercraft. In addition to making light rapids more enjoyable than they look, paddleboards are less stuffy and more playful on the open water. You can surf on them (read above). They’re faster. They double as floats for those who want to sunbathe on them. And you can even do yoga on them. As a bonus, they’re less clunky and heavy when it comes to handling or strapping them to your car. Seriously, this pastime gets a lot of attention because it’s such a versatile way to enjoy multiple bodies of water—rivers and lakes as well as oceans.
If you’ve read this far, I either have your attention, or you’re wondering if I work for the National Paddleboard Association. I don’t (if there is such a thing). It’s just that over the last two years paddleboarding unexpectedly became one of my favorite offline pleasures. If interested in following suit, I recommend a fiberglass board from the aforementioned POP Paddleboards, Boardworks Surf or other non-plastic manufacturer. Although pricier, they’re also lighter, faster, more buoyant and easier to maneuver than plastic or inflatable boards. And if you ding one, you can repair it in minutes with a $10 kit from Amazon. To save your shoulders and increase speed, I also recommend a board with a built-in handle and carbon fiber paddles.
Thanks to paddleboards, coastal dwellers and in-shape surfers no longer have a lock on the exhilarating feeling of popping up on a board. All told, I hope you’ll at least consider borrowing or renting one this summer to try if for yourself. But beware. “When one person starts paddleboarding,” Lanfranco concludes, “it doesn’t take long for loved ones and friends to join them.” According to personal experience, this too is accurate.
Photo: Chris Goldberg, CC-BY
Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him on Twitter.