If you’ve been holding off on trying stand-up paddleboarding because you’re worried you’ll wind up in the lake instead of on it, you may want to reconsider.
“I’ve been taking people out here for years with a 100% success rate—so please don’t ruin my record,” says Bob Sutcliffe, manager of Algonquin Outfitters’ snow and surf department, as we ease out onto the canal behind the store’s Huntsville location.
Within a few minutes, the board starts to feel solid beneath my feet. Soon we’re doing gentle circles in front of the dock. With a few quick strokes, Sutcliffe pivots his SUP within its own length. He has been known to set off on some mornings before work—sometimes with a coffee balanced on the front of the board—both soaking up the peace and quiet and getting in a quick workout. His son was eight years old when he took up the sport. “He loved it for playing with his friends,” says Sutcliffe. “This sport keeps kids busy. There are some fun games to play, as well, and even team games if you have enough people.”
It’s a good illustration of the wide range of paddlers who are jumping on boards and heading out on the water in Muskoka. Some are taking up the sport for purely social reasons, while others are taking their SUPs on longer adventures. At the more extreme end, some paddlers are using their boards to surf boat wakes.
The industry has responded with boards for every purpose, from lower-priced plastic models starting around $600 to mid-range all-arounders and touring boards up to 16 feet long, complete with a kayak-like bow, for paddling longer distances and at higher speeds.
Sutcliffe has seen demand spike in the last couple of years, with paddlers first choosing basic models and then moving into more specialized designs as their tastes evolve. “I think the sport touring segment is really going to take off,” he says. “It’s perfectly suited to this area.”
The story is much the same at Muskoka Outfitters, where owner Peter deMos’s biggest challenge is keeping up with the rising demand. “It just exploded last summer,” he says. “We’re expecting an even bigger year this year.”
He points to the sport’s simplicity and appeal to a wide range of paddlers as two driving forces behind its popularity. “Paddleboarding makes the water more accessible to a greater number of people because it removes everything people find difficult about kayaking,” says deMos. “Paddleboards are light, easy to carry, simple to get on and off of, and easy to transport on top of your car.”
At both stores, fitness is a common theme among buyers. “It’s phenomenal exercise,” says deMos. “It really strengthens your lower back and core muscles. It’s also lots of fun, and when exercise is fun, you’re likely to do it more.”
A good example of stand-up paddleboarding’s fitness benefits is the fast-growing sport of SUP yoga, which is coming to Muskoka this summer, thanks to a couple of new programs being offered in the region. One is led by Tara Kinden, owner of the Muskoka Yoga Studio in Gravenhurst, who is gearing up to launch SUP yoga classes in June.
“One of the advantages of SUP yoga is that it snaps you out of the routine of your normal workout,” she says. “It forces you to get out of your head and be fully involved. It also helps you build amazing posture. When you’re on the water, you use so many stabilizer muscles that you don’t use on land.”
Add in the beauty of Muskoka’s lakes, and you get an experience that’s impossible to replicate in the studio. “We’re going to be offering sunrise and sunset classes off a sandy beach. It’s going to be stunning,” she says.
Kinden advises having at least some familiarity with yoga on land before heading out on an SUP, but it’s not mandatory. “It is definitely advisable to have some experience with yoga and an understanding of basic poses, proper posture and language,” she says. “But you are more than encouraged to give it a shot and get an excellent core challenge.” To create a more personalized experience, she keeps classes small. “We are a boutique studio, with no more than eight or nine participants at a time. The boards will also be anchored to the bottom for added stability.”
The Muskoka Yoga Studio will offer SUPs—Kinden has ordered eight boards designed specifically with yoga in mind—or you can bring your own. Prices are $35 per class including rental and $20 without. She’ll also come to you: the Muskoka Yoga Studio is offering private SUP yoga sessions and classes geared toward social functions, like bachelorette parties, as well.
Muskoka Outfitters is also offering SUP yoga classes two to three times a week at its Bracebridge location and some local resorts. Prices are $35 including rental or $30 with a five-class reservation. Private sessions are also available.
And there’s no need to stock up on pricey yoga attire. “You can wear yoga clothes or just swim shorts and a tank top or a bathing suit,” says Kinden. “Sunglasses are a plus, and definitely wear sunblock. The key is to just be comfortable—and get out on a board and have fun.”
You’ll find plenty of boards at outdoor stores in the area, including Muskoka Outfitters and Algonquin Outfitters. Both stores also offer lessons, rentals and professional guidance to help you choose the right board for your body type and the kind of paddling you plan to do. Muskoka Outfitters has also put together a value package that includes a fibreglass board, a carbon adjustable paddle, a leash (to keep the board from getting away if you fall off) and a board bag for $999. Algonquin Outfitters offers a similar deal for $1,299.
Muskoka Outfitters’ deMos stresses that, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. “We really try to steer people away from the plastic models,” he says. “They do cost less, and they are very durable, but they are heavy and don’t paddle nearly as well.”
Inflatable boards are another option for paddlers with limited storage space. They’re also priced similarly to plastic but have distinct advantages, according to deMos. “Inflatables are a lot lighter than plastic, and they offer better performance,” he says.
If you choose to buy everything separately, you’ll also need a paddle, which ranges from around $130 to $400, and a personal flotation device (PFD). Transport Canada regulations require that you carry a whistle, a waterproof flashlight and 15 meters of floating rope, in addition to your Coast Guard-approved PFD. In addition, deMos recommends that paddlers heading out on larger bodies of water carry at least a litre of water, proper clothing to insulate from colder water or sun exposure, a snack and a signal mirror.
But the cost is all in how you look at it, says deMos. “Basically, for the price of a one-year gym membership, you get a device that gives you a great workout and gets you out on the water. Once you’ve purchased the gear, you’re pretty much done. It’s free after that.”
An added benefit? You’re likely to see things from your board that you’ve been missing by sitting in a canoe or kayak. “Because you’re standing, you get a whole new perspective on the water,” says Sutcliffe. “We have paddled the canal between Peninsula Lake and Fairy Lake, where there is a family of beavers, and they literally swam under our boards.”