Outdoors: Stand-Up Paddle Surfing

The hybrid sport of stand-up paddle surfing is gaining steam here

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The hybrid sport of stand-up paddle surfing is gaining steam here—and even cool weather doesn’t dampen the fun for its fans

Solitary figures who look like they’re standing on a surfboard are an increasingly common sight in local bodies of water. These “surfers” are practitioners of stand-up paddle (SUP) surfing, a sport that’s riding a wave of popularity, from Lake Washington to Green Lake to Golden Gardens and beyond. A little bit surfing, a little bit kayaking, this emerging sport appeals to everyone from longtime kayakers to city-dwelling big-wave surfers and fitness buffs tired of treadmills. It marries a thrilling feeling with a killer workout. 

While it may seem like the sport is new—three or four years ago, few Seattleites had even heard of stand-up paddle surfing­—it started decades ago in Hawaii when surfers there, disenchanted with occasional poor wave conditions but still eager to be out on the water, started propelling their longboards with outrigger canoe paddles. In the intervening years, SUP surfing has crossed over to become its own stand-alone sport (pun intended), with dedicated equipment, styles and even a burgeoning international racing circuit. Why it has taken so long to catch on here in Seattle is anybody’s guess (ummm…long, cold, rainy winters maybe?), but local enthusiasts swear by it as exhilarating, fun and a great whole-body workout—especially for the core. 

And for someone wanting to try it, SUP surfing is an intuitive water sport. “With the proper board, anybody can do it,” says Robin Ogaard, owner of Urban Surf, a Fremont-based surf shop that has been selling and renting SUP gear for the last three years. “It’s like walking on water,” he says. Perhaps that’s why there’s been a recent increased interest in the sport locally. While Ogaard’s shop has stocked SUP gear for some time, only this past year have his boards been in high demand. 

Shawn Jennings, an owner of Surf Ballard, concurs: “It definitely blew up in terms of popularity in Seattle last summer.” He adds that a lot of kayakers have switched over to the sport in order to get a better workout and a new perspective. Each of Surf Ballard’s nine rental SUP boards were in continuous rotation last summer while the warm weather held out, and sales of new boards continued strong into the fall, signaling that SUP surfing is not just a fair-weather pursuit here in Seattle.

Newbies can rent a board, paddle and wetsuit at URBAN SURF (2100 N Northlake Way; 206.545.9463, urbansurf.com)—perhaps after biking there on the Burke-Gilman Trail?­—and launch it into Lake Union across the street at Gasworks Park. This coming spring, the shop will offer a series of two-hour lessons focusing on the basics. And if you get hooked on that walk-on-water feeling, you can select from a wide array of boards for sale there, too. >> On the other side of Lake Washington, Kirkland’s PERFECTWAVE SURF SHOP (8209 124th Ave. NE; 425.827.5323; perfectwave.com) also rents and sells a wide range of SUP gear. >> SURF BALLARD, in Ballard (6300 Seaview Ave. NW; 206.726.7878; surfballard.com), offers SUP renters (and buyers) the ability to try their emerging water-walking skills on Puget Sound, waves and all (wetsuits available and highly recommended); the shop is located just across the street from a launch site between Golden Gardens to the north and Discovery Park’s wild and woolly shoreline to the south.

Round the Rock Race

This past September, Seattle’s emerging SUP