Everyone’s heard of the S.L.U.T. but more and more people are becoming aware of the S.U.P. in regards to Lake Union. More specifically known as ‘stand up paddle boarding’, the water sport saw its highest popularity in Seattle on record last summer.
Local surf shops expect to see another increase in popularity this summer based on the trend of the last four seasons. Last summer likely saw the most paddle surfers ever on Lake Union, many of whom renting boards from Urban Surf near Gasworks Park.
Washington might seem like an unlikely place for any type of surfing, especially one involving flat water. But Robin Ogaard, owner of Urban Surf said that retailers and manufacturers have been eyeing the potential of the region for the past few years.
“It’s kind of surprising in a way,” he said. “But there is just so much water, accessibility and active people that the Northwest is a great spot. A lot of manufacturers are like, God you’ve got a perfect set up. Its ideal.”
True, the sport may be a very different experience than it would be in say, Huntington Beach. But advocates see additional qualities to the sport that go beyond the parallels to surfing and warm weather.
For Ogaard, the appeal of SUP came as somewhat of a surprise. “I didn’t approach it as a sport, because I do kite-boarding, snowboarding and surfing which are more adrenaline type sports. For the stand up, it’s not that same type of adrenaline, and originally I didn’t know if I was going to be very into it.”
It turned out to be other aspects of the activity that were the draw. “Its not an adrenaline sport,” Oogard explained, “but I thought, wow this is fun. I liked being in the element and that’s really what keeps me in it.”
The outdoorsy quality to the activity resonates well in Seattle, and Ogaard said that many people enjoy the scenery foremost.
“Sometimes its almost kind of a Zen like thing,” he added. Other times I say, ‘okay I’m pushing it today’, and I get a heck of a workout.”
Some enthusiasts primarily enjoy the fitness aspect, which enjoyed or not, is certainly present. (One surfer joke goes, you can’t go talk with a sup’-er for five minutes without hearing the word ‘core’.) The shoulders are the other focus as far as the paddling is involved, but since the position involves an unstable surface, all balance muscles from feet to head are activated as well.
Urban Surf reported some customers opting out of gym memberships in favor of paddling on a regular basis. Last season especially took off in regards to SUP popularity on Lake Union, partially due to weekly races and meetups that run from July to August. More information can be found at Urban Surf, which hosts the races near Gasworks Park.
The SUP industry has grown significantly during the last few years, allowing surf shops to purchase enough boards to be able to provide plenty of rentals.
For first time paddlers, Lake Union is a relatively easy place to start. Certain coves and angles offer protection from wind, currents, and boat traffic. The various views from within allow changes of scenery and good marking points. And fortunately for those intimidated by the cold, the lake offers a relatively warmer alternative to ocean water.
There is no official launching point for boards, but most public access points along the water can be used with common sense and courtesy to others on the lake. State law now requires a life jacket although boards are generally tethered to a leash around the ankle.
Ogaard says that the sport has officially arrived in Seattle and is now taking on a local element.
“The first couple summers we did it, I would ask people, ‘where did you see it?’ And they would say ‘oh I was just in Maui’ or ‘I was just down in California’. Everybody had seen it somewhere else. And then that third year it was, ‘oh, my neighbors got one.’ So it became a local thing.”
For now, the newness of the sport is a big draw. Simply being able to stand on water is an experience not quite like anything else. Ogaard added, “There are a lot of people who after doing it say, ‘I can’t believe I was just standing on the water. It’s a very unique thing.”