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So you've seen paddleboards. What's the big deal?

It was springtime in Missouri, and someone warned a younger me about hopping on the kayak in the still-too-cold lake. Of course I got on anyway and of course I got soaked. So when I started seeing people standing up on wobbly paddleboards a few years back, many times in sweater weather, I wondered what was wrong with them.

What was wrong with them? Better question: What was wrong with me? Partly because of that learning experience years ago, I never gave paddleboards a chance. Plus, I just knew I would fall in, probably in front of a bunch of people who would laugh at me.

While I tuned out the sport, stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, had become all the rage.

According to the Outdoors Foundation, an estimated 3 million people in the United States took to paddleboards last year, up from a little more than 1 million in 2010, when the nonprofit, an offshoot of the Outdoor Industry Association, started tracking the sport. Tampa Bay businesses have sprouted up to sell new and used boards, craft custom ones, arrange guided tours and rent boards to vacationers.

At Bill Jackson's Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park, Darry Jackson, who helps run the store, said the boards are more than a product. They're conversation starters. When an enthusiast sees one atop another enthusiast's car, they talk about it — the differences in each one, the places to paddle, the techniques.

"We started selling paddleboards 15 years ago when nobody knew what a paddleboard was, and now we're selling pretty much as many paddleboards as we do kayaks," Jackson said.

Why the interest? What I never thought about before Jackson mentioned it was the vantage point you get. In kayaks you see the water at surface-level, but on a paddleboard you get a bird's-eye view.

"It's just like you're gliding on top of an aquarium," said Cory Rider, owner of C-RIDE SUP Board Shop, on First Avenue N in St. Petersburg.

Another reason is the wide appeal. You can race, fish, surf, do yoga, or simply tour. It's also a great equalizer, said Aimee Conlee, co-owner of Urban Kai, a board shop with a location in both St. Petersburg and Tampa.

"One thing we really love about the sport is that there's so many age groups, sizes, athletic abilities," she said. Depending on whether someone has the right board, "You can still all get together and have a good time."

The last selling point: fitness.

"You're using your whole core and a lot of additional muscles that in a kayak you don't activate," Conlee said.

"I'm not really a gym guy," Rider said. "Any way I can trick myself into getting exercise is good."

For my part, I tried out paddleboarding for the first time at one of Bill Jackson's free classes. It was fun. The murky water at Freedom Lake behind the store isn't conducive to seeing a lot of wildlife, but I got the point.

Jackson put me on a 12.5-foot touring board. I'm 240 pounds on a good day; Jackson said he would probably encourage shorter boards for smaller people. Making sure your body size and the dimensions of the board mesh is key, shop owners say. They recommend testing out any board before buying it, and all the shops I talked to offer that. It's good for customers to see what works for them, and it's good for the store, too, because once someone who is on the fence gets out on the water, there's a good chance they'll be hooked.

I was a little "tippy," as Jackson says, at first, but once I caught my balance and tried out all the different turns he taught us, it felt natural. One guy in the class kept falling in, and he was definitely embarrassed about it. He looked to be about 6-foot-3 and might have been heavier than me, and was on the wrong board. (He switched to a wider board with more volume later on.)

"That's going to be me in a few minutes," I said to a woman paddling beside me the first time he fell, remembering my general clumsiness.

Despite a few close calls, I didn't fall in.

Contact Jack Suntrup at jsuntrup@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8092. Follow @JackSuntrup.

Know you boards

• The two general types of boards are ones with surfer-style planing hulls, which are flat and usually curved in front, and boards with displacement hulls, which are pointed. Both can be used for touring, though displacement hulls cut through water and glide better than surfer-style boards. Boards with planing hulls are obviously better for surfing and narrow boards with displacement hulls are popular with racers. They're also easier to maneuver than boards with displacement hulls. "Hybrid" designs incorporate pointed bows and wide widths to increase stability and glide.

• There are a lot of other variables, including fin type, body type, length and width. That's why one of the first questions salespeople ask is what you want to use the board for. An angler might prefer a wider board for stability and a racer might want a narrow board for speed.

• Personal flotation devices, or PFDs, and whistles are required in Florida waters that aren't "swimming, surfing or bathing" areas, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Having a tether, or leash, attached to the board and your leg in case you fall off in rough waters is also a good idea.

• Research the company you're buying from, brand reputations, what warranties are available and different return policies. Be careful on Craigslist; some damage might not be visible to the naked or untrained eye.

Know your boards

• The two general types of boards are ones with surfer-style planing hulls, which are flat and usually curved in front, and boards with displacement hulls, which are pointed. Both can be used for touring, though displacement hulls cut through water and glide better than surfer-style boards. Boards with planing hulls are obviously better for surfing and narrow boards with displacement hulls are popular with racers. They're also easier to maneuver than boards with displacement hulls. "Hybrid" designs incorporate pointed bows and wide widths to increase stability and glide.

• There are a lot of other variables, including fin type, body type, length and width. That's why one of the first questions salespeople ask is what you want to use the board for. An angler might prefer a wider board for stability and a racer might want a narrow board for speed.

• Personal flotation devices, or PFDs, and whistles are required in Florida waters that aren't "swimming, surfing or bathing" areas, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Having a tether, or leash, attached to the board and your leg in case you fall off in rough waters is also a good idea.

• Research the company you're buying from, brand reputations, what warranties are available and different return policies. Be careful on Craigslist; some damage might not be visible to the naked or untrained eye.



Tide adjustments

The charts show the rise and fall of tides measured in feet and plots the tides on a one-week timeline. Times and depth may vary depending on weather conditions. You can compute the tides from these adjustments:

North (Anclote River) High Low

Anclote Key (south end) -01:37 -00:47

Bayport +01:13 +01:39

Cedar Key +01:16 +01:03

Crystal River, Florida Power +01:13 +01:33

Hudson, Hudson Creek +00:06 +00:01

Indian Rocks Beach (inside) +00:19 +00:10

North (Anclote River) High Low

Mangrove Point, Crystal Bay +01:34 +01:54

Pithlachascotee River +00:18 +00:52

St. Joseph Sound -00:34 -00:42

Steinhatchee River entrance +01:33 +01:32

Suwannee River entrance +01:22 +01:21

Withlacoochee River entrance +01:23 +01:58

South (The Pier) High Low

Anna Maria, pier -02:10 -02:19

Egmont Key, Egmont channel -02:15 -03:20

Gandy Bridge +00:59 +00:57

Gulfport, Boca Ciega Bay -01:32 -01:05

John's Pass, Boca Ciega Bay -02:14 -02:04

Madeira Beach Causeway -01:32 -01:45

Mullet Key Channel (Skyway) -02:03 -02:01

South (The Pier) High Low

Pass-a-Grille Beach -01:34 -01:30

Pinellas Point -00:22 -00:29

Redfish Point, Manatee River -00:30 -00:14

Safety Harbor +01:32 +01:34

Sarasota Bay -01:38 -00:58

Corey Causeway -01:18 -00:44

Venice Inlet (inside) -02:02 -01:38

Tips for boating at night

Jay Mastry, a Tampa Bay guide who has fished and boated in the dark for more than 40 years, has these nighttime safety tips after the death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, a former Alonso High standout, in a boating accident.

• Follow every precaution possible.

• A GPS is invaluable. Following previous tracks taken can be a huge help.

•Familiarity with an area is always priceless.

• In night navigating, situations appear different. Mastry runs with a spotlight at all times — a 2 million candlepower spotlight that is fully charged with a backup if that one fades. Running lights alone don't offer much protection.

• Whether navigating a channel, catching bait at a bridge or relocating to the next spot, "Nothing bad can happen if you go slow."

So you've seen paddleboards. What's the big deal? 09/26/16 [Last modified: Monday, September 26, 2016 8:24pm]
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