The first thing Roger Pettee does when he gets up in the morning is look at the water from his Tampa condo. "I try to get out and paddle every day," he said. "I really don't like to go without it." At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, the 65-year-old Pettee looks as fit as he did when he played linebacker for the Florida Gators in the 1960s and, later, during a brief stint with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. "The thing I love about stand-up paddleboarding is that it really works your core, and it is easy on the joints," he said. "I have tried all different ways to stay in shape, but nothing has worked for me like this."
Stand-up paddleboards — thick, wide surfboards designed to be paddled like a canoe — started in Hawaii about a decade ago, and have slowly made their way east.
"It's definitely growing," said Joe Nuzzo of Treasure Island's Suncoast Surf Shop. "Besides being a great workout, there is a real camaraderie among the hard-core folks who do it. On a good day, it is not unusual to see 10 to 15 guys all out paddling at Shell Key."
Waikiki Beach boys
Nobody knows for sure who first had the idea to stand up on a tandem surfboard and get it moving with an extra-long outrigger canoe paddle. Some credit Leroy Achoy, a legendary Hawaiian surfer, who used to paddle a large surfboard along the break at Waikiki taking photos of his fellow wave riders in the 1970s.
Other believe the stand-up paddleboards (or SUP for short) trace to the great Duke Kahanamoku, the father of surfing and an Olympic gold medalist in swimming (1912 and 1920). Or perhaps even earlier, to the days when surfing was the sport of Hawaiian kings.
But regardless of its origin, one man, Laird Hamilton, is responsible for bringing SUP to the masses. Hamilton, a 6-3, 215-pound waterman, has been featured on American Express commercials riding down the face of 100-foot waves on a "strap in" surfboard.
Hamilton, who also happens to be the husband of model, former Florida State volleyball player and former St. Petersburg resident Gabby Reese, took stand-up paddleboarding to a new level with his crossings between the Hawaiian Islands.
Hamilton, who was featured in the 2004 movie Riding Giants, has since lent his name to a new line of Surftech paddleboards. Expensive, but high-quality, the 12-foot Laird Hamilton boards are the most popular on the market.
Michael Schenker, a salesman with the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park, said has grown accustomed to customers asking about the oversized surfboards standing up in the corner.
"Most people come in and have no idea what they are looking at," said Schenker, an avid paddler who has sold SUPs for about a year. "Once I explain to them what it is, they say, 'Oh yeah, I saw somebody doing that the other day.' "
In local waters, most folks start off paddling the boards on flat water and eventually work their way up to surfing in actual waves. "Surfing is much harder than just paddling," said Schenker. "It takes a high level of skill."
Jon LaBudde of St. Petersburg's Reno Beach Surf Shop sells an entry-level board and paddle package for $1,295.
"If you are shopping around, remember that a good paddle will cost you at least $200," he said. "And a good paddle makes all the difference."
Pettee, like most SUPers, started off low tech and upgraded as he got better.
"A good paddle makes a huge difference," Pettee said. "But it is worth it. If you are like me, once you start you can't stop. It's addictive."