PANAMA CITY BEACH — Stand-up paddleboarding is better in the summer, when you can get on board with races along the Gulf Coast.
“It’s something anyone can do,” said Jon Parks, World Paddle Association certified instructor at Get Up Stand Up (GUSU) Paddlesports in Destin. “We’ve had from ages 5 years on up to a couple in their 80s come out, all shapes and sizes, people with all levels of skills and physical abilities. It’s really simple to pick up.”
GUSU Paddlesports started the Panhandle Stand Up Paddleboard Classic last year, with races in Niceville, Destin and Fort Walton Beach, but this year is adding Pensacola and Panama City Beach to the series.
“The whole idea is to get people from Destin to Panama City more and connect paddleboarders,” said Parks, who has been paddleboarding for the past 5 years and started racing more than a year ago. “It’s addicting once you get into it.”
Last weekend’s race brought out more than 100 racers and 50 to 60 spectators to Fort Walton Beach. The next race is scheduled for Aug. 25 at Sharky’s on Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach. The races includes categories for Elite, Recreational, Kids and Beginner.
“Most people last race who showed up had never been on board, but the paddleboarding community is so nice and helpful,” Parks said. “Most people pick it up in 15 to 20 minutes and usually spend five to 10 minutes before the race trying it out.”
If you are interested in racing at Sharky’s, he suggested you call ahead at (843) 602-7747 to make sure they don’t run out of boards. Use of GUSU Paddlesports’ boards is included in the entry fee, but the shop also offers a free board demo program, as well as SUP tours and yoga.
Ideal conditions to begin learning SUP are flat, calm water with no obstacles, a slightly different sport than paddle surfing in the Gulf.
“I grew up surfing and working the beach,” said local surfer Blake Hornsby, 24, a member of the World Paddle Association and Skim USA Member. “I got into paddleboarding last November — addicting.”
He is now sharing his “love for the water” through Paddle PCB.
“You can do it anywhere,” said Blake, who gives stand-up paddleboard and yoga lessons, as well as fishing tours on the boards. “I usually start off a sandy beach in shallow water, then give a historical tour through Boatyard past Treasure Ship and St. Andrews State Park. It’s as peaceful or as strenuous as you want to make it.”
He can fit eight paddleboards on his Ford F150 FX4 Off-Road truck and bring them to wherever you are.
“Paddle into the wind first and use your body as a kite,” said Blake, who usually goes out about two miles.
Or strap on a cooler to the nose and spend a day at Econfina Creek. Blake and his high school sweetheart, Jerrie Mathis, have even put their son, Kaden, 2 on a board.
“We have younger kids ride on board with an adult,” Blake said. “The weight limit on the board is 350 pounds.”
He tends to stay away from piers because of crowds, but said he catches more fish from his board, including trout and redfish, than from the pier anyway.
“Stand up and see the fish before they see you,” Blake said. “I make her paddle me around — she paddles, I fish.”
“Bonding,” Jerrie added.
On Saturday, Gabriel Gray, who owns Walkin’ ON Water (WOW) Paddleboards with his wife, Natalie, will start a weeklong expedition on the Apalachicola River with Mother Ocean founder Justin Riney and Tom Herzog of Apalachicola Riverkeepers.
“We will be the first paddeboarders to paddle through the 108 miles,” said Gray, who is a WPA certified instructor. “It will take seven days.”
While he is on the tour, Natalie and his brother-in-law, J.R. Garcia, will be giving the WOW tours, which all begin with a quick paddleboarding lesson. Embark on a 90-minute Gulf/Lake or Sunset tour from St. Andrews State Park or Camp Helen, or a take a four-hour tour on Holmes Creek River in Vernon, which also has opportunities for exploring.
“That’s probably the best tour I have,” Gray said. “Everybody’s loving that tour. I let them snorkel an hour or hour and a half, and it includes lunch, and then we paddle to another spring and snorkel around.”
SUP IN PCB
MR. SURF’S SURF SHOP
Services: SUP tours, lessons, camps, parties
Services: SUP tours, lessons, camps, parties, fishing, yoga
WALKIN’ ON WATER PADDLEBOARDS
Services: SUP tours, lessons, yoga, seasonal scalloping and parties