One of the Hudson Valley’s best summer activities: stand-up paddleboarding
Kate Behney of Mountain Tops Outdoors shows her paddleboarding skills
Photograph by Robert Rodgriguez Jr.
One of the hottest new sports in the Valley actually has a Hawaiian heritage. Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, first gained popularity in the 1960s. Hawaiian surfing instructors (dubbed Beach Boys) would use outrigger paddles to help them stand on their boards; from this raised vantage point, they snapped souvenir photos of the tourists learning to surf at Waikiki.
The modern variation of SUP has been refined over the years. For one thing, it’s no longer limited to the ocean; today’s specially designed boards and paddles make the pastime ideal for the Valley’s many lakes, ponds, and — of course — the Hudson River. (Indeed, another of the sport’s nicknames is “river walking.”)
“Stand-up paddleboarding is a perfect sport for our region, because we have so many waterways, and it’s simple to learn,” says Katy Behney, owner of Mountain Tops Outdoors, a Beacon shop specializing in outdoor gear and apparel, including kayak and stand-up paddleboard sales, rentals, and tours.
“I find it really relaxing; I like to go out on the Hudson,” adds Behney. Combining SUP with another popular exercise, she says some adept paddleboard enthusiasts now practice yoga poses on their floating “yoga mats.” “We might even add that to our summer programs,” she adds.
Another SUP plus: The boards are relatively light to tote. “They usually weigh between 25 and 35 pounds, and you can kind of tuck it under your arm for transport,” says Behney. “It’s easier to get into the water than a kayak, which can be bulky and awkward.”
Stand-up paddleboarding is, in fact, a popular crossover sport for many Valley kayak enthusiasts, says John Clark, manager of Hudson River Recreation. His company’s Kayak Hudson service has several Westchester locations and also offers SUP lessons, rentals, and guided water tours.
Paddleboarding: A great way to see the sunset. Photograph courtesy of Hudson River Recreation
Paddleboard instruction, tours, and rental prices vary. Figure roughly $80 and up per person for basic instruction and/or a tour.
“Some people who’ve been kayaking for years say they enjoy paddleboarding for a change,” says Clark. “And some people prefer it because you’re not stuck in a boat. You can see more of what’s around you when you paddleboard, too, because you’re standing.
“To me, stand-up paddleboarding captures the ‘wow’ factor of surfing, but it’s much less technical,” he adds. “And you don’t always have to stand if you don’t want to. When we teach people, they start out on their stomach on the board. Then when they feel comfortable, they rise to their knees, and eventually stand up. And if you get tired, you can always sit or lie down on the board and relax.” The scenic possibilities for SUP in the Valley, he adds, are fantastic: “My favorite is the sunset paddle along the Hudson River on a beautiful day.”
Since it involves both paddling and surfing skills, “stand-up paddleboarding is a great core workout,” says Martin Ahlf, who runs Red Hook-based Hudson Valley Stand Up Paddleboards. “Paddleboarding is a combination of surfing and boating — using an elongated, canoe-like paddle. It does require a bit of balance, but most people pick it up quickly. You just need to get your sea legs, like when you ride in a boat,” he explains.
Most stand-up paddleboards consist of a polystyrene foam core covered with a sturdy epoxy-resin outer shell, although some have wooden cores. Inflatable paddleboards have recently emerged, too, with some small enough to be tucked into a backpack. Typical boards range in size from about 10 to 14 feet long, and are usually 30 or more inches wide.
“Paddleboarding keeps me engaged mentally. I love to surf, but I live inland,” says Ahlf. “I especially enjoy going out on the Hudson. Sometimes you can really catch the wind; plus it can help make your trip easier if you go along with the direction of the tide.”
The sport is also a great way to see Valley landmarks, says Ahlf. “You can paddle to places like the Kingston Lighthouse, or come up close to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge or the Mills Mansion [in Staatsburg]. I particularly like the wildlife marsh at Tivoli Bays.” He leads paddleboard tours along the Hudson “all the way from the Highland area up to about Catskill, and anywhere in between.”
For newbies, Ahlf generally recommends a one-hour training session; he says his most popular tours last about two hours, usually ranging from two to four participants per group. “We’ve had people from nine years old to 70 learn to paddleboard,” he says.
“And you don’t have to be afraid if you fall off the board,” he adds. “You’re asked to wear a life vest — paddleboards are technically classified as vessels — and there’s a 12-foot-long leash tied to the board, so it’s nearly impossible to lose it.”