Paddleboards popular at free demo
The Sanborn family, of Montague, tries out stand-up paddleboards at a free demonstration put on by Zoar Outdoor Saturday at Unity Park. At left, Eliot Sanborn, 6, goes solo as an instructor guides him from behind, while Chris Sanborn and daughter Rosa, 4, share a board at right.
One of several groups sets off for a trip around Barton Cove as they try out stand-up paddleboards provided by Zoar Outdoor and Bic Sports Saturday. Mike Simpson, in the big straw hat, instructs them from the middle of the pack.
Chris Sanborn and daughter Rosa, 4, center, try out a stand-up paddleboard during a free demo put on by Zoar Outdoor at Unity Park Saturday. Sanborn's son, Eliot, 6, also tried his hand at paddleboarding.
TURNERS FALLS — A new water sport has been working its way onto western Mass. rivers and lakes and Saturday, people gathered at Unity Park to take a stand on it.
“Stand-up paddleboards are the next big thing,” said Mike Simpson, outdoor enthusiast and an ambassador of the sport.
Simpson has taken his paddleboard all the way up the East Coast, from Key West, Fla., to Portland, Maine. Saturday, more than 100 people took advantage of a free “SUP” demonstration put on by Zoar Outdoor. Their one-hour tours took them for a much more abbreviated ride than Simpson’s 90-day expedition.
The paddleboards are like a hybrid between a kayak and surf board. Riders kneel, sit or stand upright, and use a single oar to maneuver. It took some time to get used to, but first-timers learned quickly with a little guidance.
“I was horrified at first, but it got easier,” said Daisy Osowski, 14, of Northfield.
“I thought I’d fall in, so at one point, I jumped off the board,” she said. Once she faced her fear of falling and realized it wouldn’t be so bad, she could focus on having fun.
Osowski and others launched from Unity Park, starting out by kneeling on their borrowed boards, then standing as they got used to paddling around. Once they had their sea legs, a guide took some of the more confident ones out to Barton Island, which they circled before coming back to shore.
Another group of about a dozen paddlers weren’t there for a tour. They were part of a unique yoga class led by Jody Fontaine.
“My goal is to get a fleet of paddleboards and have paddleboard yoga classes in the spring, summer and fall,” said Fontaine, who runs Pure Yoga and Wellness Studio in Sunderland.
Fontaine likes to combine yoga with outdoor activities. She leads a series of yoga hikes, where her class treks up Sugarloaf Mountain, which helps them limber up before they practice the meditative exercise on the mountaintop.
She’s also done four-hour kayak and yoga trips, going ashore in scenic areas for the yoga element. Saturday, she ran two paddleboard yoga classes.
“I thought it went alright, though it was a little choppy on the water,” said Tammy Thompson of Sunderland. “Only one woman fell off her board, out of about a dozen of us.”
Thompson is a regular at Zoar’s Wednesday night sunset SUP clinics, though she’d never tried yoga on a board before.
Most people get the hang of paddleboarding pretty quickly, said Greg Poehlein, retail manager at Zoar.
“We’ve done some free demonstrations where not a single person fell off the board,” he said. Zoar has been involved in paddleboarding for about three years and put on several events to introduce people to the sport.
The boards themselves have been around for a while, though they’re most popular on the coast.
“It’s been getting more popular inland,” he said. “A lot of people see it when they travel to the coast and want to try it out.”
He said Saturday’s demo was a great success. The company took 96 pre-event reservations, and had plenty of walk-ins, too. When Zoar saw the response they got before the event, they lined up some extra boards. Simpson, who represents Bic Sports, brought plenty of his company’s paddleboards as well, and between Bic and Zoar, there were about 30 boards for the taking.
Those boards didn’t spend much time on dry land Saturday.
“People were already lined up when I got here at 7:15 this morning,” said Simpson. “I thought they were joggers, but no. They said they were here to paddle. We didn’t even start until 8:30; they waited over an hour!”
The last hourly tour hit the water at about 3:30 p.m. Later, Simpson shared stories and slides from his 90-day paddleboard pilgrimage from Key West to Maine as a benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project.
He and a friend boarded all the way up the East Coast, their gear lashed to their touring-style boards.
Simpson has paddled boards, kayaks and other craft all over the country and he’s also no stranger to Barton Cove.
“I paddleboarded the Connecticut River from Canada to the ocean; it’s beautiful country,” he said. “We stayed the night at the Barton Cove campground.”
Next demo: Sept. 11
If you’d like to give paddleboarding a try, there are still a couple of free chances to get your feet wet this season. Zoar’s Wednesday night events will be held weekly from 6 to 8 p.m. until Sept. 18 at the East Charlemont boat ramp. For more information, call Zoar Outdoor, at 800-532-7483.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279