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A First Timers Perspective of Social SUP

Updated: Jan 9, 2018

I enjoyed reading the following first-timer's perspective of our rag-tag group of SUPers!! From Lumina News, Wrightsville Beach, NC: 

SUP Social Club

by Jamie Lynn Miller

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Paddlers fight a headwind in the Intracoastal Waterway as they head toward Motts Channel on Wednesday evening, Aug. 15

Invariably, any sweeping life change, like moving to a new place where you don’t know anyone, necessitates a lot of alone time. I moved from Aspen, Colo. to Wilmington about a month ago. Used to the camaraderie of skiing and climbing, I’ve been missing an outdoor peer group.

While riding my bike during an impending rain storm, I discovered Wrightsville Avenue became Airlie Road. I passed by Carolina Paddleboard Company and stopped to meet April Zilg, all-around social ambassador for the standup paddleboard sport. She encouraged me to come back for a group outing on a less stormy evening: "Just register online, through Distressed Mullet or Carolina Paddleboard Co. meetups," Zilg said.

Happy to belong to any group called Distressed Mullet, I browsed the member profiles. There is a massage therapist and an aspiring SUPer; a surfer and fisherman who started paddling just to be out on the water and to get some exercise; one who moved back to Wilmington after "five years of suffering three hours from the coast;" and I simply introduced myself as new to the area, in search of exercise, sun and refreshment, in no particular order.

Unfortunately, my first meetup was during rather windy conditions. I felt like I was paddling a stationary bike until I finally started to move. Backwards.

Three guys in a speedboat slowed down and yelled: "Hey, you want a tow?"

No, I’ll figure it out. But thanks! Ten minutes later, I’m blowing the wrong way, and sideways. "Ma’am, are you OK?"

I’m fine, just stubborn. And rather frustrated. Being proficient in other sports doesn’t mean you’re skilled in this one. I smile gratefully as Charlotte, one of my meetup comrades, made her way over to give me encouragement. Charlotte is an architecture grad student working at a local firm for the summer; she’s tall, strong and happy to be out on the water.

As the wind picks up, we try to make our way across the waterway and back to the dock. Carolina Paddleboard owner Jason ColClough came out to assist and shared the energy-saving tip of the day: short, fast strokes. Aha.

During my second meetup, there was less wind, more new friends — but still some trouble in the form department.

"Do you golf?" asked organizer Katie Elzer-Peters, who patiently brought up the rear to ensure the very last paddler, i.e. me, was moving in the right direction.

Today, that would be forward.

"Nope, don’t golf," I replied, shaking my head. I don’t golf, nor am I C3PO, so the whole "paddle with your arms straight" still escaped my muscle memory. But it’s a beautiful evening, and the conversation ebbed and flowed like the crosscurrents and speedboat wakes. I met Greg the fireman, who’s lived here for decades and, used to rescuing cats from trees, chivalrously paddled slower to accompany the few of us still grappling with technique.

About two-thirds of the way around Harbor Island we intercept Alex Hedman, aka the Rainbow Tornado, a helicopter pilot from San Diego and one of the group organizers. He and his wife moved here last June and he’s an enthusiastic fan of the meetup model.

"From our first time on the water, it was clear that the SUP community here in Wilmington was a mature, fun-loving bunch," Hedman said. "It’s made our move so much easier, as the group has been like a family away from home for us. The Carolina Paddleboard Co. meetup started this past January, with our inaugural paddle bringing in around 25 paddlers, and since then, we’ve grown to over 150 members, which has been just phenomenal. Paddlers just want to share their passion with the general public and we’ve all gotten hooked on this fast-growing sport."

Hedman created various themed meetups, including the Paddle for the Troops on Aug. 19, all proceeds going toward the Wounded Warriors Project.

"The social scene is very welcoming and the meetups are adding new people every day. I’m very excited about that. I want to share that stoke with as many people as I can," he said.

The stoke factor was indeed high one evening. We stopped to rest and take a group photo on a spit of sand close to the end of our loop. I’m the last to paddle my board ashore, and the crew cheered and held up paddles in salute.

"Did you see the family of dolphins?" asked Elizabeth, a doctor who moved from Brooklyn just a few weeks ago. "Luckily that dorsal fin cresting out of the water belonged to Flipper."

April Zilg who just returned from Utah, where she paddled a reservoir in a flat-water race, a river in a whitewater race, and "the Great Salt Lake because I wanted to," has been instrumental in organizing the meetups and sees the site as a great way of building a SUP community in the area. "The Carolina Paddleboard Co. meetup was started due to our love of the sport and a desire to share it with others, and it’s grown into a way to promote the sport in the community. Let’s face it; if you don’t have a SUP community, then you can’t have any SUP events. You must help build and support the community first. We create events because we love what we do — and, we enjoy company."

April is headed to India for the year and while I’m excited for her new ventures, I wish I’d had more time to enjoy her friendship — and learn from her straight arms. She promises to stay in touch via meetup and left me with words of encouragement: "Jamie, I will see you in a year. And you’ll be doing speed laps around Harbor Island."

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