If you love water and exercise, paddleboarding just might become your next favorite summer water activity. Thanks to the many lakes, rivers, large ponds, and creeks in the Hudson Valley and Albany region, finding places to get started, rent equipment, and receive a few choice pointers from seasoned guides is easy to do.
If you decide to give stand-up paddleboarding a try, you’ll be in good company. Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is one of the fastest-growing trends in the world of paddle sports. The Outdoor Foundation, which studies all paddle water sports, reported in a 2019 study that 3.5 million Americans now enjoy paddleboarding, with people 55-64 one of the fastest-growing age groups.
The interest isn’t that surprising. Paddleboarding is good exercise, building core strength and balance. It also doesn’t require a big investment to give it a try. Rental spots abound in the Capital Region. A cross between kayaking and surfing, variations on paddleboarding can be done on still and moving water, and because of the mix of gentle motion and balance, many yoga instructors now offer paddleboard yoga as a way of blending the relaxation of rippling water with the peace of deep breathing and stretching. And, while it is called stand-up paddleboarding, you don’t have to stand if you prefer to sit until you’re more comfortable.
Hudson Paddles in Hudson is one of the numerous regional outfits that connect people with the paddleboard experience. I spoke with co-founder and co-owner of the enterprise, TJ Macchiaroli, about emerging trends in the paddleboard world, about how first-timers can jump into the fun, and about some of the challenges and perks of paddleboarding for newcomers to the sport.
Paddleboarding isn’t necessarily as easy as putting one foot in front of the other and walking, but it can become second nature in the same way, with muscle memory and body balance kicking into gear without requiring a ton of thought. Boards are longer and wider than surfboards, and they tend to weigh about 30 pounds, though lighter inflatable models are on the market as well. First-timers should be prepared to have a few minor awkward moments when trying to find their footing and equilibrium, but once those initial challenges are overcome, expect a deeply satisfying mix of relaxation and physical exertion.
“It’s much more active than kayaking,” says Macchiaroli. “But the whole thing is that it’s supposed to be fun.” If some find maintaining their balance standing on a paddleboard in a moving current on the Hudson River challenging, there are other calmer ways to ease into the activity.
“If you’re on still water, ideally at a place where you can walk in the water and get on at waist height, I wouldn’t discourage anybody from just jumping into paddleboarding,” says Macchiaroli.
Macchiaroli grew up on the North Shore of Long Island, close to the beach, where he developed an early love of the power of water and the deep relationship that people have to water, currents, and tides. “There’s real science about how being close to water is beneficial for us as humans, being that we’re made up of 80 percent of water,” says Macchiaroli, referencing the 2014 book Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols and Céline Cousteau. The book explores the meditative state of calm and wellbeing that many find by being on, under, or near water. “That’s why people vacation at the beach and go to the lake house. There’s something about it.”
Paddleboarding, many enthusiasts say, offers a unique way of experiencing that bond with water.
If the Macchiarolis eased into paddleboarding and SUP yoga from the holistic health and wellness end of their interests, for others, like the folks at Kayak Shak in Saratoga Springs who have been involved in all things paddling for decades, the paddleboarding boom has been an organic evolution of their paddle-centric approach.
Suzanne Carpenter is a manager at the Kayak Shak in Saratoga Springs, which has been open for 20 years, and where paddleboard rentals have been on the menu for the past eight years. SUP Yoga is offered as well. If the currents of the Hudson River might occasionally present a few challenges for first-time paddleboarders, Carpenter says the waters of Fish Creek, which flows out of Saratoga Lake, are gentle enough for most folks to get their footing on a board.
“We’re in a nice, beautiful stretch,” says Carpenter. And if standing up proves tricky, Carpenter encourages paddlers to remain undeterred, since sitting cross-legged on the board or with legs dangling over the side, is also an option.
“If you’re uncomfortable to stand, then you can always sit,” she says. The chill-out factor is strong at Kayak Shak. “People do tend to bring a little cooler out with them and just sit in the lily pads and relax a little bit.”
Both Carpenter and Macchiaroli say that last summer was one of the busiest at their respective businesses, a point that could reflect the trending growth of paddleboarding or the spike in regional outdoor activities during the Covid crisis or both. In either case, making advance reservations for summer weekends is recommended.
Got a board already? Here are some choice spots to start paddleboarding.
- The Lower Hudson and Great Sacandaga Lake in Hadley offer a mix of calm water and current.
- Lake Lonely Inlet in Saratoga Springs offers a gentle and tranquil spot without a lot of boat traffic.
- The Batten Kill River in Cambridge offers plenty of beautiful scenery and pristine water. Kinderhook Lake in Niverville features public access spots.
Covid-19 Caveat Regarding Rentals
Many of the SUP rental outfits are up and running, but due to the health and safety precautions involving driving buses of paddlers to or from their spots on the water, some companies have had to scale back their offerings during the pandemic. Call ahead to confirm scheduling and availability.