It is a bright morning on Frenchman Bay. Eager paddlers slip into the glassy coastal waters and tentatively mount their boards. “Your legs might be a little shaky at first,” calls out trip leader Chris Strout. “We call those Elvis knees!”
Elvis knees or not, the group sets off from a sand bar in downtown Bar Harbor and paddle near Bar Island and inshore waters off Mount Desert Island. They are led by Strout, who founded Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding eight years ago to offer visitors a different physical way to see and experience the Maine coast as well as its pristine lakes.
A short walk from Bar Harbor’s Village Green on Main Street, Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding offers a variety of experiences to paddlers. The most common tour is a two-hour guided excursion, either in one of Acadia National Park’s calm lakes or out on the ocean in Frenchman Bay. The trips introduce participants to the sport’s basics while giving them a close-up look at the seasonal mansions flanking Bar Harbor’s shoreline or the soaring faces of Beech Cliffs on Echo Lake and other sights.
Strout and crew strive to fulfill their customers’ particular aquatic wishes, whether it’s practicing yoga or casting for bass. They also offer short-term board rentals and their shop caters to the stand-up paddling lifestyle, selling a variety of top-of-the-line boards and beach-friendly apparel.
Strout has always had the water sports bug, working as a Bar Harbor kayak guide after college. He first tried paddleboarding in Hawaii in 2008, while working for a kayak outfitter. Initially skeptical of the up-and-coming sport, he quickly became a convert.
“I got on a paddleboard and was just hooked on it,” he recalled. “I decided I wanted to start my own [business].”
Chris returned to Bar Harbor, put up a website, and starting offering tours from the back of his truck. He sought to introduce his newfound hobby to some of the more adventurous Mount Desert Island visitors. That goal stuck with him as he moved into a brick-and-mortar store and expanded his business.
“I think of ourselves as a school just as much as anything else. I want people to have the bar-setting experience,” Strout related. “When people come paddleboarding with us, they aren’t just getting a really awesome trip, they are learning something.”
Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding’s team also includes Bex Haverkos, who is a guide and paddleboard yoga instructor. A passionate teacher, her biweekly yoga classes have enabled her to bond with guests.
“I love to hear where people are from, why they came to Maine, what they are passionate about,” she said. “It is wonderful to hear those stories.”
After almost a decade of guiding upright, Chris still delights in the sport.
“I get to wake up every morning and go paddling. How does it get any better than that?” he said with a grin.