Sea kayaking, sailing, canoeing, power boat cruising, whale watching; there already are so many different ways to see Mount Desert Island from the water. So how can Chris Strout’s paddle boarding outfit stand out?
Well, quite simply, by standing up.
“I would say it’s a more active activity,” said Strout, a Kenduskeag native who started Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Bar Harbor four years ago. Acadia Stand Up is the only shop north of Portland for stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), a sport that involves paddling through the water while standing on a surfboard-like polymer plank. It sounds simple, but, unlike other paddle sports, there’s much more to SUP than meets the eye.
“If you’re out on a sea kayak tour you’re not going to be jumping in the water and going for a swim,” said Strout, who led sea kayaking tours around Acadia for 10 years before Acadia Stand Up. “If you’re out on a paddleboard tour with us wearing a wetsuit, it’s a great opportunity to jump in the ocean and go for a dip, because it’s easy to get back onto a paddleboard.”
Like kayakers, SUP paddlers need to engage their core muscles to paddle efficiently. But while kayaking is largely a sit-down sport, SUP requires paddleboarders to balance on two feet atop unsteady waters.
“It’s a great way to work your core, fine-tune your motor skills, and improve your balance,” Strout said. “And have fun doing it without realizing you’re getting a good workout.”
Standing up made Strout feel closer to the water when he first tried it in a swimming pool in 2011, while working for Potomac Paddle Sports in Washington, D.C.
“The second I got on the paddleboard I really liked the freedom of not having to sit in the boat and be enclosed inside of a kayak,” he said. Though instructor still enjoys kayaking, SUP is his preferred paddle sport now. “Standing up, I feel more connected with my surroundings.”
Not only can you stand on a paddleboard, Strout said, the versatile platform also allows you to surf or do yoga on it, or to rest on your knees if you’re tired. Acadia Stands Up even offers guided yoga sessions on the paddleboards. “I like that freedom of being able to move around.”
And he’s not the only one. According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2013 Outdoor Participation report, SUP had the highest number of new participants in 2012, with 56 percent of stand-up paddlers that year being newbies. All those newcomers are great for Strout.
“Over the past five years business has definitely picked up,” he said. This year Acadia Stand Up moved into a bigger space on Main Street and hired new instructors, who are key to the Acadia experience.
“There’s no substitute for a little bit of good instruction,” said Strout, who encounters a lot of folks whose first experience paddle boarding was in wavy water with no instruction at all. “They fell a lot but they still had a great time. We take them out on this calm beautiful spot on a lake in Acadia, give them some basic instruction and take them paddling around the lake for a while. That makes them much more successful at paddling.”
Acadia Stand Up provides wetsuits for clients who want to paddle the chilly ocean, but most of Strout’s tours are on Echo Lake or Great Long Pond, where the water is calmer and warmer.
“Most paddle boarding that is going on in Maine is not in ocean water but on lakes, streams and rivers,” Strout said. “The water warms up nicely in the summer.”
Paddle boarding in Acadia
Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding does not have a daily schedule of tours, but private and group lessons can be booked online or over the phone. The outfitter is located at 200 Main St. in Bar Harbor. For more info, call 610-2970, email [email protected] and visit www.acadiasup.com.