By Sandie Webb
Samantha Black’s first experience on a paddleboard came in the Atlantic. She and her husband tried the sport while vacationing at Hilton Head.
But one recent evening, she stood on a long, surfboard-like paddleboard and tried the new craze in a new place – the Chattahoochee River. It was her first experience with inland paddleboarding.
“There’s much less distraction here than in the ocean,” she said. “[It’s] smoother, quieter.”
High Country Outfitters is one of three companies that contracts with the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area to provide outdoor adventure sports in the string of parks along the Chattahoochee. The other companies are Urban Currents and Chattahoochee Outfitters. All rent equipment and offer classes for paddleboarding on the Hooch.
High Country started selling paddleboards three years ago, general manager John Sloan said. It now offers regular Thursday night demonstrations at Morgan Falls Overlook Park in Sandy Springs to introduce newcomers to stand up paddleboarding.
Paddleboarding, Sloan said, isn’t really new – it originated in Hawaii more than 50 years ago – but participation in stand up paddleboarding has exploded in the last seven years, due in large part to YouTube and videos posted there.
A paddleboarder stands on a long board and powers it with a long oar. Most paddleboards stand 10 feet to12 feet tall and are wider than surfboards. The extra width helps stability; however, since a longer board glides faster, stand up race boards are 12 feet 6 inches to 14 feet.
Sloan, a certified stand up paddleboard teacher, said he still recalls his first time on a paddleboard six years ago. “Standing on water is a new sensation,” he said. “[It offered] a total sensory overload.”
One recent Thursday, he showed members of a class how to mount and dismount a paddleboard, and how to stand after paddling a short distance. Kneeling is the position recommended if you get tired or hit rough water, he said. Although most of the people attending the demonstration appeared a bit shaky at first, everyone eventually was able to stand up on a board.
When asked why paddlers stand, Sloan replied, “It’s just fun!”
“You might go faster on your knees or sitting,” he said, “but standing and looking down in the water is much more fun. Plus, it’s a better workout.”
Rudy Evenson, information officer with the Chattahoochee recreation area, said paddleboarding is no more dangerous than rafting.
Still, he said, a paddleboard is considered a vessel under Georgia law, so paddlers must adhere to the same rules as boaters. Every paddler must have a personal floatation device with him or her.
And paddlers, like other river sports fans, should avoid excessive use of alcohol, he said. “Alcohol use on the river is the biggest danger with any water sport,” he said. “But I don’t think it would be easy to drink while standing up and paddling with both hands.”
First-timer Katie Devitt, a runner who also enjoys yoga and rock climbing, was the first to mount a board. By the end of the evening, she was hooked on the sport.
“It was so relaxing, something great for unwinding after work,” she said.
Paddleboarding on the Chattahoochee River
Classes: High County Outfitters offers public classes on stand up paddleboarding on Thursdays through August, weather permitting. Classes start at 6:30 p.m., at Morgan Falls Overlook Park, 200 Morgan Falls Road, Sandy Springs, 30350. Additional sessions may be scheduled during September. See Facebook for last-minute schedule changes: www.facebook.com/HighCountryOutfitters. Classes cost $25.
Urban Currents offers an introduction to stand up paddleboarding at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays during non-holiday weekends at the Power Island Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, 5820 Interstate North Parkway, Sandy Springs, 30328. Sessions cost $92.
Chattahoochee Outfitters offers classes Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., and noon through end of September, and perhaps longer. Classes are held at Azalea Park, 203 Azalea Drive, 30075. Cost is $30.
Contacts: High Country Outfitters, www.highcountryoutfitters.com; Urban Currents, urbancurrents.org; Chattahoochee Outfitters, www.shootthehooch.com..