Stand up paddleboarding: Beaufort's secret sport

Stand up paddleboarding
SUP photo by John Wollwerth

By Shannon Roberts |  It’s an experience like something from a vacation brochure: Schools of flashing baitfish skitter in and out of sight. A southern stingray flutters lazily by. A bottlenose dolphin swims alongside, surfacing, smiling and making eye contact. Ospreys scream overhead. A loggerhead turtle takes in a loud slurp of air and a warm breeze scented with Carolina jasmine wafts by. The sky reflects on the water, offering a 360-degree view of azure blue. Friends idly chat about the beautiful weather and the weekend’s activities.

But of course, this idyllic experience comes at a cost: setting you back anywhere from 500 to 850 calories per hour.

Stand up paddleboarding (or SUP) is one of those rare sports to offer intense exercise without the workout victim noticing the Stand up paddleboarding: Beaufort's Secret Sport Photo courtesy Tim Lovettbody’s elevated heart rate, fatigued core, or profuse sweating. On a SUP, the aerobic heart rate is masked by the excitement of seeing a dolphin surface just a few feet away. The salty breeze whisks away sweat, and laughing with friends just adds to the core burn. Feeling hot? No worries, just jump in the water to cool off.

Paddleboarding is sneaky like that. Stand up paddleboarding is full-blown exercise for those who crave the burn. A runner or triathlete would have a tough time finding a better cross-training workout. But SUP is so much fun, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that paddling can tone and strengthen the body so quickly.

Vivi Verity, paddleboarding instructor says, “I’d say you can paddle and have your cake too. Stand up paddleboarding improves your core strength, as well as balance and upperVivi Verity, paddleboarding instructor says, “I'd say you can paddle and have your cake too. There are lots of exercises you can do on a board, like yoga.” Photo courtesy Brian Good body strength. SUP also works your back, glutes, quads, inner thighs, hamstrings and of course breathing in the fresh salty air is good for you. SUP can be quite an aerobic activity; it’s hard to paddle fast against our tidal current. There are lots of exercises you can do on a board, like yoga.”

Stand up paddleboarding is secretive and sneaky in other ways too. A paddleboard moves across the water so quietly, the paddler can sneak up on his natural surroundings and observe wildlife without scaring it away. The aquatic life is also easier seen from the higher-up perspective that SUP offers. Stand up paddleboarding can silently immerse us into the spectacular experience that is the lowcountry waters of Beaufort and the sea islands, day or night.

Worth Liipfert, a SUP racer and Beaufort attorney agrees, “night paddling on a full moon right out of downtown is awesome. Hearing people in the park and the nightlife while I’m almost secretly enjoying the natural beauty of Beaufort is amazing.” Worth has also been quite successful sneaking up on fish from his paddleboard. “Paddleboard fishing allows me access to sight casting for reds by myself or with friends in a unique way. I can access places on tides that are inaccessible to any other boat. I’ve seen baby manta rays, schools of reds, sharks chasing bait. It’s incredible.”

Often portrayed as a serene sport, SUP has its hard core side too. Races bring the paddleboarding community together to promote the sport and pit paddlers against each other in friendly competition.

A relatively newborn sport in this area, the community is growing. As a SUP racer, Liipfert has experienced the exhilaration andThe 10th Annualk Hunting Island Adventure Biathlon took place last month in the lagoon at Hunting Island Beach. physical challenge of paddleboarding against others: “The racing community in the area is small but incredibly fun and welcoming. Local paddleboarders have had success in racing are all about getting more people into racing and are really helpful.  I have really enjoyed the Hunting Island Biathlon and Paddlefest here locally. Both of these paddling races have a Stand Up division which has grown each year.”

To risk sounding cliché, there is something for everyone on a paddleboard.

Vivi offers advice on how to get started: “Start slow…begin on a day with good weather and little wind. Go with an instructor until you are very comfortable going out alone. Then relax….it’s easier and more enjoyable if you’re body is relaxed and you’re enjoying your surroundings. If you are afraid of falling in, it’s the first thing you should do. Why? To get it over with and see that it’s easier to get back on the board than you thought.”

Paddleboarding around Beaufort. It's an experience like something from a vacation brochure.
Paddleboarding around Beaufort. It’s an experience like something from a vacation brochure. Photo by Dawn Ramsey

Beaufort’s paddling and outdoor gear resource, Higher Ground located on Lady’s Island along Factory Creek, offers group lessons as well as group paddles and also private lessons too. Tim Lovett, owner/operator of Higher Ground has become a SUP enthusiast as well as a racer himself. He has a rental fleet for newbies to try the sport before they buy in. The staff at Higher Ground know all about the different types of boards as well as the gear it takes to get started in SUP. They stock boards for everything from racing to yoga boards. Brands found at Higher Ground include NSP, Boga, and Odyssey. Tim and staff can also advise on the rest of the gear needed, including Personal Flotation Devices, paddles, waterproof cases for electronics, clothing, hats, sunglasses, and even sunscreen and bug spray. Call Higher Ground at (843) 379-4327 or visit their Facebook page to learn more and sign up for group paddles or lessons.

Go on…give it a try.

Where to go? Well, Higher Ground’s favorite paddleboarding routes in Beaufort include launching from the downtown marina around the sandbar and back (about 3 miles), the Factory Creek loop from the either the Factory Creek boat landing (3 miles) or the downtown marina (4 miles). Each loop takes about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on conditions such as tide and wind. Of course, the harsher the conditions, the tougher the paddle…and the better the workout.

Paddleboarding in Beaufort is here to stay and quickly growing in popularity. Because of its fitness benefits as well as the access to the unique waterways that make Beaufort so special, paddleboarding is the perfect way to get out, get fit, and have fun. An added advantage to paddleboarding is its relative ease in hauling and launching: one person can easily handle a lightweight board.

Get out of the sweaty, noisy gym and off the hot pavement. Sneak out on the water and quietly torch some calories with the dolphins.

Your mind and body will thank you.