A First-Timer’s Guide to Stand-Up Paddleboarding on Alabama’s Gulf Coast

Gulf Coast Paddle Company provides several opportunities to learn how to enjoy paddle boarding along the Gulf Coast.
Gulf Coast Paddle Company provides several opportunities to learn how to enjoy paddle boarding along the Gulf Coast. Gulf Coast Paddle Board Company
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Father and son duo Marc and Zach Rounsaville have teamed up to bring a unique coastal experience to lower Alabama: Their Gulf Coast Paddle Company is a stand-up paddleboard specialty shop located in Orange Beach. With certified paddleboard instructors they offer classes, lessons, rentals, and tours to introduce first-timers to the fast-growing sport.

If you've never been on a SUP (as stand-up paddleboards are increasingly known), you probably have some questions about what it takes to enjoy the sport on the Gulf Coast. Marc Rounsaville is just the person to ask. He recently took time out of his busy schedule to give RootsRated a little insight on paddling the Alabama Gulf Coast.

How should first-time paddlers prepare?

Take a lesson or a tour. It will help you improve your paddle technique, give you confidence to reach beyond the shore and dramatically increase your enjoyment of both paddling and the local environment. We do free demos so you are able to try before you buy.  We are also actively building the local paddle community. We want you on the water getting fit and having fun, and we want to help you do that no matter where you got your board.

Zach is an avid SUP racer having competed in major races from California to Key West. He is currently a team rider for Indigo Stand Up Paddleboards.
Zach is an avid SUP racer having competed in major races from California to Key West. He is currently a team rider for Indigo Stand Up Paddleboards. Gulf Coast Paddle Company

What equipment do you need to take paddling?

Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Take a leash, personal flotation device (PFD), water, sunscreen and maybe a snack. The list may shift a little depending on where and how long you plan to be gone. Water is very important, food we can get by without, but water is essential. If you paddle in remote areas by yourself a personal notification device like SPOT (a satellite personal tracker) is a good idea. Some people like to take their phones—just remember no phone case is infallible. And a smile, always take a smile.

Where are the best places to go for the day?

I like to paddle around the islands, there's plenty to see and do there. If a more secluded paddle is desired, then Soldier’s Creek north of Orange Beach is great and the Fish River/Weeks Bay toward Fairhope is great, too. Basically, you can’t go wrong.

Where are your favorite places to enjoy along the Alabama Gulf Coast?

I have a lot places that I enjoy paddling, the canals near Orange Beach Marina, Cotton Bayou, Terry Cove. But I never tire of paddling the Islands—Robinson and Walker. There are always lots of birds, fish and other wildlife to see. In the winter I like to go up Perdido Bay and down wind back towards Ono with a strong north wind.

Any areas to keep away from?

Everybody’s limits are different, so you need to know your limits. I’ll paddle anywhere: rivers, creeks, lakes, bays and oceans. I don’t think there are places to avoid. That being said, I would not recommend getting in the middle of Perdido Pass on Memorial Day weekend, regardless of the level of experience. Boats and Jet Skis will sometimes get really close, so high-traffic areas would not be the first choice of novice paddlers.

Also watch for days with high winds—15 knots is pretty high. If you do paddle on windy days paddle out into the wind so it will help push you back.

Paddling is somewhat like biking—you can go as hard or as easy as you want. Going early helps to avoid boat traffic. Fall and spring have less traffic as well. I love the variety that we have here from beachfront for a little surf, Perdido Pass for the islands and clear water, Johnson Beach is fairly isolated and very scenic, Fish River and Soldier Creek for the more naturalistic views, to the canals in Ono and Terry Cove. All are great fun and have their own uniqueness.

Cotton Bayou is great place to start, as it is a no wake zone and makes getting started a little easier. Lots of fish, dolphins and birds to see in the bayou. When you get on a board you will see things and have experiences that are not available on a boat or kayak.

Turkey Creek over near Niceville, Florida, is great little trip. The creek is fairly swift and narrow, and it takes 1 to 1.5 hours to paddle up to the “culvert” and about 20 minutes to come back down. Paddling with the manatees over at the Crystal River in the winter is another fun trip.

Cap is always ready to give paddleboarding a go and to cheer on anyone who drops in.
Cap is always ready to give paddleboarding a go and to cheer on anyone who drops in. Gulf Coast Paddle Company

How did the Gulf Coast Paddle Company come about?

I grew up in Mississippi and would enjoy family vacations along the Alabama Gulf. After moving to Atlanta and later Washington, D.C., as deputy director for fire and aviation, I kept my boat here and would return as often as I could. In 2010, I had the chance to start a consulting business, which focused on leadership development in high-risk, high-consequence industries. They gave me the opportunity to locate anywhere I wanted to and that’s when I decided to move to the Gulf Coast.

My son, Zach, and I had became avid paddlers, and he had become a very proficient paddleboard racer. The combination of our love of the sport, the fact there was not a paddleboard specialty shop in the community—and a desire to create something together—led us to building Gulf Coast Paddle Company.

What do you enjoy most about Gulf Coast Paddle Company?

Being able to get out on the water, to come to work in boardshorts and not a tie, to introduce people to the sport of stand-up and the benefits it brings. Health, fitness, fun—and light on the environment—are all some of the benefits,  and are all important to me. To get out on the water and see the diversity of wildlife, and feel the power of the ocean inspire me to do better, to live more fully. This may sound corny but my two bulldogs inspire me. They absolutely live in the moment and love me unconditionally. I want to be more like that. Live in the moment, don’t judge and accept people as they are. That's one of the most important parts of why I do what I do.

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