On Saturday, May 10th, the Charlotte area takes a big leap forward in one of the fastest growing sports in the country. At 8am on Saturday, 200 plus athletes will compete in the first WPA (World Paddleboard Association) sanctioned event in the Charlotte area, Stand Up for the Catawba.
Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) has seen an explosive growth trend in the last decade. In 2013 the Outdoor Foundation listed SUP as having the most first time participants of any outdoor recreational activity. The popularity of the sport is evident in Charlotte as well. “We’ve helped 8,000 people learn how to enjoy a standup paddleboard,” says Rob Bennett, owner of My Aloha Paddle and Surf and race director for Saturday’s event. “A few years ago we used to have to show people pictures so they could see what stand up paddleboarding was. Now they come find us.”
Stand up paddleboarding is a versatile activity that can be done in several different bodies of water and can incorporate a wide range of other activities. In Charlotte you’ll see SUPs on the Catawba River , in lakes, and even in the rapids at the U.S. National White Water Center . While stand up paddleboarding is a workout in itself, fitness centers, yoga studios, and paddleboard outfitters are offering a wide range of fitness classes designed with a standup paddleboard in mind. You can even attend boot camp style cardio and strength classes completed entirely on your board.
At the heart of the sport in Charlotte is an interest in protecting our lakes and rivers. “SUP is a great way to enjoy the lake without burning exhaust and fossil fuels” Bennett says. “There’s a big focus on giving back. It’s a lot of what we do. Eighty percent of the proceeds from the race will go to the Catawba River Keepers and the other twenty percent to the Surf Rider Foundation”. Both groups are actively involved in advocacy and cleanup of North Carolina waterways.
Bennett has some tips for enjoying the sport he has worked to promote. “Locally, paddleboards are considered water craft. You need to have a wearable life jacket on you or on your board. You also need a white light (like a head lamp) at night. And very important, use a board leash. The board is your best floatation device but if you’re separated from it, it can’t help you”. Bennett says that Lake Norman at 2 pm on a Saturday might not be the ideal place to SUP due to the high boater traffic and choppy water. He suggests Lake Cornelius as a more relaxing option as boats are limited to a 10 horsepower motor there.
Stand Up for the Catawba begins in front of the Port City Club which is also a prime viewing location. The race is a beach start with two optional distances. The sanctioned Elite event is approximately 6.5 miles and begins at 8 am with the roughly 3 mile recreational race starting shortly after. The entire event is planned to be a party atmosphere with entertainment (think hula girls, island music) and a Carolina Luau after the races. There’s a pre-race meet and greet on Friday night with food, Kona beer, and a night SUP demo by Nocqua.
For more information on the race and paddling in and around Charlotte, check out My Aloha's website.