Austin isn’t just the Live Music Capital of the World, it’s also increasingly becoming a leading city for the SUP community that's been sweeping the nation for several years now. It may not be a coastal city, but this hasn't stopped Austin from becoming one of the most flat water friendly locales in the country, and maybe even the world. This is thanks not only to the wealth of waterways in Central Texas, but also because the world’s largest SUP board manufacturer, SUP ATX, has made Austin its home.
Founded by Nick Matzorkis – known as a serial entrepreneur, film and music producer, founder of the people-search industry, and other monikers – SUP ATX originated with Nick SUP-ing in the waves of Malibu before moving to its permanent home in Austin in 2009.
As a surfer, I remember well the first time pro surfing legend Laird Hamilton showed up to Malibu on an SUP. People looked at him with awe. When other surfers caught on to the advantages of standing on an oversized surfboard with a paddle to catch waves that other surfers couldn’t, or at least way earlier than everyone else, people like Nick Matzorkis soon foresaw the incredible growth potential of the sport. And surfers sharing the waves with SUP-ers also soon began grumbling at those who we derisively called “sweepers” for stealing all the waves with so little effort. Perhaps this mild push-back from the surfers against the SUP-ers was also instrumental in driving this once-predominately coastal sport to the less-crowded inland flat water, and thus Austin.
Now, everywhere from Lake Travis to Brushy Creek Lake Park to Quarry Lake to Lake Austin and of course Lady Bird Lake, and anywhere else on the Colorado river, you will see many people on SUPs, and most of those boards will be sporting the SUP ATX logo. You will see land-locked surfers getting their water fix on SUPs. You will see yogis practicing balancing poses, and you’ll see SUP fitness classes offered by major Austin gyms. You will see SUP races. You will see kids and parents and tourists and even dogs on SUPs gliding the water on weekdays and weekends alike. Everyone is either already in tune with the SUP craze or on their way to trying it soon enough at one of the free demos frequently held at the Texas Rowing Center dock or one of the several other SUP renters throughout the city.
“I love SUP because it’s not just a great way to get exercise, it’s also the perfect way to enjoy Austin water year-round,” says SUP enthusiast Kate Tomlinson. “I SUP through my gym on Quarry Lake up north, but I also love being on Lady Bird Lake, because even though you’re in the middle of town, it's really peaceful. It’s also as easy or as challenging as you want to make it. You can incorporate yoga or you can even just lay down and take a nap on your board!"
Dale Rogers, SUP ATX General Manager, agrees: “You can make what you want out of it. If you want to just lay on a board and sunbathe, you can. If you want to do yoga on a board, you can. If you want a hard workout, it can give you a full-body, really hard workout. Or anywhere in-between. It’s what you make of it.” He adds, “Plus, you can do it almost anywhere there’s water. You just need water, you don’t necessarily need the ocean.”
As for benefits that are specific to SUP, there are many. But compared to, say, kayaking, canoeing or other paddling, one big advantage is the different perspective. “You’re up higher,” says Dale. “You’re above the water instead of sitting on the water level. This way, you see a lot more wildlife, including when you’re fishing off a SUP. You can see down in the water better. There are a lot of views you may not get sitting in a low boat.”
To make the most of SUP-ing in the Austin area, some of the tips Dale gives riders include the following:
- If you’ve never done it before, visit a demo, where you can learn how to do it, for free.
- If you’re getting foot cramps or numbness, you need to relax. Wiggle your toes, relax your feet. Move around a bit.
- Use your legs. It’s more of a leg and core body exercise than an upper-body or arm sport. Beginners tend to stand up straight and mainly use their arms. But use your legs. Bend at the knees and squat down a bit. Over the longer term, it will be more comfortable and efficient.
Dale’s Top 5 favorite SUP spots in Austin are:
- Redbud Isle. From the Texas Rowing Center, it's a two mile paddle, and it's really pretty.
- Barkin’ Springs (Barton Springs spillway). You can paddle from TRC and just hang out there.
- Congress St. Bridge at sunset. Paddle to the bridge to watch the bats in the summer.
- Anywhere on Lady Bird Lake, especially east of TRC gives you a beautiful view of downtown.
- Lake Austin, below Mansfield Dam, up to the low-water crossing. There are no boats up there. The water is nice and cool even in the middle of summer because it’s coming right out of the bottom of the Lake Travis Dam. Lake Austin is really nice but you have to be more cautious up there because of boat traffic, which is virtually nonexistent on Ladybird Lake.
Board rentals: There are places all around Austin from which to rent SUP boards, but, according to Dale, they have the most boards available at Texas Rowing Center, about 180 of them in fact. Plus, they’re open sun-up to sundown.