Four lakes outline the western border of the Charlotte metro region along a dammed river named for the Catawba Indian Nation that once inhabited the Carolinas. Today, the Catawba River Basin offers hundreds of miles of flatwater paddling and launch points minutes from downtown, so it’s no wonder Charlotte’s becoming a year-round stand-up paddleboarding mecca with outfitters, lessons, and guided paddles popping up all over the region.
Here’s everything you need to know to SUP Charlotte this summer.
First, Learn How to Stand-Up Paddleboard
One of the best things about SUPing is the relatively easy learning curve. Yet the stroke, balance, and body positioning techniques gleaned in a hands-on lesson can increase fitness benefits and even kick it up to competition level.
Charlotte’s U.S. National Whitewater Center is THE place to learn to SUP or advance your skills. At the center’s flatwater dock on the Catawba River, you can rent boards, take a private lesson, or participate in a group clinic. More adventurous paddlers can even take on the three man-made class I-III whitewater channel. Beginners and experienced boarders alike can test their skills by registering for the Battle Royale SUP Sprint race or the SUP Stream Catawba River Race. In the spring and fall, the Dry Tri SUP-bike-run puts a unique spin on multisport racing.
On the more relaxing side, SUP yoga is almost always on the schedule of events during the Center’s weekend festivals. A specialty dining experience called Paddle to Table, offered spring through fall, combines a trifecta of outdoor experiences—SUP boarding (or kayaking), craft beer and wine, and an open-air fireside dinner.
Other local outfitters like My Aloha Paddle & Surf, The Goat Boater, and Carolina Paddleboard Co. also offer novice through advanced, group, or private instruction. My Aloha and Goat Boater offer specialty classes like SUP yoga and personalized AquaFit training, too.
Not that long ago, you had to have your own board to paddle Charlotte’s lakes. Now there are SUP outfitters all along the Catawba offering everything you’ll need: boards, paddles, and PFDs. My Aloha Paddle & Surf rents on Lake Norman in Cornelius and on the Catawba River in Belmont. Carolina Paddleboard Co. rents on Lake Norman out of Davidson, and both outfitters also sell paddleboards and accessories.
In Mooresville, What’s Up Watersports rents at the Hager Creek Access Area and offers an extended rental "Grab & Go" program so you can take your inflatable SUP to the beach or mountains. On the western shore, Long Island Paddle Sports offers rentals along a shallow and peaceful section of the lake, dotted with former mill sites and uninhabited islands waiting to be explored.
Two mobile outfitters operate without storefronts and will bring their boards to you. Cannon Board Co. rents inflatable SUPs on Lake Norman and Mountain Island Lake, while The Goat Boater meets you at access points on Lake Wylie.
Where to Go
With around 50 square miles of surface area, Lake Norman is a dream come true for distance paddling. Numerous public launches provide easy access to both east and west shorelines. On the east side of the lake, put-in at Lake Norman State Park to paddle the narrower and less-developed northern waters. Launch from Jetton or Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius to paddle past the priciest waterfront real estate in the region. On the western shore, launch at Little Creek Access to explore quiet coves with less motorized boat traffic.
The Lake Norman Section of the Catawba River Blueway stretches 31 miles from the northern tip at the Long Island Access south to Blythe Landing. Separated from the main lake by an interstate causeway, Lake Davidson is another option that is more pond than lake and offers calm waters for families and beginners trying SUPing for the first time.
Stand-up paddleboarding at Lake Lookout has been likened to paddling in Costa Rica because of its lush vegetation, shallow, clear water, and abundant wildlife. Launch at Riverbend Park to explore the islands and coves on the way to Lookout Shoals Dam.
Also narrow and less developed, Mountain Island Lake is the go-to SUPing spot for peace and tranquility close to the city. Put in at Latta Plantation for a 12-mile round trip on the Mountain Island Lake Blueway, or launch in the quaint downtowns of Mount Holly and Belmont to paddle up to 27 miles on Lake Wylie.
Nine public launches along the gentle South Fork River make it easy to paddle for a couple hours or a full day. Limited development along the South Fork makes it feel like you’re miles from civilization, and wildlife is abundant. Launch at Spencer Mountain to paddle the 8.4-mile length of the South Fork Blueway to the take-out at Riverside Park in Cramerton. SUP rentals are available on the river at Belmont’s Sun’s Up Scuba.
Guided Paddles & Events
Beautiful day out on the South Fork Trail in Gaston County! Thanks to the @cfgaston for supporting our efforts to improve this segment of the Carolina Thread Trail so folks can enjoy this river! #catawbalands #carolinathreadtrail #cfgc #carolinathreadtrail #clc #ctt @southforktrail #getoutside #go2gaston #gastonoutside #wbtvandme #trails #southforkcatawba
While the water is warmer and the days are longer between spring and late fall, the Charlotte SUP community calendar is packed with group paddles. Savor the end-of-day serenity on a sunset or full moon paddle on Lake Norman with My Aloha or on Lake Wylie with The Goat Boater. What’s Up Watersports also offers Lake Norman sunset paddles out of their Mooresville launch. Once you catch SUP fever and get your own board, you’ll want to get on the water with any number of SUP meetup groups organizing group paddles on a weekly basis.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.