Making a stand with paddleboarding
By Fred Bellet | Hernando TodayHERNANDO BEACH - If you listen to Dee Bowers talk about the sport of stand-up paddleboarding, it just may make you want to sit down to listen closer.
Published: November 24, 2012
Published: November 24, 2012
"It's like walking on water, said the 56-year old Brooksville woman. "If you have good balance on the board and you can handle the paddle, the hard part is over."
Bowers is owner of Nature Coast SUP (SUP is the abbreviation for stand-up paddleboards).
Formerly an underground utilities supervisor working all over the South for two-plus decades, she, like so many others, fell victim to a downsized corporate world and went looking to do something else. She hung up her safety helmet and did some traveling.
Part of her travels brought her to Florida's west coast.
"I saw places like Clearwater and Sarasota," she said. "They had a bunch of SUP rentals along the coast."
That gave her an idea.
Originally from Ohio, Bowers made an investment; went on a buying spree to purchase several Shredder-brand stand-up paddleboards and adjustable paddles, life vests, a truck and a trailer for hauling the equipment; and set up a Nature Coast SUP website, which links to a Facebook page.
Bowers started her business about nine months ago.
Splitting her time between King's Bay in Crystal River on Monday through Wednesday, she can be found in Hernando County Thursday through Sunday at Pine Island's Alfred A. McKethan Park on the Gulf of Mexico. There she sets up her rental business near the fishing area.
"I was able to get a contract with the county," she said, but she confided the business is "still taking baby steps and catching on slowly."
However, Bowers has no fear.
While the Weeki Wachee River has its share of kayak rentals, the stand-up paddleboard business is a good fit for Pine Island, according to Hernando County Parks and Recreation Manager Harry Johnson.
Johnson deemed "it's a good plus for the residents of Hernando County and those coming in from outside the county."
He added that "we are looking at possibly expanding her repertoire to adding three or four kayaks for people to experience kayaking from Pine Island." But that has not yet been approved.
Johnson said "paddleboarding is a huge fitness craze that people are doing to keep in shape. It's a workout."
Bowers couldn't agree more. She says it's a great core workout. You feel it in your mid-section and your arms, she added.
Going beyond the physical benefits, she tells a story of a day when she first began her rentals and four or five women showed up to rent the paddleboards.
After each one was fitted with their paddle, they paddled out to open water within eyeshot of the beach. Bowers said she could see the women practicing their yoga on the boards. The women were going through the motions of their exercise and testing their equilibrium with no incidents of going overboard.
These aren't like regular surfboards Bowers stressed. These boards are soft-sided. So, if you get a little tired you can kneel down or lie on your stomach and it won't be uncomfortable.
In recent years stand-up paddleboarding has become quite popular. Bowers says it has its roots in modern days as far back as the 1960s. "Surf instructors would use some sort of paddle to maintain a steady position as they watched for waves for students learning how to surf. He would signal them when a good wave was approaching," she said.
For Bowers and those who have rented boards from her, stand-up paddleboarding is great for seeing below the waterline.
"The angle of elevation above the water gives the rider a good view of what's in the water below," she said.
"You can see dolphins, all sorts of fish, stingrays, even manatees, especially this time of year when they come to shallower depths seeking warmer water," she said. Bowers has even spotted some loggerhead turtles.
Stand-up paddleboarding, like most sea-going vessels, has its setbacks. Sometimes the tide is too low and you have to wait for it to come back in before setting out. Or the wind speed is too high. Even an advanced rider must take into account speed and direction.
Bowers doesn't permit the inexperienced paddleboarder in winds that exceed 10 mph. And she cautions even the experienced rider in winds that tend to go beyond 12 mph. Because your body acts as a sail, sometimes it's advisable to paddle while sitting or kneeling on the board.
No one goes out in winds that are 14 mph. It's a safety issue, she said.
However, on those calm days Bowers says assuredly that stand-up paddleboarding is a beautiful experience and a lot of fun. She's had riders as young as 7 years old all the way to 77, she said.
Before renting the gear, paddleboarders must sign two waivers of liability. One is for the county; the other protects Nature Coast SUP.
Bowers has two sizes of paddleboards available. An 11-foot board is for riders who weigh up to 180 pounds. People over that weight to about 240 pounds or more are better off with the 12-foot board.
With a smile, Bowers says paddleboarding around Pine Island is great because the water is shallow.
"If you fall of the board, you'll be in water up to your knees or waist," she said.