By: Jamie Penn
Photographed by: Gary Breece
(Read in the Digital Issue HERE)
Aside from a propensity for balance, the only requirement for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is an essential desire to hang out in some of the most idyllic aquatic settings and to be infused with the feeling of walking on water, which seems to apply to… well, almost everyone. It’s not the far-out, riding the curl experience of surfing; the crazy, flying 20 feet above the water adventure of kitesurfing; or the neck-wrenching, body-bruising enterprise of wakeboarding. It’s the every-woman/every-man’s sport. Paddlers can dress it up from meditative to competitive and, if they get creative, even a touch risky. And, it’s available just about anywhere with water, from lakes to rivers to waterways and the ocean.
Jon Bos is a young 52. He’s lean and fit with that unmanufactured, out-of-the-gym look that most of us are going for. Even in early May, he has a perfect tan and smiles slightly every time he looks toward the waterway from his spot on the shore.
Originally from Chicago, his goal when he moved to Wilmington, NC was to be on the water as much
“It’s such a great feeling to throw my board on the top of the car any time of the year and be on the water within fifteen minutes,” Bos said.
Wrightsville Beach, just a few miles from Wilmington, offers some of the best paddleboarding routes around. From long waterway “lanes” for racers; pristine barrier islands that one can easily paddle to; rolling, mid-size waves for paddlesurfers; to miles of amazing little marshy tributaries that can flaunt more wildlife than most preserves, Wrightsville Beach is a paddleboarding haven.
The only downside, says Bos, is the wind. Like most water sports, paddleboarding is no fun in chop.
“I’m an opportunist,” Bos says. “I always check the weather app on my phone before I load the board. I won’t come out unless conditions are right.”
Bos is a busy man. He has three children under the age of 11, works as a consultant and travels two to three days each week.
But, he’s also an exercise enthusiast. And when he found paddleboarding two years ago, he knew he’d found the low-impact, highly aerobic, de-stressing exercise that he needed.
“You can take it to whatever extreme you want, that’s what’s so great about it. You can do this at any age for any number of reasons. It’s the perfect all-around sport.” Bos said.
“I do it for the exercise. I like to push myself. But, running’s too hard on my knees these days. This is really low impact. It uses your core as torque which drives everything else.”
When not working, working out, or racing at one of many east coast paddleboarding events, Bos paddles with his wife, and their crew, near their second home on Oak Island.
They, too, paddleboard for the thrill. But, their thrills have a different bent.
“I got into it as a way to get away from motors and roads and buildings,” Hurley said. She and her husband, Mike, their nine-year-old son, Jackson, and their lively, one-year-old Golden Doodle, Bella, share boards on barrier island cruises. “It’s something we can do as a family. It’s our Sunday morning church.”
Hurley, just shy of 50, is pretty uninhibited. Although fancy paddleboarding gear exists, it’s not necessary. And, Hurley doesn’t do unnecessary.
“If I have a moment, and the conditions are right, I’m going to go,” she said. “I’ll take off my high heels on the dock and jump on the board.”
She has also been known to do a “sun salutation” or two after she gets underway.
“I’m more into it for the exploration and ‘zen’ of it. It’s so meditative and immersed in nature,” Hurley said.
She and Jackson have seen as many as 42 sharks on one excursion. Loggerheads, skates, rays, horse conchs and dozens of species of birds have also made many lists.
Kittredge lives across the street from Hurley and has been paddleboarding for four years. Now at 50, with her daughter in college, and her newfound nursing career in full swing, decompression is a must.
“I paddleboard to remind me that I’m grateful for being here on this planet in this beautiful spot. After leaving the hospital, where things aren’t very pretty, I jump on the board, explore the marsh, and just let go,” says Kittredge.
She’ll slip her sleek Carbon Teak Voyager in the water anytime the weather’s right, but some of her favorite trips are full moon cruises with friends.
“Paddling at night under the moon is gorgeous beyond belief. It’s like floating around in a painting.”
There are lots of reasons to paddle. But, scenery seems to be at the root of every reason.
“Paddleboarding offers 360 degrees of beauty,” Kittredge said. “There’s just nothing like it. When you’re out there with the sunsets and sunrises, your jaw drops.”