The Hippo


Jun 6, 2020








A paddleboard class taught by Karen Fraser (left). Courtesy photo.

Get started

Contoocook River Canoe Co. (9 Horse Hill Road, Concord) has a SUP 101 course every Thursday evening from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and by appointment; visit 
SUP NH (4 N. Main St., Wolfeboro) is based of Winnipesaukee and offers lessons in basic and advanced paddleboarding. Rentals are available in Wolfeboro, and also in many bodies of water around the Lakes region (however, renting in these lakes is more expensive due to travel costs; there’s only one storefront location in Wolfeboro).
Full Moon Paddleboard (23 N. Main St., Durgin Stables, Wolfeboro, offers SUP Yoga, rentals, etc., and they host a race planned for July 26.
Wild Meadow on Winnipesaukee (Route 25, Center Harbor) offers rentals and SUP yoga and beginner classes.
Poor Yorick’s Paddlesports (512 Maple St., Contoocook, 745-3500, pooryoricks) offers outings and lessons in SUP.
Portsmouth Kayak Adventure (185 Wentworth Road, Portsmouth, 559-1000, offers a SUP camp for kids in late August.
Paddleboard Yoga at North Hampton, taught by Karen Fraser, meets at Cinnamon Rainbow Surf Co., 931 Ocean Ave., North Hampton, for weekly lessons on the ocean. Visit

Paddleboard fever
Stand up, sit down — or do yoga

By Kelly Sennott

 Do you want to stand or sit? Burn some calories or bathe in the sun? Race hard or stand on your head?

There are many reasons why the paddleboard has become mainstream in such a short amount of time, says Chris Shields, owner of SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) NH. Variability is one.
“It’s the most versatile water craft on the water right now,” Shields said in a recent phone interview.
It’s also light, flat and easy to use. Pat Malfait, owner of Contoocook River Company, would go so far as to say that it put paddle sports back in business.
“Paddleboards coming into the market gave us all a bit of a boost, something new to put our arms around, and it gave the paddling community something new to go out and try,” Malfait said.
Roots and response
While paddleboarding is certainly a new water sport on the East Coast — it hit New England about five years ago — we’re among some of the last in the U.S. to catch on.
“Paddleboarding has been in Hawaii since the 1800s,” Shields said. “The board was made of plywood, and it was more of a catamaran kind of thing. ... Like an oversized surfboard that you could stand on.”
Shields was a surfer first, but the paddleboard caught his eye during a 2007 trip to Hawaii, when he decided to take one back home. It was a nice surfing alternative; in New Hampshire, where there are smaller waves, a paddle surfer can ride longer and more easily.
But Shields lived in Wolfeboro, right by Lake Winnipesaukee. He began using his new board there in 2008, earning quizzical glances and pointed fingers. People in the Lakes Region hadn’t seen anything like this before, and they were interested. 
So he began to buy boards by Laird Hamilton, one of the first to bring paddleboarding/surfing to the U.S. sports world, and Shields started his business, SUP NH, in 2009. Today, the company offers lessons, rentals and sales to the Lakes Region and beyond. 
For local paddle sports retailers, there was skepticism; would this be a fad, like windsurfing? Or would it be a permanent addition to the industry, like kayaks and canoes? The Contoocook River Company staff got its answer by looking at the people renting when the company first offered the paddleboards to customers about three years ago. 
“It is funny the mix you get,” said Matt Tansey, member of the Contoocook River Company staff. “You’ll see three generations — a grandparent, parent and young kids — all on the paddleboards. … I think it’s a great and easy way to do something relaxing, something that everyone can enjoy.”
Which board?
A decent board isn’t cheap; it’ll cost between $900 and $1,200, or about $600 used. What you use is dependent on your physique (a large person should have a large board), your activity and your location. 
A planing hull is shaped like a wide, large surfboard. It’s used, yes, for surfing — its rounded rim allows for a rocking movement, which in turn allows for boarders to ride a wave — but it’s also wide and stable enough for activities like yoga or, for the lackadaisical paddler, sunbathing.
A displacement (or touring) board is shaped more like a speedy kayak, narrower but with a more pointed bow, ideal for cutting through water. Paddleboard racers will be more likely to choose this style.
The boards are becoming more family-friendly, with tandem boards (though the Contoocook company, Tansey said, has yet to sell those). Shaw expects prices to eventually dip once the hype settles.
The basics
Before you start, there are a few things you should know, particularly if you’re venturing into choppy waters. (Oftentimes, you’ll get a short lesson before you rent, anyway; paddleboarding is still new enough that most classes will be beginner classes. The Contoocook River Company offers beginner lessons every Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.)
Some tips from the retailers: relax. Also, bend your knees.
“Think of downhill skiing — that’s how you should stand, with your feet side by side,” Shields said. 
For the most part, it’s pretty easy to get started, Tansey said, particularly if you’re on calmer waters, but it’s worthwhile to learn the types of strokes you can do in maneuvering around. A J stroke, for instance, is meant to help you go straight, while a sweep stroke, which begins at the head of the board and travels along the edge, will help you turn. 
Races, meet-ups and yoga
Want to take things up to the next level? You can join one of the many SUP meet-up groups (the East Hampstead Kayaking Meetup group, for instance, opts for stand-up paddleboards over kayaks every once in a while). There are races off the coast of Boston, Ogunquit, Newburyport, and in Vermont’s Lake Champlain and on the Cape Cod Bay. (Check them out at
For a blood-rushing challenge, Karen Fraser, who teaches paddleboard yoga twice a week at the North Hampton beach, suggests you try standing on your head.
Sort of.
“Regular headstands are pretty fun on the board,” she said in a phone interview. “Though what you do depends on the person’s ability and the condition of the ocean.”
Every class she teaches, she said, is tailored to suit beginners, but there are options — like head standing — for the more advanced students.
Paddling in the ocean is certainly very different from paddling in a lake or pond or river, particularly if you want to perform yoga. You have waves to think about.
“I use an anchor system,” she said. “The end of the board has a loop where the leash is. I have a little clip, an 8- to 10-pound anchor that’s attached to a 12-foot-long leash.”
Most of her boards are from the Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Company, about 33 inches wide and 10 feet in length. She starts each class with land demonstrations: how to carry your board, when to stand up, what to do when you fall off, etc.
“The board is pretty wide. People rarely tip over,” she said. (If people do tip over, there are usually two instructors on the water at a time for each class to help out.)
Fraser has been teaching group exercise for about 30 years now. Her yoga class is more like a fitness class than anything else; sure, they perform downward-facing dog and warrior pose (modified if need be), but the class can also expect to perform push-ups, back bends, side planks and pilates movement.
She requests participants register ahead of time in part because the class has become so popular.
“It’s increased in popularity, by all means,” said Fraser, who became acclimated to the sport seven years after she took up surfing in 2004. 
When she’s at the ocean, she says, every day feels like a Saturday. She lives in Methuen and doesn’t mind at all the long drive to get to the beach.
“Being out on the water does something for your soul and your spirit. … It’s a way to get away from your regular routine,” Fraser said. “I’ve never had a bad class. The people are awesome.” 
As seen in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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