Maybe you've seen them: cars driving on western Kentucky roads hauling what look like beach-bound surf boards. You may have thought to yourself, "Don't they know we're in the Midwest? There's no surf here!"
You'd be right about the absence of surf, but wrong about the boards. They're paddleboards, and in ever-greater numbers people are hauling them to area lakes, rivers and streams - any body of water will do - to stand-up paddleboard, or SUP.
"You can paddleboard," said Bluegrass Boardsports co-owner and SUP enthusiast Chad Beyer. "Most everybody can do this. And the truth is, even if you can't stand up, you can sit on your board and it's still an accessible, fun and good workout."
Saturday over 40 people joined Beyer and his wife, D'Che Harper-Beyer, on Kentucky Lake for SUP demonstrations during the day and a guided ride that night by the light of the super moon. They hope to host another "Super Moon SUP" next month, weather permitting. Some of Saturday's participants had never stepped foot on a paddleboard before while others were seasoned SUPers, but Beyer was right. Each and every person was able to stand up and paddle.
The Beyers tried stand-up paddleboarding for the first time in 2011 during a trip to Jamaica and fell in love with the sport. Trouble was, when the Paducah couple returned home from their vacation, there was no SUP to be found. "When we came home, there just wasn't anyone that did it," Harper-Beyer said. "Of course Chad has that entrepreneurial spirit and was like, 'Hey, let's just do it ourselves!' And we wanted to expose other people to it, so we decided to start Bluegrass Boardsports."
BGBS has no brick-and-mortar home, and isn't anchored in any one body of water. Their business and boards go wherever their customers are. They have equipment available for sale, rentals run $20 an hour (with lower rates the longer you rent), and the Beyers deliver the boards when and where they're wanted. The Kentucky Dam Marina offers SUP instruction and rents equipment at comparable rates, but BGBS is the only area business that delivers it.
Harper-Beyer said that during their first year running BGBS, their customers were mostly out-of-towners who had paddleboarded before and were vacationing in the lakes region. This year, however, they've been happy to get more calls from locals wanting to try out it out for the first time.
"We're so lucky out here," Harper-Beyer said. "With Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake both, we can pretty much be anywhere with boards in under an hour."
For prime paddleboarding, the Beyers highly recommend getting in the water at Big Bear Resort, Nickel Branch Campground and the Sledd Creek community boat ramp, but they'll also be the first to tell you the area is absolutely full of potential SUP spots.
Even for those who have grown up on the lakes and feel they've seen everything there is to see, paddleboarding may offer new way to experience familiar waters.
"On a paddleboard, you've got totally a different perspective," Beyer said. "You can see right down into the water. You can see the fish and turtles and wildlife. You can get back in creeks and cypress bays, where boats would never go. Everything's right there. You may have seen these shorelines before, but the water is different every time."
In addition to classic, recreational stand-up paddleboarding, there's SUP racing, white-water SUP, SUP yoga and SUP fishing - all of which are accessible in the region. The sport's roots are in coastal towns and surfing, popularized by pro surfers like Laird Hamilton who use SUP to keep training during off-seasons, but it's particularly suited for regions like western Kentucky. Kentuckians like the Beyers may not have access to surf, but they can have a whole lot of fun with a board, a paddle and some water.
Contact Genevieve Postlethwait, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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