While surfing big waves may not be possible every day in Southwest Florida, stand-up paddle boarding is fetching more fans of all ages here on a daily basis. Whether someone is 8 or 88, local businesses are experiencing a surge of athletes competing, and even just recreating with stand-up paddle boarding, also known as SUP or SUPing.
Jet Set Surf Shop, a hot spot for surfers seeking gear on Marco Island for more than 20 years, added paddle boards and paddles last year to its collection.
“The beach at Tigertail has the estuary spot, and we’ve been paddle boarding at South Beach and Residents Beach, when the water is calm,” said owner Shane Sparks.
“The sport offers good fitness for everyone,” Sparks adds, as he sells and rents boards and paddles to island visitors. “We set it up like a golf tee time, and I arrive with the paddles and boards to their location on the beach.”
SUPing has also recently gained popularity on the Estero River, a spot known for its great scenic kayaking, said Paula Stuller, owner of Estero River Outfitters located on the Estero River since 1977.
“It really surprises me every day to see more people interested in the sport. A lot of people come in to try it, and paddle surfing covers all the different demographics. We work with them on the docks, and it is pretty simple to try,” Stuller said.
“Stand up paddle boarding is phenomenal. This is the best exercise and nobody gets hurt,” said Mark Athanacio, owner of True Blue Water Sports in North Naples, dedicated to kite boarding and stand up paddle boarding, which opened its doors in October of last year.
”I can have anyone doing this in five minutes,” Athanacio maintains, as he leads new stand-up paddle boarding classes, and environmental tours for groups and individuals in Naples.
Athanacio teaches first-timers paddle boarding basics in a two-hour class, and for $99, SUP students are provided a board rental, pre-launch instructions, and demonstration in the cool waters off Naples.
For nature lovers, Athanacio leads group SUP tours in pristine waters of Wiggins Bay.
“It’s weather dependent, and when people call, we reserve a date and work with them. The tours are done in the mornings, and there they see many shore birds, and there’s many animals to see within the water and mangroves,” said Siera Wantz, manager at True Blue.
The competition side of SUPing is what Athanacio does on his days off from his business.
“I just returned from the Orange Bowl Paddle Championships on the East Coast, where I took fifth place overall,” he said. Competing against some of the world’s best stand-up paddle boarders, Athanacio brought home bragging rights for taking first place in his age division.
In the summer time, Athancio surfs with Aaron Weiney, and the two teach a popular Ocean Kids summer camp at the Naples Beach in cooperation with Fleischmann Park. Children can learn the basic skills of stand up paddle boarding, along with safety skills on the water.
“It is the fastest growing water sport in America,” said Athanacio.
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If You Go:
Jet Set Surf Shop
674 Bald Eagle Drive
Marco Island, FL 34145
True Blue Water Sports
10565 Tamiami Trail North
Naples, FL 34108
Estero River Outfitters
20991 S. Tamiami Trail
Estero, FL 33928