Surf’s U.P. – Stand up paddling finds its way up to Lake Superior

James Dyer

As I suited up for my first ever stand up paddle surfing (SUP) adventure, nervous preconceptions about surfing ran through my head. I am not much of an extreme sports guy (previous attempts at skate- and snow-boarding had proved disastrous), but prior experiences aside, I arrived at the surf spot near Presque Isle ready to get my feet wet.

SUP boarding is a cross between traditional surfing and kayaking. The SUP board looks very much like a traditional surf board, with a few minor differences. SUP boards range from 8 to 12 feet in length and tend to be heavier than a board used for wave surfing due to their sturdier construction. Boarders stand upright on the board and use a paddle to propel themselves through the water, making the sport similar to canoeing and kayaking as well.

Photos by Ashley Wiggins/NW

My first lesson in the sport was taught by Matt Jones, co-owner of Casualties Skate Snow and Surf. Jones is an avid promoter of SUP boarding in Marquette.

“For the most part you don’t need surfing or board sport experience. We’ve had everyone from college students to 60-year-olds come out and try. A lot of our customers are simply looking for a no-impact workout,” Jones said.

We started our lesson on the beach, learning about proper foot placement and general paddling techniques. After becoming familiar with the basics of SUP boarding, I was ready to put my board in the water.

SUP boarding is a sport that is taking off in Marquette as well as the rest of the country. Large expanses of open water and a multitude of off-shore islands make Lake Superior an enjoyable place to explore on a board. The SUP board has a lot of popularity among kayakers looking to find a new way to enjoy the water. Jones, however, shies away from calling it a sport.

“SUP is a lifestyle, very similar to the kayaking lifestyle. You have your weekend warriors, and then you have people that live for it,” he said.

Even though SUP boarding in the lake is relatively safe compared to swimming, boarders need to always have water safety in mind. If there is a shadow of a doubt about the condition of the water, it is best to not go out, Jones said.

Photos by Ashley Wiggins/NW

“Some people are really scared about Lake Superior. The lake can be fun, but you always have to respect it and take it seriously,” he said.

The learning curve for SUP boarding is surprisingly mild. After about ten minutes of awkwardly getting a feel for my board, I was confidently skimming through the waves; I was getting a true experience of the Lake Superior surf scene. Jones and I discussed the many different reasons why people should become interested in the sport. It’s a low impact workout that gets people from all walks of life  into the water. It’s a perfect way for traditional surfers to spend time on the water when there aren’t surfable waves. We ended up settling on one simple truism that sums up the SUP experience perfectly.

“It’s just awesome,” Jones said.

Casualties offers a lesson program for anyone interested in getting involved in SUP surfing. For $100, up to two people can receive a two hour lesson at a location of their choosing, as long as it is within 30 miles of Marquette. Contact Casualties at (906) 226-8484.