Article by: Keith Doherty
Back in the day, it might have been weird to see someone driving around West Virginia with a giant surfboard on top of their vehicle. Today, it would be stranger not see a SUP, or a stand up paddleboard, heading to the lake or a river on a beautiful day in WV.
“The biggest draw to stand up paddleboarding is that it is for everybody,” says Meghan Fisher, SUP Instructor and owner of Mountain State Paddle Sports. “It's something that's fairly easy to learn. And then as you keep doing it, you can evolve to do more.”
Melanie Seiler, Executive Director of Active Southern West Virginia, agrees, “I like that it does meet a lot of audiences. It's an activity that you can get on an inflatable paddleboard with grandparents, and they can have a good experience on a wide big board. Parents can get kids on a board and introduce them to the activity while still having a lot of control. And then it can go into more athletic experiences.
“It can be a great tool for cross-training. If you're pursuing other forms of recreation, you can use paddleboarding to strengthen your core. It can grow from there to paddling distances on flatwater, exploring rivers, surfing waves, and eventually, running actual whitewater, which is extremely exhilarating. There are also competitive races all across the world, and it's a great network of people in the race circuits.”
Paddleboarding continues to grow in popularity, and in Southern West Virginia, there’s arguably no better spot for it than Summersville Lake. Known for its beautiful, clear water and sheer cliffs, Summersville Lake has 60 miles of shoreline, and it is the largest lake in the state.
“I remember the first time I swam in Summersville Lake,” says Erin Larsen, yoga instructor and owner of Erin Larsen Yoga. “I sat on a rock and marveled at the water, marbled with pristine cliff lines and the blue, green shimmering in the sun. It was nothing short of magical.”
“The water quality is fantastic. It's probably some of the cleanest water in West Virginia,” says Fisher. “It’s crystal clear. I've never been on a lake where you can see 30 feet down. Oftentimes, people will see the bottom and think it’s really shallow. They’ll try to swim to the bottom, and of course, they can't make it. It’s beautiful water.”
It’s an amazing place, and it has become an obvious destination for instructors, outfitters, or anyone looking to venture out on their own with a SUP.
Seiler, who often organizes athletic events at the lake for Active Southern West Virginia, says, “We like the location because it's right off Rt. 19 and easily accessible to the region that we're trying to serve. It has multiple access points, and they’re designated specifically for paddle crafts in no-wake zones, so we can avoid motorized boats, and teach people the basics of paddleboarding and relay to them the importance of avoiding motor crafts.”
Fisher adds, “Depending on what you want to get into that day, you can find something specifically for every group or person. Today, I had a formal instruction, and she was brand new to paddleboarding. So, we went to the Battle Run area. There are lots of coves that are sheltered from the wind. You can paddle the entire no-wake zone and get a 4.5-mile paddle without any wake!
“And then you can put in at the other side of the lake by Salmon Run and get the complete contrast of that with giant cliff walls. Climbers love it. You can paddle up to the cliffs and scramble around them. The scenery is spectacular. You get a little bit more boat traffic, but you also have trickling waterfalls that you can paddle underneath and behind. It's really a special place.”
Families also love taking advantage of these spots with their paddleboards.
Tracy DeGaetano says, “"SUPing is really just an easy day for us. The boards are light and easy to transport. Our kids can easily jump on and off whenever they want, and even a short day out yields both a workout for me, and a fun, active outlet for my kids."
A smiling, nine-year-old Jack DeGaetano exclaims, “At the lake, I like finding the coolest places to climb and jump off.”
The versatility of the stand up paddleboard has always been major part of its appeal. It can be a glorified sunbathing platform or a vessel for serious workout mileage.
It’s easy to put together courses from short, simple loops to 12-mile paddles or even longer. Going from the Salmon Run ramp to the Rt. 39 bridge and back is an 8-mile course, as an example.
One of the more obscure but fun was to use your SUP board is for yoga.
“SUP yoga is just doing yoga on a paddleboard. It might sound a lot harder than it is, but it can be challenging or easy,” says Larsen “It offers you a way to not take yourself so seriously, which we can all do, especially on a yoga mat sometimes. You can lay flat on your back and do all sorts of stretches, or even just lay there and take it all in. If you want to take it up a notch, practicing standing poses on a board gives you quite the core challenge and will be a quick determiner if you are balanced or not- something a yoga mat doesn’t really do.
“I always teach a variety of poses to make it accessible to all levels, so those that have never paddleboarded before still enjoy being out on the water. If you can stand on two feet you can paddle a stand up board. It is the perfect intro watersport for a novice, and the boards these days are really light, allowing nearly anyone to grab one and head for the water. And of course, swimming in Summersville lake is superb, so if you happen to fall off your board, enjoy it.”
As beginner friendly as SUP is at the lake, there are still some guidelines folks need to be aware of before getting on the water for their first time. Being fitted with proper equipment will make for a much more enjoyable and safer day.
In addition to customized private trips and formalized ACA instruction, Mountain State Paddle Sports rents top-notch SUP equipment including high quality life vests that are effective and comfortable.
Fisher says, “I think the big thing with paddleboarding on the lake or in the ocean is that you don't have to be wearing a life vest by law. It’s just required to be on your board. However, if it gets windy, which it often does at Summersville, you can easily fall off. And once the wind starts blowing your board, it can move way faster than you can swim, and that can obviously cause lots of issues. So, it’s best to be wearing your life vest.”
Seiler adds, “Paddleboards on Summersville lake always need to be along the shoreline. It is not recommended to cross the middle of the lake if you are in a wake zone, especially in the summer months. We are seeing increased outdoor recreation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, where people are avoiding other leisure activities. So, if you do need to cross the lake in a wake zone, cross with your group clustered in a pod, rather than a long diagonal of people spread out. You have to be very conscientious that motorized crafts cannot easily see you.”
Basically, a little common sense will ensure a fun activity stays that way, and it keeps the focus where it should be: enjoying the lake and making memories.
Joe DeGaetano says, "Summersville Lake is at the top of our list during the summer when it comes to places to play as a family. Once the temps warm up, we find ourselves pulling out the SUPs. Almost always. we pack a cooler with drinks and food for the entire day, as well as a drybag with climbing shoes, Bluetooth speaker, and enough sunscreen for the four of us to spend the entire day out.
“It makes me happy to think that one day my kids will think back on these memories and realize that their days on the lake were some of the best times they've had."