Maine watermen were exercising their abs long before paddleboards.
The sport of stand-up paddleboarding has glided out of the surfing world and into Maine’s harbors, lakes, and rivers. We knew it had truly arrived when we saw the cover of the summer 2013 L.L. Bean Outdoors catalog. A fit young couple in snugly fitting nylon shirts and shorts, their bare feet firmly planted on wide flat boards, seem about to paddle right off the page and into our living rooms.
We couldn’t help wondering what Maine’s nineteenth-century river drivers would have thought of this recreational phenomenon and its variations, which now include “paddlebirding” with a Maine Audubon naturalist on Cape Elizabeth’s Great Pond and stand-up paddleboard yoga (no, really) on Acadia National Park’s Echo Lake. River drivers, too, skimmed the water’s surface standing up, but they had a job to do — and a dangerous one at that. They paddled their long, flat-bottom bateaux straight into logjams and used long hooked poles called peaveys to poke and pry the logs free. Not exactly a suitable platform for practicing the pigeon pose (that’s a yoga backbend, and yes, yogis are doing it and other body-twisting moves on paddleboards).
Other forms of stand-up paddling have been practiced in Maine for more than a century. Explorers and fur traders were experts at canoe poling, which involves standing just aft of center in a canoe and planting a long shaft on the river bottom to maneuver the boat. Poling is superior to paddling for traveling upstream and making quick, tight changes in direction. Many Maine Guides are skilled at canoe poling, and the American Canoe Association recognizes whitewater canoe poling as a competitive sport. The New England Canoe Poling Championships are held on the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor each April and canoe poling workshops are offered at the Maine Canoe Symposium in Bridgton every June.
Given the canoe’s tippy nature, we daresay canoe poling requires considerably more technique and practice than stand-up paddleboarding (aka “SUP”), but then, that is part of the latter’s appeal: almost anyone can do it (and, apparently, bend over backwards, too). Of course, a canoe has other advantages, not the least of which are seats, which come in handy when you’re tired of standing, and dry space for stowing gear for picnics and multi-day trips. We haven’t heard of anyone going stand-up paddleboard camping — yet.
So is stand-up paddleboarding here to stay? Or will it peak and fade as windsurfing, the recreational fad of the seventies, did? We can only suppose that time will tell whether this trendy water sport has any, uh, legs.
— Virginia M. Wright
Photo: © Sketchyt | Dreamstime.com