New Board for the SUP Boomer

New Board for the SUP Boomer


I have been in love with my SUP/ATX paddle board for six beautiful summers.  I’m comfortable in Lake Michigan, Big and Little Glens, Little Traverse, and numerous Canadian waters. I have acted as spotter for a Lake Michigan swimming club and have been caught down riding from Empire all the way to Otter Creek, stranding myself.  I was forced to borrow a cell phone, called David to rescue me before I gave in to temptation to let the wind take me all the way to Frankfort, a fantasy I still consider. That board remained my mainstay, but in June of this year, I dropped the board on the rocks, punctured it, and in the repair process, I took a good look. The fiberglass had taken a beating over the years. And the other thing: I wasn’t boarding as much—why was that? I made a tough decision.  To leave my “Yellow Belle” SUP ATX in Canada as a second board, and invest in a new board.

It’s the equivalent to parting with a loyal friend you see every day, but won’t see again for a long time.  What replaces that?  Because a board can keep me out of the therapist’s office, and a board can keep my spirit rolling like a lake breaker.  A board can keep one’s heart strong, and not having a board can be crazy-making, but I’ll try to make this informative too.  I tried three boards. I don’t really know all the jargon for board reviews, but I’ll do my best—’cuz like, I’m a writer, not a pro rep.

So yes, dozens of regional water sport shops are riding the SUP craze to its colorful but trashy styrofoam heights, but the only folks I want to deal with for a new paddle board are Frank and Beryl at Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak in my own village of Empire.  I start hanging out at the shop, repeating a pattern from six years ago, lingering over the “pretty boards” I am susceptible to.  Finally, I tell Beryl why I’m ghosting their showcase room.  I have abandoned my old board in Canada, forcing me to choose a new one.  I need a new board. I tell her I want to keep the long glide I had with the twelve foot ATX, but I want something lighter. We narrow it to one.  She thinks it’s a good match.

Next morning, the test. The sky, overcast and still, seems good for trial runs, but when we meet on Empire beach, the lakeshore’s uncooperative, coming off a two-day blow, so the residual breakers rush in at a couple of feet, fast, with little trough, too rough for trying out boards on Lake Michigan.  We forgo the big water, and head for South Bar, a shallow bar lake only a football field away from the big lake.

Beryl’s giving me pretty special treatment.  Beryl’s a slim, warm-voiced woman with beautifully delicate features, but she’s muscled and strong, and she expertly pulls the board onto her head and balances it down to shore and lowers it carefully in the shallows. She’s brought a slim red C4 Waterman Munoz Speed, longer and narrower than my old ATX.  I test it for weight.  Beautifully light at 26 pounds, another good sign for me—I’m tired of  30 pounds of the old ATX.  She watches, then says she’s going back to the shop to get an additional candidate, just in case this board isn’t the one.  Does she sense something before I do?  She says, “You’ll know when you find the right board, you just do.”  But she’s taking no chances.

She takes off in her red coupe, and I head out, hopes high. I dig deep into the dark weed-laden currents of South Bar. I am stunned when I stutter sideways and have to fight for balance.  What is going on?  I think Well sure, it’s a different board, and I need to get a feel for it. I keep going, adjusting my stroke, slowing, and realize this board handles beautifully. It’s a straight arrow and it’s got a gorgeous quick turn, but I have to lower my center of gravity, I mean really drop my bottom, and no matter where I place my feet, I never find the sweet spot, that place where the board balances you. It’s like riding a thoroughbred horse—all those fine-tuned instincts, but high strung. It will throw me in even less chop than I’m used to.  I suspect it would be a beautiful board for someone shorter (I’m 5’ 6”) and quicker to manipulate the surface, with a younger sense of balance. I hate acknowledging that, but it’s true.

When Beryl returns I tell her, “It’s not the right board.”  I give her the details.  She’s a little surprised, but true pro that she is, it’s all information. She’s brought a board she thinks may work better, a white and wood-toned crossover, another C4 Waterman.  It’s wider, not as thick, shorter, a bit heavier but not too much. Originally designed for women.

But as we talk, she’s gets another idea.  Because I liked the way the Munoz speed handled but was challenged by stability, she wonders if I might like the bigger version of the Munoz Mongoose.  Bigger than my 12 foot ATX?  She hurries off while I climb onto the white crossover.  It’s a fine board, and though more stable, not as stable as my ATX was.  Nice maneuverability.  The glide is shorter than I like, but it’s not a lug.  It’s much closer to what I want, but it’s not making me sing.  If I’m going to ride this next board for as long as I rode the ATX, I want to sing.

I head back to shore.  She drives up with the biggest board I’ve ever been on. Twelve-six.  I give an internal sigh.  I’ll never be able to lift it.  One of my goals was to have a lighter board to make it easier for my arthritic hands and hips.  But when I lift it, I realize it’s lighter than the white crossover.  Not lightlight, but I can manage it.  Now, if it’s just not a lug.   We walk it in.  The minute I get on the water I realize I’ve misread this board.  It’s as stable as anything I’ve been on, and it’s got a sweet glide, and though it’s not quick on maneuverability—too long—I’m not dodging rock shoals in a Canadian lake with this one.  It’s sits higher so it gets wind socked, but I’m ok with that because it’s so stable. And it’s got some nice features like the air lock and the option to add bungee cords for longer travel.  When I step off into the shallows I tell her I’m interested in this one.

Then Beryl, who knows things, asks, “You wanna try it on the Big Water?”

I look across the expanse of sand and parking lot to big water, beloved Lake Michigan. The breakers are still cresting at two feet and the sky is hazed with grey wind.  Beryl says, “See how it handles in that chop.”

“I won’t be able to get on my feet.”

“Just see how it feels.”

She helps me walk it in the shallows so we don’t scrape on lake gravel. After the murky warmth of the bar lake, Lake Michigan feels cool and wild. Utterly graceless, I belly flop on the board, and the waves wash over me—and slide off the board, beautifully displacing the chop. Then the board goes hunting, parallel to the breakers and almost flips me off, but I get turned into the waves more easily than I expect.  Then I’m on my knees and headed right out into the breakers. I have no trouble plowing through, and the board sheds the breakers like an otter playing at the surface. I plow through the breakers as though I’m just breaking waves, as though this were normal.  I have no trouble and I move fast.  I give Beryl a whoop, then paddle out through that blue-green crush. I turn back, and wow my way back, downriding the waves, surprised as hell.  I hadn’t known I wanted a board for chop, for the bigger waves, but as she says, you know when it’s right.  Ole boomer that I am, I was still longing for a little more thrill.

Beryl gives me that same end-of-season discount, and that helps—this is not a cheap board for someone on a fixed income.  But I’m singing all the way to the cash register.  So all you boomers who board, you rare and intrepid breed, if you want that personal touch, and you want someone who will attend to your style of walking on water, to what you say about your need to maintain sanity, and you want the joy of finding the right board, come to this place (Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak) in Empire, MI, ask for Beryl, and be prepared for SUP love.