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Finding the perfect balance Paddleboarding catching on

Story by Leigh Landini Wright Photography by Mark McCoy

Sledd Creek at Kentucky Lake

Balance. It's what we strive for in our daily lives as we juggle responsibilities and leisure time. It's what we strive for when we try to find that right mix between the person and the professional. But most of all, it's essential for a good life.

Chad and D'che Beyer know about balance. By day, each one has a profession: Chad as an interior designer for his own firm (i5 Designs) in Paducah, and D'che as a banker for Paducah Bank. Between them, they have three sons, ages 21, 16, and 9. They strive for that perfect balance of family time, leisure time, and their careers.

Four years ago, they discovered the art and sport of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) while on vacation in Jamaica and fell in love with the sport. Since they live close to Kentucky Lake, they explored the prospects of bringing the sport to the region so they could continue a sport they loved, and Bluegrass Board Sports was born.

The Beyers set up and rent paddleboards at the lake and also sell paddleboards. Their first season found their business catering more to tourists, several of whom had paddleboarded elsewhere, but the word quickly spread by the following year and locals decided to try the sport. They hope to expand their business one day, but for now it's a passion and hobby as they enjoy seeing the look of wonderment and confidence on their client's faces.

The sport of paddleboarding actually extends back thousands of years when people of ancient cultures in South America and Africa used a board and paddle to travel the waterways. Surfer Laird Hamilton receives most of the credit for the modern-day paddleboarding trend that began in the mid-2000s. Its recent popularity has spurred sales of boards ranging in price from $300 to $3,000, depending on the style, quality and durability. The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association reported SUP sales of $15.6 billion in 2013, up from $7.2 billion in 2008.

Testing the waters

On a May afternoon, a spring storm quickly approached Sledd Creek. As rain began to fall, the waves crested to the shore. The paddleboards stayed anchored at the boat launch. As the raindrops stopped and the sky slowly changed from slate gray to gray tinged with blue, the water that once churned near the shore became as smooth as glass. Perfect conditions.

Once the choppy waters subsided, I braved the paddleboard for the first time. My 14-year-old son hopped on immediately, donned his life jacket and rose from his knees to his feet almost immediately and took off. Bravada, perhaps? Or perhaps he doesn't have fear of trying new things or injuring himself if he fell off the board. Fear and mortality for me set in somewhere around 15 years ago.

The hardest part of paddleboarding simply is deciding to take the challenge. From the shoreline, it looks so simple. Simply stand on a board and use a paddle to skim across the lake's surface. Pictures in magazines depict people effortlessly gliding across bays or the ocean. Easier said than done.

"A lot of people think it's intimidating," Beyer said.

Count me as one of those.

The pictures made it look so easy, but once I started to think about everything that could go wrong, I had second thoughts. Perhaps this 40-something couldn't hold her balance for very long. Perhaps my fear would paralyze me. Perhaps I might fall in and not be able to get back on the board.

Beyer told me once people actually find their willingness to try paddleboarding, the rest falls into place. Typically, first-timers start on their knees and start paddling. Once they find their center of gravity and gain momentum skimming across the water, they can rise from their knees to their feet. The trick comes in standing with each foot on either side of a rectangular cutout in the middle of the board to find balance. Of course, it's not always smooth sailing as people may lose balance and fall in. That's part of the challenge, maintaining the balance and overcoming the fear of falling.

"Balance helps, but it comes," Beyer said. "You learn how to move with the board. It doesn't have to be a terribly physically hard sport."

Indeed, the board does shift slightly with the movement, and you have to anticipate how to move with the board and the water for that perfect balance.

The other challenge comes from holding the paddle correctly - one hand at the top of the paddle and the other one in the middle, and paddling in the right direction. On the afternoon when my son and I tried it on Sledd Creek, I kept turning the paddle the wrong direction and flipping water back toward my legs rather than out into the lake.

"Hey, Mom, look," my son, Jack said, as he purposely fell into the lake and laughed. "This is easy."

He had mastered the art of paddleboarding within a few moments while I took the leisurely pace of staying on my knees before finally finding my balance, overcoming my fear, and standing up without falling in. Score on falling in and getting soaked: Jack, 3; Mom, 0.

Once you're on the board and paddling, you can see more of a body of water than you can from a boat. The pace crawls in comparison to a boat, and you can get close enough to the shore to spy the remains of an abandoned campfire or bird nests in trees. You can hear the songs of the birds chirping, the faint murmur of the historic cicada invasion, or you can revel in the tranquility of feeling like you're walking on water. Once you relax into the board, you can watch as the sun begins its downward spiral or the clouds blow away. Truly, the board experience offered a chance for complete relaxation in an electronic-free distraction zone.

"Once you get the basics down, you find your sea legs," Beyer said. "You can take the sport in so many directions."

A sport for all types

Paddleboarding lends itself to everything from a leisurely tour of the lake to an intense workout. The intensity depends on the person paddleboarding. Beyer has taken groups of CrossFit athletes on the water for workouts, and he has taken groups that simply wanted to see nature and enjoy a fun afternoon on the lake.

Some people like to fish while others prefer putting their balance to the test with a series of yoga poses. Beyer demonstrated a headstand on the board, which required the perfect mix of balance, stamina and stability.

"It's addicting," D'Che said.

Paddleboarding works the entire body, mind, and spirit. The legs must be fully engaged to provide the balance, and arms gain a workout through the paddling, which can be as intense or as leisurely as the person wants. Even the core, the deep core, earns a workout from working to balance on the board and remain upright. Perhaps the ability to clear one's mind becomes the biggest benefit to the workout.

The Beyers offer PaddleFit classes that provide a workout for strength and endurance with exercises on land and in the water on the board. The classes focus on paddling technique as well as high-intensity training. Prices are $80 for a private one-hour lesson, $70 per person for a two-person lesson, $60 per person for a group of three and $50 per person for a group of four. Three levels of classes are offered.

True North Yoga of Paducah will offer Saturday morning SUP Yoga classes this summer. The class starts at 12:30 p.m. at Sledd Creek where participants may rent SUP boards for $37.50 from Bluegrass Board Sports and pay $10 per class. People who have their own boards may bring those.

The class will include 45-60 minutes of instruction with 10 minutes of SUP instruction and 10 minutes for paddling to the class location. The board rental is good for two hours, so the balance of the time may be used for practicing additional poses or paddling around the lake.

For those who enjoy a challenging workout combined with endurance, paddleboarding can become like a race on the water. Several associations offer distance races. "I haven't raced yet," said Chad Beyer, who also is an endurance athlete. "It's on my list. I want to do the ChattJack (in Chattanooga, Tenn.), but I have to do a shorter race first."

A family activity

Besides the workout aspect, paddleboarding appealed to the Beyers because every member of their family could participate. The Beyers are an athletic family. They like to run, bike and explore the outdoors. They often paddle with their sons, and sometimes, they set out on their own adventures and explorations of the lake.

"It's something that the whole family can do together," D'che said. "When we bike, our 9-year-old can't keep up with our 16-year-old or our 21-year-old."

Age and physical abilities don't matter for paddleboarding, either. So far, their youngest client was 6 and their oldest was 72. The 72-year-old loved paddleboarding so much that she ended up buying her own board.

Financing the fun

A basic board and the gear required - a leash for your leg, life jacket and paddles - can cost around $1,000, much less than the cost of a boat or a personal watercraft. Bluegrass Board Sports sells boards, and boards also can be purchased at sports retailers or online. Lower-end boards begin around $400 and can extend up to $1,000 or more.

"We don't have to bring a boat to the lake," D'Che said. "You have to have a place to store it (boat). This gives us access to the lake but it's not such an investment."

Bluegrass Board Sports offers rentals by the hour or the week. An introductory guided tour, $35 per person, 10-15 minutes of guided instruction and then 45 minutes of paddling with a guide.

An advanced guided tour, $35 per person, 75-90 minutes.

n $40 for a two-hour rental

n $80 for a four-hour rental

n $125 for a two-day rental

n $275 for weekly rental

Kentucky Dam Marina also offers rentals:

n $20 for an hour

n $37.50 for two hours

Contact information:

Bluegrass Board Sports: 270-933-2787 or sup@bluegrassboardsports.com

Kentucky Dam Marina rentals: 270-362-8386

True North Yoga: 270-205-1012 or tim@truenorthyoga.com

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