Saturday September 15, 2012

LENOX -- The crowd was skeptical about the new vessel.

Alex Sabo was preaching about the benefits of stand-up paddleboarding, the latest thing to hit the paddling world. The canoeists at Stockbridge Bowl weren't so sure about the benefits of the new boat.

Then, Sabo got in a canoe and wore out those circling the bowl in two-person canoes.

"It turns out when [he] got into a canoe, [he was] so strong it was unbelievable," Patty Spector said. "[He] attributed it to training in a paddleboard is better because it uses your entire core. ...

"People went right to the Arcadian Shop to look at paddleboards. Stuff like that makes you take notice."

Spector, race director for Sunday's Great Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon, has taken notice. The annual race, which draws more than 400 teams to the Berkshires annually, will welcome paddleboards for the first time this year. The new vessels will be in a "trial" category ineligible for the overall championship. Paddleboards are generally a little slower by design, so the course for them will be a mile shorter than the one kayaks and canoes must traverse.

Chris Calvert, who does paddleboard purchasing for the Arcadian Shop in Lenox, said the boats -- which require the user to stand up like a surfer and paddle around -- have been popular on the coasts for a while, but are now just moving inland. Calvert said he sold between 35 and 40 paddleboards last year and double that number this year.

"I think a lot of people get intimidated by them," Calvert said. "Until they actually try it and realize, ‘Wow, it's a lot easier than you might imagine.' They're very stable, especially on the lakes."

That's one thing Spector discovered pretty quickly. She said even when winds are high on Stockbridge Bowl, she's not leery on a paddleboard the way she might be in a canoe or kayak. There's also an incredible fitness aspect, as the board works your entire body.

Calvert said paddleboards can also be versatile, with some even doing yoga on them.

"You can pick it up real easy and it can be real exciting," Calvert said. "One of my friend's wives was out right off of Cape Hatteras with dolphins. She's standing there looking right into the water at the dolphins. You can't tell me you can get the same experience even if you're in a kayak with them right next to you."

Sabo, who stepped away from a 14-year career in marathon canoe racing in 2008, got hooked on the boats about a year and a half ago. The minute he stepped on one, he could see what a great training tool the boards could be.

"I thought ‘This is a fantastic sport for marathon canoe racers,' " he said. "The first time I got up on it I was like, ‘wow.' It really strengthens your core. It's almost like the marathon canoe stroke is embedded in the larger stroke of stand-up paddleboards."

Spector will be competing in this year's race on a paddleboard. The boats can be a little expensive -- running from about $800 to as high as $4,400 -- so Spector is borrowing a friend's.

The boats' addition is not without controversy. As when Spector added kayaks over a decade ago, Sabo said there's still some resistance from skeptics. Spector, who has been practicing about once a week for the last couple months, isn't one of them. She said being out on the board is a "blast." It's different, but still plenty of fun.

"I have no problems switching. I like to try new things," Spector said. "It's funny because when the gun goes off and you try to go fast, I feel like I'm paddling in cement. You don't get that same initial strength you get from a canoe."

To reach Christopher James:
cjames@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6252.
On Twitter: @BECJ2K