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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

Cool, Fit Fun

Jul 03, 2013 05:03PM ● By Beth Davis

Kevin Nagle, owner of Beltzville Stand Up Paddle, grew up in New Jersey, an hour from the beach, where his grandfather had a home. He spent a lot of time at there, and in the water, teaching himself to surf. In ninth grade, he moved to Pennsylvania, where he also moved on to organized sports—football, baseball and wrestling. However, his passion for being on the water never waned.

Although he had spent his younger years teaching himself to surf, it wasn’t until after college—and more frequent trips to the New Jersey coastline—that he got good at it. He even spent some time in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, surfing with the locals. It was while surfing that he discovered what is now becoming one of the world’s fasting growing outdoor sports: Stand-up paddling (SUP). A variant of surfing, SUP requires the rider to stand on a board, using a paddle to move through the water, and does not require a wave. “I would see these guys out in the ocean, standing on their paddleboards and I thought it looked so cool,” says Nagle.

In fact, not many people had heard of SUP until about 10 years ago, when surfing great Laird Hamilton started catching huge waves standing on an oversized surfboard that he propelled with a long outrigger kayak paddle. But, the history of SUP has actually been linked to ancient Polynesia, Peru, Africa and Rome. Indigenous cultures stood on their vessels giving them a better view, deeper into and further across the water for fishing, hunting and scouting. “Little did they know, they had pioneered one of the fastest growing outdoor sports in the world today,” notes Nagle.

The popularity of the modern sport began in Hawaii the 1960s when surfing instructors used the technique to position themselves for taking photographs. This new style of paddling and surfing never caught on and only a few die-hards continued SUP. It was until the 2000s when Hawaiian big wave watermen Dave Kalama, Brian Keaulana, Rick Thomas, Archie Kalepa and Laird Hamilton started SUP to train while the surf was down. “Their ‘re-discovery’ of SUP has led to a re-emergence of the sport,” explains Nagle. “The boards and paddles have evolved tremendously to suit specific water conditions and sales have doubled over the last three years.”

After moving back to Pennsylvania, he decided to order a touring board, one that is specifically designed for flat water, so that he could give stand up paddling a try on the local lakes. He loved it, and spent the next couple of years just doing it on his own, enjoying the water and the workout. But, when people would see him on the water, they had questions—what was he doing, and how could they do it too? It inspired him to launch Beltzville Stand Up Paddle to offer lessons, eco-excursions, paddle fitness classes (he is a certified PaddleFit instructor) and more. He describes his classes as a “fun, adventurous way to explore your local waterways and a great way to stay in shape.”

Now in his second season, he is as excited as ever to provide access to a fun sport that he says anyone can do. “If you can swim and are comfortable in the water, you can do SUP,” he notes. 

Nagle provides all of the equipment necessary, including the paddleboard, paddles and personal floatation devices. He emphasizes that no experience is necessary and there’s no need to be intimidated. “We start on our knees in knee deep water—almost on all fours—so that you are comfortable and feel balanced moving in the water. Some people choose to stay on their knees and paddle or even sit. It isn’t a sport that’s all or nothing.”

SUP provides a number of health benefits. There are the obvious physical benefits—it’s a great full body workout—but Nagle believes there’s a whole lot more to it than that. “Human beings are meant to move and be active,” he explains. “We forget to take care of ourselves. We think about our ancestors who lived outside and didn’t have stress, anxiety and depression. Stand up paddling help keep you young. It gets you outside, connecting with nature and disconnecting with the stresses of everyday life. It’s almost meditative—it helps you look at things from a different perspective.”

His eco-tours—the Dawn Patrol that departs during the wee hours of the morning, the Sunset Tour and the Moonlight Paddle—are popular excursions that provide a peaceful outing with opportunities to see wildlife, explore coves and glide through the water. The classes and tours can be taken at Beltzville Lake or Nagle can travel to a lake or other private location for group sessions.

Since last year, his business has already grown. He started with six boards and is already up to 10, and he’s happy to be sharing his passion for the sport. “I love to do it and I love introducing people to a new way of getting fit and having fun.”

For more information, call 570-269-2440 or email [email protected]

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