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Standup Paddleboarding Exploding In Popularity In D.C.

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Kathy Summers was one of the very first standup paddlers on the Potomac, and runs Stand Up Paddle DC, a Facebook community.
Emily Berman/WAMU
Kathy Summers was one of the very first standup paddlers on the Potomac, and runs Stand Up Paddle DC, a Facebook community.

District resident Kathy Summers grew up in Southern California, and sports were her life. When she moved to the District for her husband’s job, her outdoorsy lifestyle came to a sudden halt.

“Moving to D.C., I thought I was going to suffocate until I discovered the river," Summers says.

The Potomac quickly became her go-to spot for her sport of choice, standup paddleboarding. It’s done on what looks like a giant surfboard, — 11 feet long and 2.5 feet wide. The size varies depending on the brand.

Summers shipped three boards from California to her home in Mount Pleasant, and she’s been out on the water ever since. Summers was one of the first to try standup paddling in the area, and it wasn't long before Washingtonians took notice.

“I used to have people yell at me from the Key Bridge. ‘What are you doing!? What is that?'" Summer says. Some of the onlookers would wander down to the base of the bridge and ask her for a lesson.

This idea has been around for quite awhile. As far back as 3,000 years ago, Peruvian fisherman built small crafts called “caballitos de totora”, in which they stood up and paddled around to fish. The more modern paddleboarding craze took off in California 10 years ago, when surfers began to stand on their boards as a way to train when the water was flat.

Summers has taught hundreds of people to stand up paddle, or “SUP” as some call it, and organizes a yearly race on the Potomac River. This year she closed her teaching endeavour to focus on SUP racing, but there are other teachers out there, like Greg Miller, who runs Paddlestroke SUP in Potomac.

Lisa Enloe heads out from the Washington Canoe Club on her stand up paddleboard with dog Maddie on board. (Emily Berman/WAMU)

Miller says it’s become popular here in D.C. because it’s an antidote to our hectic city lifestyle: "People need to get out of the stress of the city…it’s a huge stress reliever."

It’s not only a way to change up your fitness routine, Miller adds, but it’s also become a popular corporate team-building exercise.

The Key Bridge Boathouse, a long-time destination for kayak and canoe rentals, bought its first stand up paddleboards three years ago, just 10 in total. This season, the boat house is renting out more than 180.

If you're looking to step onto a board yourself, here are a few places around our region where you can do just that:

Music: "Paddleboard Boogie" by the Surftronics from Greatest Hits

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