Beginning paddleboarders take to the water

By Angie Hilsman | Jul 15, 2017
Photo by: Angie Hilsman Wendy Bourque and Erika Correia spend their Saturday trying something new.

It was sort of like musical chairs, but these chairs couldn't stand up by themselves.

Nearly a dozen women stood in a circle at Apponagansett Park on July 15, holding boat paddles parallel to their bodies. When Instructor Emily McNear — of Osprey Sea and Surf Adventures — gave the signal, each had to let go of the paddle, and run to catch the next before it hit the ground. With each succession, the women took a step back.

The game not only a warm up before the stand up paddle boarding (SUP) participants hit the water, but served as an icebreaker for the group.

"This is how I justify eating ice cream," laughed McNear after demonstrating the game.

During the nearly three-hour introduction class, participants learned about SUP equipment, water entry, and proper balance and stance. This is the first season that Westport-based company has set up shop for lessons and rentals in Dartmouth.

"SUP kind of came from the surfing community. That's why SUP boards kind of look like surf boards," said McNear to the group.

She defined the parts of the board, including the nose and tail, fin, deck pad, leash, and handle. She explained how the sides of the board, or rails, affect its stability; wider and thicker rails make for a more stable board, she said.

"Your paddleboard is your best life-saving device. It's big and it's floating," said McNear. "Your leash keeps you attached to your lifeline," she added, explaining the Velcro cuff that secures athletes to the board by their ankle.

As the group geared up with lifejackets, boards, and paddles and head for the water, water sport Instructor Brandon Hietpas offered more tips for first time paddleboarders.

1. Balance is key.

"Keep your eyes and chest up so you're looking at the horizon, not the board," he said, explaining that when you look down, you limit your peripheral vision, which affects your balance.

2. Don't underestimate the importance of safety.

Hietpas said the incident of death has risen for paddleboarders over the years, which he attributed to easier accessibility and lack of training.

"Always wear a lifejacket and know how to use it," he said. "And always wear a leash."

3. Start from your knees.

Most beginners struggle to understand the relationship between the board and the paddle, Hietpas said. Starting lower will help the novice paddleboarders grasp that concept more easily, and they can then apply it from an upright position.

"The board will always go in the opposite direction of which way you're pushing or pulling the water," Hietpas offered as a general rule.

The lessons started at Apponagansett Park on Gulf Road due to public interest in watersports, said Parks Director Tim Lancaster. Rentals for SUP and kayaking are available Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., with the last rentals going out at 4 p.m. For more information on lessons, visit

Instructor Emily McNear and participant Ally Amaral race to catch paddles before they fall to the ground. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
The two remaining players race to catch the falling paddles. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
The class participants head into the water with instructors after a short on-shore introduction. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
A group smiles after taking the 2 1/2-hour class. (Courtesy of: Parks Department)
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