Paddleboarding’s popularity on the rise in Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge might not be the best place for surfing, but that doesn’t stop locals from taking boards to the water.

Stand Up Paddleboarding is the fastest growing sport in the world, according to Muddy Water Paddle Company co-owner Walker Higgins. Unlike surfing, the sport can be practiced on lakes, no waves needed. Participants use paddles to guide the boards through the water.

Children and adults alike went to Milford J. Wampold Park on a recent Saturday to try out the sport in a class sponsored by BREC and Muddy Water.

Higgins and business partner Troy Archer started Muddy Water as a way to turn one of their favorite activities into a career. BREC owns a few paddleboards, but often works with the company to provide an introduction to the sport, BREC outdoor program coordinator Erin Sullivan says. Sullivan oversaw the event along with fellow program coordinator Ben McGuire.

Participants started out practicing slacklining using two-inch-wide lines stretched between two trees. BREC instructor David Wynot demonstrated the technique, slowly stepping up onto the line and walking across.

“It’s like the opposite of tightroping. The line moves back and forth. You have to look straight ahead and feel where to put your feet,” he says.

He instructed participants to move with the line and not fight the swaying motion.

Slacklining is good practice for paddleboarding because both involve a lot of balance. The origins of the sport have nothing to do with each other, however. Slacklining began with rock climbers in the 1970s or ’80s getting bored on a rainy day and playing around with their equipment, Wynot says.

Enthusiasts of the sport do everything from highlining, which involves stretching the lines over canyons or other high places, to tricklining, doing flips or other kinds of tricks on the line.

Participants held onto Wynot’s shoulder while walking between the two trees. He coached them to keep their eyes on the tree in front of them and not to look down.

“I walked backwards!,” 11-year-old Sarah Hardin told her mother Nancy after finishing her turn.

After a few more turns on the slackline, the group moved to the edge of the lake and put on life vests for paddleboarding.

Nancy Hardin said that her family happened to see the paddleboards being set up and decided to come over. They often paddleboard at Greenwood Community Park, but had never taken a class.

“It’s not hard,” Hardin says.

Paddleboarding is a good introductory sport for people, Higgins says.

“It’s easy for someone to get on a board and two weeks later be in a race.”

Muddy Water will hold races June 28 and July 26 at Wampold Park. The events will include relay races for beginners as well as longer races for more experienced paddleboarders.

Higgins and Wynot gave the children and adults a few minutes of instruction before letting them take the paddleboards out. Standing on the boards, the group eased them away from the shore and began paddling, tracing slow circles on the lake.

Some of the paddleboards were shaped a bit like kayaks, with pointed ends and thick middles, making them easier to balance on and maneuver. The flatter, longer models are designed for racing, Higgins says. Boards can cost anywhere from $700 to $2,300.

Baton Rouge has a large group of enthusiasts considering that the city is located inland. Higgins estimates that more than 100 local residents participate in the sport.

Sometimes as many as 80 people come out for demonstrations put on by Muddy Water, he says.

Partnering with the company allows BREC to offer more opportunities to more people.

“We’re not experts at every sport. We put people together,” Sullivan says.

BREC also offers kayaking classes, moonlight paddling, hiking and many other outdoor activities.

The idea is to get people outdoors and trying something new.

“BREC outdoor adventure programs begin at the end of your comfort zone,” McGuire says.

BREC’s adventure options

Sunset Paddle

Meet at the University Lakes for an evening of paddling at sunset. Kayaks, canoes and paddle boards are available on a limited basis, so email reservations in advance. (This is not a beginning program; participants will need amateur to intermediate skills as they will be on open water for at least one hour.)

7:30 p.m.-9 p.m. July 11 and Aug. 8

Milford J. Wampold Park

Ages 12 and older

$10 per boat

Paddle Up 1

Learn to paddle a sea kayak at Liberty Lagoon. This program will teach entry-level participants. Safety equipment and kayaks are provided on site as part of the program registration fee. Upon completion of the Paddle Up 1 class, participants can move onto the more advanced classes BREC offers.

Registration is required, classes are limited to eight participants. Email kdomangue@brec.org to make a payment by phone.

7:30a.m.-8:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m. June 21, 28, July 12, 19 and 26, and Aug. 9 and 16

Liberty Lagoon

Ages 8 and older

$10 per person

Paddle Up 2

Paddle Up 2 programs are intermediate open water paddling classes. Participants will practice beginning techniques and learn intermediate maneuvering skills on the lake at Greenwood Community Park. Registration is required

10 a.m.-11 a.m. June 28, July 26 and Aug. 16

Greenwood Community Park

Ages 8 and older

$5 per person

Paddle Up 3

The setting for this paddling experience is Tickfaw State Park. Participants will experience both bayou and river paddling. Transportation and all equipment provided.

8 a.m.-1 p.m. July 12

Tickfaw State Park, Springfield

Ages 8 and older

$15 per person with own transportation; $20 per person with BREC transportation

Paddle Up 4

This Paddle Up 4 trip heads to Bogue Chitto State Park. The trip will put paddlers’ Paddle Up 1-3 skills to the test. Transportation and all equipment provided.

8 a.m.-2 p.m. July 26

Bogue Chitto State Park, Franklinton

Ages 8 and older

$15 per person with own transportation; $20 per person with BREC transportation

Email outdooradventure@brec.org to register for all events, unless otherwise noted.