Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is the fastest growing water sport in the world, and that trend is evident on West Virginia’s plentiful lakes and beautiful rivers. You’ll see paddleboards out on the water while enjoying the lake with your kids or fishing on river banks. You might even catch SUPers surfing standing waves on the New and Gauley rivers! These paddleboarders aren’t just adventure seekers; they represent a diverse group of ages and fitness levels. So, what are you waiting for? Find out how to SUP with these key beginning points.
Before you go:
- Pick the right spot:
Make sure you plan to go to a beginner-friendly section of water (more on this below).
- Check the weather:
Wind can make paddleboarding difficult—your body can act like a sail! If it’s a bit windy while you’re out on the lake, make sure you start paddling against the wind. If you paddle out with the wind at your back, it will seem easy, but you may find yourself in trouble trying to return to the put-in. Be aware of stormy weather, and make sure to have an escape plan if a storm rolls in.
What you need:
There are many types and sizes of boards to choose from. Your size and where you intend to paddle should dictate your board selection. Avoid purchasing a board on the internet or from an outfitter before testing it. A quality SUP board is usually around $1,000—make sure you’re getting the right board before cashing out. There are several board rental shops around Fayetteville and Summersville where you can try different board styles. When renting, it’s a good idea to speak with a certified SUP instructor and ask what size and style fit your goals.
Adjustable paddles are ideal while figuring out that perfect fit. Most adjustable paddles have height marks on the shaft—adjust the paddle to your height when starting out.
- Life Vest:
Also called a personal flotation device (PFD), this item is a MUST! Never go out on your SUP without wearing a PFD. Not only can they save your life, but it is the law on many bodies of water.
Leashes keep your board within reach if you fall off. It’s incredible how fast your board can drift away on a windy day! NEVER wear an ankle leash on the river—this can create a hazard if SUPing in whitewater. Only use a quick release leash system specifically designed for river use.
Where to go and what to know:
- Summersville Lake: This is one of the most beautiful lakes in West Virginia and a great spot for beginners. You can put on at Battle Run or Salmon Run; Battle Run offers a larger No-Wake zone to practice paddling. Wake can be challenging during busy days—try to avoid holidays and hot weekends due to heavy boat traffic. It’s important to stay near the sides of the lake while you paddle. Paddling out in the center of the lake can be dangerous with motorized boats. If using boat ramps to put on the lake, don’t forget to pay the $5 boat launch fee.
- Crab Orchard Lake:
This is a calm and beautiful place to paddle. Crab Orchard Lake doesn’t have the size or cliff line that Summersville offers, but you can enjoy a quiet wake-free day—even on weekends!
- New River:
Typically, the river is not the place to SUP for your first time, especially if you do not have prior river or whitewater experience. Without the proper safety skills or knowledge, the river can be a dangerous place. There are, however, a few calm places to learn. Camp Brookside has a calm pool with a boat launch that’s ideal for paddling. The stretch of river from Stone Cliff to Dun Glen features moving water and ripples, offering an ideal setting for those with SUP experience who are new to rivers. The shuttle is easy and offers a pleasant 2-mile stretch. While paddling on rivers, remember your SUP has fins—the water needs to be deep enough to avoid hitting bottom or rocks!
Don’t let this information overwhelm you—SUP is a great way to get out and enjoy the scenic waters of West Virginia. If you’re nervous about going out your first time, I encourage you to try a SUP lesson or tour from a local outfitter.
Meghan Roberts is an ACA-certified SUP Instructor and owner of Mountain Surf Paddle Sports in Fayetteville. Book a trip at http://www.mtnsurfps.com/