Stand Up Paddleboarding with Pinnacle Mountain in the background.

Stand-up Paddleboarding Comes to Arkansas

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Zoie Clift, travel writer, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism – 

Encountering a person on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) is still somewhat of a novel sight in the state. As a result, the scene sparks a lot of curiosity. “People will ask, ‘Where did you get that?’ ‘Where can you buy those around here?’ ‘What are you doing?’ All the questions come,” said Joe Clark, manager of Ozark Outdoor Supply in Little Rock.

The author on the right near the I-430 bridge.
The author on the right near the I-430 bridge.

In short, the fast-growing sport offers a different perspective on the water. Since those paddling one are standing at their full height, the high vantage point provides a panoramic view of everything from fish in the water below to expansive views on the horizon.

Standing on Water

Catching sight of an SUP paddler for the first time can provide an equally striking vision. “You gaze out on the water and you see someone standing up and at a certain angle it is almost like they are just standing on water,” said Clark. “The boards are so low profile.”

Clark said the boards used are like any boat. “They have a particular shape to them that is designed for a particular type of activity or to be specific to either beginners or more advanced paddlers,” he said. “You can buy a board to do pretty much whatever you want to — you can go camping out of it, you can fish out it… it opens up all kinds of opportunities. It’s such a young sport that I think people are only beginning to see the possibilities of what it can do.”

One can SUP almost any navigable body of water, and the sport is viable on the coast or inland in rivers and lakes. Arkansas has around 600,000 acres of lakes and over 9,700 miles of streams, making it a prime place to practice the sport.

Stand Up Paddleboarding with Pinnacle Mountain in the background.
Stand Up Paddleboarding with Pinnacle Mountain in the background.

“For Arkansas, SUP is still in its infancy,” said Jeremy Mackey, who works at Ouachita Outdoor Outfitters in Hot Springs. “It has been growing this year and we are definitely seeing more interest. Nationally it is in the fastest growing paddle sports category.”

Hawaii comes to Arkansas

The sport itself is young, created in the 1960s by Waikiki surfing instructors in Hawaii. California pro surfer Laird Hamilton gave the sport a boost when he started catching huge waves on them. And the sport continues to grow. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, around 10.4 million people in America tried an adventure on a SUP board last year. SUP caters to all ages and is an addition to a field of popular water sports like kayaking and surfing.

Even though stand-up paddleboards look like surfboards, you don’t need waves to take on the sport and flat water is actually preferred for building skills. It also offers a strong core workout with a minimum of equipment (basically just a board, paddle, and PFD) needed.

“They are very stable,” Clark said about the boards. “They are lightweight, easy to carry, and not bulky. It is not as difficult as people think it is and I think that is encouraging because people don’t get discouraged the first few times they get on the paddleboard. It’s pretty easy to stay up on them as long as you pay attention to what you are doing.”

There are several different disciplines of SUP including general recreation, touring, whitewater, and racing. “Given the popularity of kayaking in Arkansas I foresee SUP going the same direction,” said Mackey. “The target audience is basically the same as recreational kayaking. Anyone can enjoy this sport.”

Mackey said that like any water sport, the most popular time to get out is when both the air and water temperatures are highest like late spring and early summer. “But SUP is definitely a sport that can be done year round,” he said. “It just requires more specialized apparel [in the colder months] such as wetsuits or dry suits, appropriate layering, footwear and headwear. It would be just like kayaking in the fall: ‘dress for the swim.’ In my opinion, paddling in the fall and winter is one of the best times because there are fewer people out, less power boat traffic, and more wildlife moving about and making themselves visible. I think a SUP trip in the fall on Lake Ouachita with the leaves changing, eagles soaring, and deer feeding combined with amazing water quality sounds better than dodging ski boats when it’s over 100 degrees.”

“There are plenty of paddling opportunities here,” added Clark. “During normal years, when we don’t have these severe droughts that we’ve been having, the water is available pretty much year-round.”

Stand Up Paddleboarding near the Two Rivers Bridge on the Little Maumelle River.
Stand Up Paddleboarding near the Two Rivers Bridge on the Little Maumelle River.

As to equipment, Mackey said their store currently has touring boards from Tahoe SUP, inflatables from NRS, a hybrid board from Liquid Logic, and SUP from Hobie. “We’ve been watching this sport grow and progress for about 3-4 years now,” he said. “And we are choosing brands we think will be around in the long run. Whenever a sport like this is in the ‘boom’ stage there are a lot of companies that jump on the band wagon. So it was important for us to choose brands who are established.”

Mackey said some good spots to SUP in Arkansas include Remmel Dam to Rockport on the Ouachita River, DeGray Lake, Lake Ouachita, Lake Hamilton, Lake Greeson… and the list goes on. “Any body of water is SUP friendly,” he said.

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Though the sport is just making landfall in landlocked Arkansas, it seems to be on a path to gaining more exposure. “There is a ton of potential for growth in Arkansas and the area and the landscape are absolutely perfect to help sustain this growth,” said Mackey.

The folks at Ozark Outdoor Supply are in the midst of their second full season stocking SUP boards. “We have seen greater interest this year than last,” said Clark. “And we will continue to carry them and try to expand the line. The sport is very much in its infancy here [in Arkansas] but I don’t see it going away.”

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7 Responses

    1. I’d recommend trying the local stores like Ouachita Outdoor Outfitters and Ozark Outdoor Supply in Central Arkansas. I’m not sure if Pack Rat or Lewis and Clark Outfitters are doing them yet. (I bet Ouachita Outdoor Outfitters will have some at Rendezvous next week)

    2. Aloha,
      I would like to introduce myself my name is Melody with SUP Outfitters. I am so excited to introduce this Hawaiian Born Stand Up Paddle Boarding, SUP to the NWA. It’s the fast growing water sport and it’s moving to the lakes and rivers.
      Standup paddle boarding is frequently called SUP and is an ideal sport to learn on flat bodies of water and provides the sensation of walking on water. I am opening a rental business here on Beaver Lake,Ar 479-244-7380
      Mahalo, Melody

  1. Is there anyone one that rents equipment in Mountain Home or Saleville??? Here for a week, the river off my deck and would love to try it out!

    1. Not that I know of. There is a place on Beaver Lake but that’s a good ways away. You might check with some of the marinas on Bull Shoals Lake or Lake Norfork.

  2. Last weekend we took lessons from Zach on Lake Fayetteville and it was awesome. He provides the boards, taught us the techniques and then let us paddle around for awhile. It was a great introduction. He had lots of insights about good boards etc as we look to purchase. Highly recommend him – I think he’ll travel to different areas in NWA http://musclesandveggies.com/stand-up-paddle-boarding/

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