While Austin is more commonly known as “The Live Music Capitol of the World,” I would like to make an argument for a second identity. SUP City USA. I do not make this argument without proper cause, at least in my estimation.
The Case for Austin
Outside of maybe the Honolulu/Waikiki Beach area, I would argue you would have a hard time finding more people riding SUP boards in one City. We have 3 large lakes, a few smaller lakes, and 2-3 rivers within about 30 miles of the City Center. With so many bodies of water nearby, it gives the residents of Austin several excellent paddling options.
Our most popular destination, Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake), is a great choice for paddling year round. It is not uncommon for me to hit Lady Bird Lake on a Saturday or a Sunday and see 20-30 SUP’s during the course of my ride. Some are owners, some are renters, and some are on test drives. On Lady Bird Lake, you can expect constant lake levels, and no motorized boats to worry about dodging. Another benefit is accessibility. There are several good put in spots, as well as several choices for renting boards, if you need to, right on the lake.
In addition to advantages listed above, there is quite a bit of wildlife to be seen, if you are into that. There are several species of fish swimming around, tons of water turtles, and black and white swans to see, as you paddle your way through town.
If you go at dusk, during the right time of year, you can watch the famous Austin Bat Colony come out of their home inside of the Congress Ave Bridge. All in all, it is estimated to house 3 million bats. Aside from the wildlife, you are also right the the heart of downtown Austin, which means sky scrapers on all sides.
As for purchasing boards, we have two full time dedicated SUP shops in Austin. Andy Lukei got it started a couple years back with Austin Paddle Sports (www.austinpaddlesports.com). He carries boards from a variety of quality manufacturers, such as Surftech, Tahoe, and Riviera. They also offer rental options and lessons for new beginners. Plus if you stop by the shop, you will likely run into Reid Harrell, who may just be the friendliest, most laid back person in all of Austin. Very helpful and fun to hang out with.
We were also fortunate enough to have a second shop open recently, called Paddle Zen (www.paddlezen.com). They tend to carry a different selection of boards from Yolo (www.yoloboard.com), Riviera, Boardworks, C4 Waterman, Hovie, and Kings. In addition to a good selection of boards, Sam and Lori have also added some much needed paddle gear. Board Haulers, Paddle specific clothing, Deck Pads, booties, and several other items, in addition to the usual T-Shirts, and Rash Guards. Sam and Lori’s shop is located right on Lady Bird Lake, so its nice and convenient. They have, rental options and lessons available too, should you be in need.
Aside from the dedicated SUP shops, we have various Kayak Shops, and Boat retailers around town where you can buy boards, not to mention a little known retailer out of the North West called REI. In addition, there is a large manufacturer of entry level Stand Up boards, called SUP ATX, which also calls Austin home.
One of the things I truly appreciate about paddling in Austin, is the variety. While most of my paddle buddies tend to stick to Lady Bird Lake, I prefer to hit Lake Travis. During the summer it can get a little hectic with boat traffic, but that is half the fun. My family and I have a point break on the mouth of a cove that we like to camp out on. We wait for a big cruiser to go by and, Surfs Up! We are often able to get a fun little ride out of what other just see as nothing more than boat wake. While it not qualify as a substitute for the ocean, the smiles and the stoke are consistent.
As for group paddling options, for you social paddlers, we have two Meetup Groups here in Austin. One of them has over 3500 people signed up. The other group, which is where the true hard core “Soul SUP’ers” hang out, is called CenTex SUP (http://www.meetup.com/CenTexSUP/) This group of about 250, is the group I paddle with. It is run by two great people, David Bain, and Linda McCoy-Shriever. They host a dozen or so group paddles per year, as well as community outreach stuff like the upcoming “CUPID CLEANUP” which happens tomorrow (Feb 12)
As for events, we have a budding race scene starting to develop here too. It isn’t at the level of North Carolina, Florida, or California yet, but its getting there in a hurry. In the next 3-4 months alone, we have 3 races that I know of, including the COLDorado Classic, at the end of this month. (hosted by Austin Paddle Sports)
From a charitable perspective, Mark Garza hosts the “DAM That Cancer” Paddle (http://damthatcancer.com/Intro.html), which is a 21 mile paddle from Dam to Dam on Lake Austin. The purpose of the event is to raise money for the LiveStrong Foundation, and families dealing with the effects of cancer.
The highlight of the year for most of us though, is Austin SUP Jam. Jeff Van Zandt hosts a great event, filled with races for the whole family, a SUP Expo with most of the large SUP Manufacturers on hand, as well as some celebrity guests and racers. The list last year included Leslie Kolovich (Stand Up Paddle Radio Show) and Slater Trout, who not only raced, but also hosted a clinic at REI and gave free lessons after the races. I for one can’t wait to see what Jeff has in store this year. I can assure you though, if last year’s inaugural event is any indication, we are in for another great event and fantastic turnout. We may even get “The Pope” out here this year. That would be William Pope, for the record.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If you didn’t already believe me, hopefully this will help.