New Highs

GEOCACHING MIGHT HAVE COME from the West Coast, but it was Hawaii that gave us two new adventures that have swept across New England’s rivers and oceans. Back in the ’60s, surfing instructors in Waikiki Beach used to give mainlanders a taste of their sport by placing them on longboards and handing them paddles to help with their balance. It was more of a gimmick, used mainly as a photo opportunity. Then surfing giant Laird Hamilton picked up a paddle to help himself master the monster waves in the late ’90s, and voilà — standup paddleboarding (SUP) was born.

Balancing is easier on a paddleboard, which averages 12 feet in length, compared with the standard five-to-eight-foot surfboard. SUP evolved quickly, crossing the ocean and landing in flatwater environs like rivers and lakes that are normally reserved for canoes and kayaks.

“People enjoy the scenery from up high. Your perspective is totally different. Plus, it’s a great core exercise for your abs, shoulders, and back,” says Kevin Horner of Charles River Canoe and Kayak, which now offers the sport in Newton and Natick, Massachusetts.

Jody Craven of Wellfleet, Massachusetts, was one of the eight original paddlers to participate in the Cape Cod Bay Challenge, a grueling eight-to-nine-hour, 30-mile standup-paddleboard race from Plymouth to Provincetown. (The event raises money for Christopher’s Haven, which provides housing for children undergoing treatment for cancer at Mass General.) Since sampling the sport for the first time four years ago, Craven has begun using the board to fish from his lifeguard post at White Crest Beach. He had quite a surprise a few summers ago when he paddled out to sea only to find a great white shark a few feet beneath him. “I pulled up my paddle to let it pass. It was like seeing a VW bus swim under me,” he says.

Craven was also one of the first people on the Cape to try another sport originating in Hawaii: kitesurfing. “One of my best friends from Hawaii visited me in 2000 with his kitesurfing equipment. I’ve always been a surfer, and I found this new toy to be thrilling,” Craven says.

Similar to surfing, kitesurfing (or kiteboarding) also requires you to balance on the board. But in this case you’re propelled not by waves, but by a blast of wind that fills up a parachutelike kite above you. Learning to kitesurf takes a lot more perseverance and coordination than most familiar sports, says Boston Kite School founder Adam Gordon, who has taught it everywhere from Ogunquit, Maine, to Chatham, at the bend of Cape Cod.

“Most people are used to playing sports on a field, not balancing atop a wave and controlling a parachute,” he says. While Gordon insists he can get anyone standing up and practicing sans assistance within three lessons, he says it takes a good two to three months to learn to ride upwind and consistently return to the same place.

Rachael Miller, owner of Stormboarding in Burlington, Vermont, has been teaching kitesurfing on the waters of Lake Champlain for the past eight summers, but tells me the sport is actually easier for beginners to learn in the winter months — when it’s known as snowkiting.

“In summer, you have to learn a water start or you don’t get to ride. In winter, you’re already standing on solid ground — ice or snow,” says Miller, adding that Lake Champlain is a world-class snowkiting venue thanks to its rock-steady winds and wide-open space.