What's up at the U.S. National Canoe and Kayak Championships?
SUP is up.
Stand-up paddleboard is sweeping the paddling nation.
Tool of the trade
Lloyd Reeves, U.S. Canoe Association kayaker and stand-up paddler, carries a stand-up paddleboard to his truck after the sprint events Tuesday at Chapman State Park.
"I saw my first one about 12 years ago," Lloyd Reeves, who is credited by some in the U.S. Canoe Association (USCA) as driving the addition and rising participation of SUP in the organization's events, said on Tuesday.
He didn't know what it was.
"At the last big race in California there were over 250" competitors in stand-up paddleboard and fewer than 50 in all other categories, he said.
Reeves said he first tried stand-up paddleboard for exercise. "I jumped on one of these as a workout," he said. As an experienced kayaker, he was comfortable enough balancing in a watercraft that that first try was in his work clothes.
The workout was good for his health.
"For three years I'd been waking up and my back would be super stiff," he said.
After stand-up instead of kayaking for a while, he woke up without the back problems.
"I can't give this up," he said.
Reeves continues to compete in both kayaks and SUP. "The stand-ups aren't as fast, but they're a lot more enjoyable," he said. "It's relaxing. The view's great."
At previous races in Warren, Reeves didn't see fish from his kayak. During a stand-up practice run on the Allegheny River this week, that changed. "I couldn't believe how many fish you can see from these things," he said.
Righting a tipped canoe and getting back in is serious work. With paddleboards, "it's a lot easier to rescue if you fall off," he said.
According to Reeves, stand-up paddling on a river is better than doing so on the ocean, which most stand-up paddlers do and Reeves has also done near his California home.
"It's a lot more fun on flat rivers than it is on the ocean," he said.
Standing up on a paddleboard gets more challenging as the board gets longer and skinnier. However, that's the shape of the fastest boards. The stock class in this weekend's marathons are 12.5 feet long. Reeves has one of those and a 14-foot board he'll use in the unlimited class - if he can't find a longer one. He's hoping an 18.5-footer may be available.
Reeves expects a representative of a company that sells paddleboards to be in the county this week. "There will be free demos for anybody who wants to try them," he said.
Those are scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at Betts Park and Thursday afternoon at Chapman State Park.
Anyone who finishes a USCA marathon on a stand-up paddleboard this week will receive a medal courtesy of Reeves' business.
Those who would like to participate have to join the USCA and pay the race fee, but "loaner boards" will be available, he said.
SUP is not an official marathon event for the U.S. Canoe Association, yet.
If enough people participate in the various SUP trials this week, it will be a qualified category in future races.
"This will be a very difficult place to qualify," Reeves said. "Pennsylvania is not a hotbed" of SUP activity.
In fact, there is a race near one of the hotbeds of SUP - Michigan - this weekend that is reducing the number of paddlers at the championships.
Only eight racers tried SUP at Tuesday's sprint events.
Reeves is confident stand-up paddleboard will continue to grow. "The best analogy is it's like mountain bikes," he said.
As mountain bikes have gained a large share of bicycle sales and usage, he expects stand-up paddleboards to gain in popularity.
And, because youth seem to be among the leading growth groups of paddleboarding, groups like the USCA can only benefit from the increased interest.
"I think you'll see a lot of growth with SUP for the kids," he said. "That will bring more blood into all the water sports."