Many of us have hobbies. It can be collecting, antiquing, creating crafts or art. For others, it’s cooking, mixology, travel or outdoor activities like hiking, biking, fishing or skiing. Hobbies are something we enjoy during our downtime away from work as a way to relax and let our minds run away from the stresses of day-to-day life. We often discover these things through our parents, spouses or family friends, and often what begins as a simple hobby, becomes a major influence on our lives. For Gig Harbor resident Laura Jane (LJ) Brougher, paddle boarding is no longer just a hobby, but a way of life.
“I have always been an avid water sports girl. I grew up playing at the beach and in the waves of Southern California,” recalled Brougher, who has been living in Gig Harbor for nearly 30 years and witnessed her first stand up paddleboard race about eight years ago. It wasn’t long after that she purchased her first board and got the hang of this emerging sport.
For those unfamiliar, stand up paddle boarding, or SUP, is an activity for all ages. Riders utilize a board similar in shape to a surfboard, but often longer and more stable. You place yourself standing up in an athletic stance facing forward towards the tip of the board and utilize a long paddle to maneuver in any direction. SUPs are used to ride waves and surf, paddle flat lakes or bays, and for those looking for competition, races are often held including here in Gig Harbor. While the initial balancing act can take some time to get accustomed to, most kids and adults will be moving fairly well on flat water by the end of the first day. As you improve, paddlers will challenge themselves with bigger bodies of water, while others test their balance and concentration attempting meditation and yoga moves while bobbing in the water.
For those looking to try this activity for the first time, there are few better places to learn than right in the center of our community. “The most popular place to SUP is the harbor because it is safe and protected from current and waves. I paddle every single day, mostly on the east side of Gig Harbor in the winter, at sunrise. Any area that you can step into the water you can go SUP,” said Brougher.
As a registered nurse working in the field of anti-aging, Brougher utilizes much of her time outside of work to partner with the Gig Harbor Paddle Sports Shop to bring more attention to the sport. She is currently on a “Paddle Quest 365” in which she will paddle every single day for a year no matter what. “I am currently on day 91 today. 91 days in a row! I have paddled through temps as low as 17 degrees with a wind chill, pouring rain, slushing snow, wind....oh cold, biting wind, and still have loved every single second. I love it!”
Renting a board is an easy way to try before you buy. There are several companies along the Harbor that rent including Gig Harbor Paddle Sports Shop which will be renting off Jerisich Park dock. When it comes to purchasing the equipment, much like other outdoor activities, price varies depending on what level you are at. Many beginning paddle boarders go with an inflatable model. You can get them as cheap as $400 at Costco, but there are high-end inflatables that sell for upwards of $2,000. Benefits to having an inflatable SUP are its ease of transportation as once it’s deflated, it’s about the size of a camping backpack and will fit in most cars or can be carried on your back. You can check it as luggage or hike with it to a mountain lake. Drawbacks are the time it takes to inflate and the stability and maneuverability are not often as good, and those weighing over 200 lbs will have a tough time finding a board large enough to support them.
Traditional SUPs are generally made from woven fiberglass or hard plastics protecting a lightweight foam core. Expect to pay around $700 to $1,500 for these boards with serious racing boards climbing higher. While tougher to transport, traditional SUPs are generally more stable, more responsive, easier to use in rough water and can glide faster through the water. Boards run between 8 feet and 14 feet, with longer boards supporting larger riders. Consider longer boards as well if you are planning to have your kids or dog join you on the board. Your local shop owner will help you determine what works best for how and where you’ll be paddling.
Other than the obvious benefits of exercise and entertainment, paddle boarding provides one-of-a-kind perspectives, especially in our area. With incredible scenery all around us, seeing the landscape from the Harbor and beyond is a wonderful experience. “On a stand up paddleboard you are right there at the water line, seeing all the Pacific Northwest beauty and wildlife. I have had a whale surface within 15 feet of me twice, and have had a Pacific White Sided Dolphin play around with my friends and I every day for five days in a row,” said Brougher. “These are always chance encounters that are so exciting and wonderful. Not to mention countless seal friends, beautiful birds, eagles, herons, seagulls and Canadian geese. Twice I have had curious baby seals try to get on my board.”
People who go for hikes, trail riding or camping deep in the woods are often trying to escape the congestion of the city if even for a few hours. The outdoors helps put your mind back at ease. Brougher believes paddle boarding in the Harbor is one of the best ways to accomplish this.
“For me it’s the beautiful solitude of gliding along the water, feeling the endorphins release. There is an electrifying symphony of cellular chemicals that wash through your body and brain the instant you paddle and feel the glide. Even the tiniest of muscles seem to rejoice and celebrate the movement and new experience. Stand up paddle boarding is good for the soul, it is rejuvenating to the spirit, much like any experience in nature is, only better.”
Paddle boarding is an experience anyone can enjoy whether you’re a serious racer and want to tackle the world’s oceans, or if you simply want to paddle out a hundred yards from shore to drift and relax. It can be done on rivers, lakes and oceans, and the perspective from the board is something you simply can’t get on land. Rent a board or take a lesson this spring and perhaps you’ll enjoy a new hobby that eventually becomes a major part of your lifestyle.