South Walton is Stand Up Paddle Paradise

July 31, 2013 by Harbor Partin

You see them everywhere - at the beach, in the bay and on the coastal dune lakes. Stand Up Paddleboards have boomed in popularity in just a few short years, becoming a popular way for people to have fun and explore the water in a unique way. SoWal has certainly seen Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUPing) grow and flourish right here on our own coast, but it's not surprising.

This relatively new watersport is, in many ways, tailored to the SoWal lifestyle. SUPing is perfect for paddling the Gulf on a calm day, exploring the natural wonders of our many dune lakes, going on a fishing trip in the bay or surfing the rolling Gulf waves. In many ways SUPing and the Emerald Coast are a perfect match.

A decade before it came to the Florida panhandle, SUPing was practiced only by a handful of surfers in Hawaii. The earliest SUPs were longboards paired with an outrigger canoe paddle and gave surfers a great tool for training, as well as a way to catch waves while standing up instead of lying on their stomachs.

The versatility caused SUPs to expand in popularity all over the globe. People found that SUPing wasn’t just a sport for ocean goers, but that these boards could be used in almost any body of water for a limitless number of uses. People are SUPing in The Great Lakes, in the Everglades and in the rapids of the Colorado River. Even the ancient canals of Venice are starting to see their fair share of SUPs.

SUPing has also become an economic boom for the Emerald Coast with board manufacturers, shops, board rentals and lessons popping up almost overnight. Now South Walton is home to a number of SUP board companies that have gotten in on the fun.

One of the first board makers to pop up in the area has not only become popular in South Walton, but has garnered national attention. YOLO Boards started in 2005, right here in Santa Rosa Beach and has become one of the most recognizable brands in the industry, even to the point where locals refer to stand up paddling as “YOLO boarding.”

Way before “YOLO” became a pop culture catch phrase, YOLO was providing paddlers with quality boards that could handle whatever conditions they were in. Last year the company opened a brand new retail store in Miramar Beach. Located on Highway 98, just east of the Silver Sands Outlets, the YOLO shop has everything you would ever need to make your SUP experience possible. 

If fishing is your thing, then you may want to head over to Destin and check out Bote Boards. Bote specializes in SUPs made to accommodate a one-man fishing expedition. The boards are sturdy and offer options like rod holders, utility straps and paddle clips to make your SUP experience about much more than paddling. If your idea of a good day on the water includes a couple of fishing rods and a cooler full of drinks, a Bote Board may be the right board for you.

The newest SUP brand to come on to the local scene is Hungry Boards. Started in 2012, Hungry makes SUPs that are high quality and reasonably priced. The staff at their new shop on Highway 98 in Santa Rosa Beach can help point you in the right direction if you’re looking to get started on a SUP. Hungry Boards not only has a great selection of boards, but also offers lessons and group paddles that are great confidence builders. You can also find Hungry Boards at the new Stinky’s Bait Shack both for sale and for rent.

If you’re wanting to get out on the water, but don’t know where to start, there are tons of great places all over South Walton to gear up, join a tour, learn some tips or sign up for a lesson. Many of the local shops, such as YOLO and Hungry Boards, not only rent boards, but also hold regular clinics, private lessons and group paddles that are perfect for finding your balance.


The Xperience in Destin is a surf shop that just opened this summer and hosts a number of lessons and clinics for everyone from beginners to advanced paddlers. Many weekends The Xperience, along with GUSU Paddlesports, will host demos at Noriega Point in the Destin Harbor where the public can try out a number of paddle boards free of charge. The Xperience is also home to Studio Experience Destin, a yoga studio that specializes in incorporating SUPing into yoga. This new approach can be practiced in the studio or out on the water and is becoming a popular new way to stay fit while experiencing the outdoors.

Another great way to experience SUPing is exploring the bayous and dune lakes of SoWal. WalCo Eco Tours offers guided explorations of beautiful Western Lake with certified naturalists. These tours last an hour and a half and are great ways to get acclimated with a SUP, as well as experience the diverse and rare, natural wonders of SoWal. The tour starts at The BoatHouse in WaterColor with some basic instruction, so anyone can join in on the fun.

Before you rush to jump on a paddle board, remember to be prepared so you can paddle safely in Sowal. South Walton Fire District’s Beach Safety Division suggests that all paddlers wear leashes that connect them to their board while paddling in the Gulf. According to the U.S. Coastguard, a SUP becomes a vessel “beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area.” Since all vessels are required to have a life saving device on board for each person, anyone paddling in the bay, the harbor or far out in the Gulf should either be wearing a life jacket, or have one strapped to the board.

It’s also important to watch for changing weather conditions and rough surf, and avoid situations where conditions are beyond what you’re comfortable with. When in doubt, don’t go out! When SUPing you should also be prepared to leave shore for a considerable amount of time, so that means having water, sunscreen or even snacks with you. Bringing a water bottle along will keep you hydrated in the hot sun and ready for more action.

With so many great places to explore in SoWal and so many resources available, there’s no reason not to try SUPing. It’s quickly becoming a favorite local pastime and it could soon be yours too, if it’s not already.


Harbor Partin's picture

Harbor was born on the Emerald Coast and is proud to be a Floridian. When he's not writing for Sowal or running day-to-day operations for Salt Paddleboards, Harbor tries to spend as much time as he can on the water, either sailing or chasing elusive gulf surf.

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