Amid the rowers and kayakers spotted while cruising past Lady Bird Lake, a growing number of active Austinites can be seen standing on surfboards with paddles. The growth of this atypical water sport could be because, according to Nick Matzorkis and the SUP ATX company, Austin has become the stand-up paddleboarding capital of the world.
Originating in ancient Hawaii, the sport was revived in the ‘60s and has since piqued many people’s interest, first in Hawaii and then in Southern California. In 2008, Matzorkis, an Austin native, brought the sport to Texas by founding SUP ATX — a clever acronym for “Stand-Up Paddling Austin, Texas.”
“It’s such an active, outdoorsy thing,” SUP ATX operations manager Jeff Berres said. “People are always trying to be outside, and stand-up paddling is like the next progressive thing. Kayaking’s been around a long time; this is just a new way to experience the rivers and lakes here in Austin.”
Matzorkis, a technology entrepreneur, has been focused on introducing and popularizing stand-up paddling in the central United States.
“This is kind of a smaller, passion project for him,” Berres said. “He started a couple years ago after buying a couple paddleboards and absolutely fell in love with the sport, and decided it needs to be something that everyone can afford.”
SUP ATX manufactures and sells stand-up paddleboards they have crafted particularly for the waters in and around Austin. Berres said that the demand for the boards is far outweighing the supply.
“The idea is that not everyone has $785 on them and can afford a board,” Berres said. “And, on top of that, our manufacturing is not keeping up with our demand, so you actually can’t even get a board for somebody who wanted to buy one right away.”
Because paddleboarding is a new sport to Austin and boards may be hard to come by, SUP ATX conducts free clinics five times a week on Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin and Lake Travis. Boards are provided, and instruction is provided for newcomers.
“It’s amazing because, like, 80 percent of the people that come to the demos are new,” Berres said. “Which is pretty unbelievable because the average population of each group is 50 people coming on the weekdays, and then on Saturday it’s 150 to 200 people.”
Berres recalled a Saturday in November when the company was just starting the clinics in Austin, and it had marketed that it would give a free board away at the end of the day.
“It was 35 degrees and not a great day,” Berres said. “We had over 150 people come out and get on our boards. So that’s when we knew we were onto something, and started pushing the demos and finding new venues that were paddle-friendly.”
“I fell in love with it the first time I did it,” said Lisa Cowger, a UT alumna and member of the Texas Rowing Center. “I was like, ‘This is something I’m going to want to do all the time.’”
Some do stand-up paddleboarding for the workout. Maintaining balance on the board while rowing engages your legs, arms and core, as well as some of your shoulder and back muscles.
“We call it exercise in disguise because you really don’t know you’re working out,” Berres said. “You don’t feel like you’re working out. But you’re completely engaged the whole time you’re on the board.”
“Swishing across the water is just a fun feeling,” Cowger said. “Once you get on your board and figure out how to get a nice swoosh and get a good speed going, it’s just really fun and great being on the water. It’s almost like meditation.”