There is nothing better than being out on the water on a hot summer day, surrounded by nature, blue skies, and sunshine. There is also nothing better than being out on the water on a cool summer day, surrounded by nature, gray skies, and whitecaps. When it comes to paddleboarding on the Island, I simply cannot complain.
I have been paddling on the Island for many years now, yet I have not been able to catch up, and probably never will, to the knowledge and expertise of Chick Stapleton, owner of Island Spirit Kayak (ISK). “We have a kayak and paddleboard business right here on Sengekontacket Pond, and our guides are trained heavily in the beginning of the season on the wildlife,” Stapleton said. The ISK team places their focus on water sports and wildlife conservation, including training for the guides with the Shellfish Department and Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. This allows the crew at ISK to be educated about oyster projects, reefs, nitrogen in the pond, local birds, and more. Alongside this, ISK runs the beach cleanup to ensure that everything is pristine and beautiful for people as well as wildlife.
Wildlife education and conservation is important, so that we can understand how species interact with ecosystems, and help to protect both from unnatural influences. “I know we rent kayaks and paddleboards, but I feel like we are passionate about educating people about how important Sengekontacket Pond is,” Stapleton explained. When I paddleboard, I normally take a few minutes to sit down on my board and coast along the current. Whether I see egrets standing at the water’s edge or terns and skimmers flying inches above the water, I am always in awe of the natural beauty that surrounds us here.
Although relaxing, paddleboarding is more than just a fun, outdoor, recreational sport. It is a full-body workout. “It is more of an active, full-body experience. You can learn to really love that. Especially all the little muscles on the bottom of your feet that you never knew you had, you use that to balance. And so I feel like you really get connected to your body and the water when you are out there,” Stapleton said.
Stapleton and the ISK team take extra time to train people who come out, teaching them about proper paddle technique, water safety, and water conditions — that is where I gained most of my paddleboarding knowledge. “Just because we grew up here, we’re familiar with it, but I think people really enjoy understanding the ebb tide, the flow tide, and what a current is, versus a tide,” Stapleton said. Educating people about the technique and conditions makes for efficiency on the water, which allows people to enjoy their time more. A big misunderstanding about the sport is that the boards are hard to balance on, especially for people who judge their experience on a board that was not meant for them. ISK has a ton of boards, many of which are geared towards beginners. A lot of people are amazed at how great they are at paddling when they use the right technique and board. “You get up there, and you feel like a rock star immediately. I feel like people don’t understand that it’s definitely for them,” Stapleton said. Getting out on my board never gets less exciting. How could it when I am coasting along the water, visiting elusive shorelines, and taking in the natural beauty of the Island? It is a very soothing, grounding experience.
Stapleton started out as a kayaker, but years ago, she began to get a lot of questions about why she didn’t have any paddleboards, and if she would be able to get some. “So I got a couple paddleboards, and I had six of them the first time we started, and they sat on that rack unused for the first year. And then within two years, paddleboards were bigger than kayaks, and I couldn’t get enough of them. Everybody wanted to paddleboard.” The paddleboard insanity, as Stapleton called it, has leveled off with kayak use again, but ISK has added some pretty cool boards to their fleet, some of which are double paddleboards. “We actually got an eight-man paddleboard and raced it in the Oar and Paddle Regatta from Little Bridge to Big Bridge and back, and the whole ISK team was on it. It was an eight-man paddleboard and we got, like, 10 people on it. It was hilarious. It was so fun,” Stapleton said. Whether young, old, just beginning, or visiting with years of experience, paddleboarding is accessible to you here, and will make for a fantastic day on the water.
Although the wind was not in our favor, Stapleton was kind enough to take me out for a paddle last week. The water was as clear as ever under Little Bridge, as we scanned the bottom for horseshoe crabs and fish. “The coolest thing about paddleboarding is what you see when you’re out there. The challenge is that you are like a sail, so it’s very wind-dependent. On windy days, it kind of checks it off the box of things to do for me; battling wind isn’t much fun,” Stapleton shared. Despite the wind and the current, it felt great to be out on the water, hopping out right before the whitecaps began to form.
One of Stapleton’s favorite things about paddleboarding is the ability to explore new places. This reminded me of one of my recent trips to Tisbury Great Pond. During that paddle, I took a moment to lie down on my board and float with the current, staring at all the nature surrounding me. I had the entire pond to myself — it was a pretty wild experience. “I think you figured this out. Your trip to the pond is exactly why you paddleboard on this Island. It gives you access to locations where nobody else can go, and you get to have this moment of peace and aloneness and feeling like you’re one with nature,” Stapleton said.
I grew up paddling around Sengekontacket with my family on boards we rented from ISK — what a full-circle moment. I feel so lucky to be able to explore many different areas on the Island now with a paddleboard of my own. There truly is no place I love to be more than out on my board, listening to the water lapping against the rails, feeling the jolt of the nose cutting through the waves. It’s like an endless adventure.
Visit islandspiritkayak.com to find out more about having your own paddle boarding experience.