You’ve gone canoeing, kayaking, maybe even white water rafting, but have you tried stand-up paddle boarding?
The water sport, which is actually an ancient form of surfing originating from Hawaii, involves paddling a long surf board, or paddle board, while standing. Once the domain of surfers only, stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP, has become increasingly popular among non-surfers because it’s a unique way to travel on rivers, lakes and ponds -- plus it’s easy to learn and gives your core a great workout.
Sound interesting? Well, now that a second Downunder Kayaking has opened at 575 Riverside Ave., in the new Saugatuck Center (aka the Gault building), you have the convenience of trying out paddle boarding for yourself on the Saugatuck River.
The store, which opened two weeks ago, is the sister store to the original Downunder Kayaking on the Five Mile River in Rowayton, which first opened in 2005. It leases stand-up paddle boards and kayaks by the hour, provides lessons and also arranges tours of the river, in addition to being a surf shop and kayak/paddle board dealership.
“Making this possible is this great location and the fact that we have our own private dock,” said store owner, Darien resident and native New Zealander Kim Beaumont. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for me and I’m thrilled to be here.”
She said the idea of offering kayak/SUP rentals is to “make it easy for people to take a tour of the river,” which is in keeping with Westport and Norwalk’s goal of promoting public water access.
“Actually it was the property owner who approached me regarding this location,” Beaumont said, adding that the developer was already familiar with her operation in Rowayton. “Not only is it a great second location for my business – so many people drive by here very day – it also serves a role in boosting community access to the water.”
In addition to leasing kayaks and SUPs by the hour, Downunder Kayaking offers a variety of “themed” tours -- such as yoga tours, eco tours, social tours and meditation tours -- on both rivers, including longer tours out to the nearby islands. This is in addition to regular demos of kayaks and SUPs, which are only sold out of the Westport location.
“We also do parties,” Beaumont said, adding that she has a kayaking party this upcoming Saturday “with eight kids and two guides” who will go out and take a tour of the Saugatuck.
In addition she leases out the new 1,200 square foot storefront for surf-themed birthday parties and other events.
“The idea is to create a place where people can be relaxed and laid back,” Beaumont said. “A place that has that easy-going, Kiwi/New Zealand/Australia feel.”
Downunder also offers a variety of programs geared for children and young adults aged 6 to 18, including summer camps, which this year start on June 20. Children learn kayak and SUP paddling skills through creative activities, as per their age group and skill level. Participants try out sit-on-top kayaks, river kayaks, sea kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards.
As the children’s skills improve, they are challenged to go farther and visit creeks, coves and islands, where they can participate in treasure hunts, comb beaches for shells, make their own maritime environments, go fishing, snorkeling, swimming, and enjoy the wildlife. These programs have a strong environmental element, Beaumont said, with education about the river, Long Island Sound, water quality and sea life interwoven into every tour. Particpants can also help out with testing the local water and bringing samples to Earthplace and Harborwatch to be analyzed.
Every year Downunder heads up an all-volunteer clean up of the Five Mile River.
Downunder is also playing a prominent role in promoting SUP racing as a professional sport by sponsoring charity fundraiser races throughout the region, including one in New York State. As part of this, it also offers race trainings for both adults and teens, led by its team of qualified SUP instructors.
Beaumont said the main difference between the new store and the original is the size – the original store (located in a cabana-style structure on a pier right on the water) is only 300 square feet and, despite it’s irresistible charm, doesn’t give her much room for displaying merchandise. Whereas the new store, at 1,200 square feet, gives her the opportunity to use it as a showroom for sit-on-top kayaks and paddle boards (which, by the way, measure up to 12 feet long and can be used as surf boards). What’s more the new location “will be open as a retail operation year-round,” she said, while original store has to close down every fall and reopen in the spring due to its location.
Reservations are recommended for both kayak and paddle board rentals. For reservations, or to book a camp outing, birthday party, corporate event or scouts outing, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-956-6217 for the Westport store, 203-642-3660 for the Rowayton store.