A wide variety of beautiful lakes and rivers in the area are ripe for the paddling.
Canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard enthusiasts are making the most of the summer weather by hitting the water for eco tours, exercise and fishing trips.
Want to get in on the fun? Here is some basic information on three types of paddle-driven watercraft to get started.
Stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) are rapidly gaining popularity among paddlers in Waupaca County. These new watercraft offer paddlers a unique perspective on the water they traverse while also offering exercise opportunities and an endless array of accessories.
SUPs are designed to be used by one or two paddlers. The boards look somewhat similar to a surfboard, but are often wider and thicker. SUPs are made out of expanded polystyrene, a thermoplastic, closed-cell, lightweight, rigid-foam plastic. Some SUPs have as many as seven layers of epoxy and fiberglass, while also featuring unique designs and colors. Other boards are inflatable.
Most boards are between 8 feet, 6 inches long to 12 feet long. Weight capacity increases with board length. Most boards weigh around 25 pounds.
“We like to start people out on bigger boards until they build some confidence and then gradually have them move to smaller ones as their skills advance,” said Gary Hartleben, who operates JimmyFordsBoards.com from the boat house at Nature’s Edge Resorts, five miles south of Waupaca.
“I first got into SUPs when I was in the Dominican Republic,” Hartleben said. “I attended the 360 Surf School in the Mexican Caribbean and have paddled Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. I’ve also paddled inland lakes from Boulder Junction to Waupaca.
“Four years ago, you couldn’t find a SUP in northeast Wisconsin,” he said. “They’re becoming more popular every year. Now, they’re available in some big box stores. A wide range of suction cup configurations allow paddlers to outfit their boards with just about anything, from coolers to action cameras.”
Jody Avery works with Hartleben, providing lessons for anyone who wants to try out a SUP. She also attended the 360 Surf School and has a background in kayaking.
“The first question everyone asks about SUPs is, ‘Is it hard?’” she said. “Then, they follow up by saying, ‘I don’t have very good balance.’ Once they try it, they always tell me it was easier than they thought it would be. Anyone can do it. Kids are naturals at it. They don’t need much practice.”
As a paddler’s confidence and skill level grows, Avery said the uses of a SUP grow accordingly.
“SUPs are great for recreational paddling,” she said. “They’re also great for exercise. You can get a great upper body workout in while paddling. Some people come out and do yoga on the SUPs, which is one of my favorite things to do. All of these exercises help improve strength and balance.”
Avery also offers a parent-child paddling class.
“Paddles are adjustable, so they work for adults and children alike,” she said. “Our classes provide all of the fundamentals of paddling. The kids always catch on quickly and it makes for a nice family outing.
“There is virtually no wake on our lakes (Gooseneck and McLean),” she added. “You don’t have to worry about boat traffic or big waves.”
Evening tours are also offered and solar-powered rope lights can be attached to the boards to add unique lighting for a twilight adventure.
“People tell me SUPs make them feel like they’re walking on top of an aquarium,” Hartleben said. “There is no sound if you paddle quietly and we’ve been able to sneak up on fish, turtles, herons and all kinds of wildlife. We have even been able to use an action camera underwater to get up-close video of fish. One guy even caught a 6-pound bass while fishing from a SUP. There’s just no end to the water activities that can be enjoyed on a SUP.”
Kayaks for fishing, fun
Tim Lencki operates Adventure Outfitters LLC in downtown Waupaca, providing kayak, canoe, SUP and bike rentals. Lencki also provides all-inclusive tours on the upper Chain o’ Lakes and the Crystal and Waupaca rivers.
Lencki said kayak and SUP sales are growing rapidly, while fishing kayaks are becoming quite popular for anglers looking for a lightweight, portable, silent watercraft.
Lencki said he has sold twice as many fishing kayaks this year as he did last year. Kayak fishing is a newer trend that is on pace with the rapidly growing SUP demographic.
“Fishing kayaks are very maneuverable and highly customizable,” he said. “They’re easy to transport and much lighter than a canoe. Anglers are looking for a boat that can fit into small, shallow-water areas. Some guys even want to be able to hunt from the water and there are many kayaks can accommodate anglers and hunters.”
Lencki said anyone interested in purchasing a fishing kayak or SUP owes it to themselves to try several out before making a purchase.
“The best thing you can do is get quality instruction while trying out several different kayaks and SUPs,” he said. “Take a few guided tours. It’s lots of fun and you’ll get a better feel for what you like and don’t like in a particular type of watercraft.”
A classic canoe
Jeff Sommer, an American Canoe Association (ACA) accredited canoe instructor from New London, said safety and basic paddling skills are important when taking a trip on a canoe.
“I always give five minutes of paddling instructions to people who rent watercraft from me,” said Sommer, who owns Wolf River Paddle Sports. “That’s one of my No. 1 priorities. A little instruction goes a long way. I also stress the use of a personal flotation device. It’s just like wearing a seat belt. All water can be dangerous. Why become a statistic?”
Sommer said canoes have several advantages over kayaks and SUPs, depending on how you plan to use them.
“Canoes have much more storage space for your gear,” he said. “They also give you the option of having two people. They’re ideal for longer trips because they have more space, so you have more outfitting options. They also work well for fishing, as one paddler can set up the other person for making a good cast into a hard-to-reach area.”
When it comes to pure paddling, Sommer said canoes are a great choice.
“Paddling a canoe is more mechanical than paddling a kayak,” he said. “A kayak corrects with each paddle stroke, but if you have a canoe with two paddlers who know what they’re doing, nothing can beat it.”
Correct paddling techniques can help paddlers cover more water while using less energy, according to Sommer.
“Paddling should be done using your core muscles,” he said. “If your arm muscles get too tired, you’re probably using them too much.”
Rentals are trending toward kayaks, but several people still prefer a canoe, Sommer said.
“Most people prefer kayaks because it’s newer and they’re enthused to try it, but, you usually stay drier in a canoe than you do in a kayak, since kayaks sit lower and closer to the water line,” he said. “No matter what watercraft you choose, you will always run the risk of getting at least a little bit wet.”
For people who haven’t tried canoeing, Sommer recommends working with someone who has extensive experience in a canoe.
“Contact an outfitter that knows what they’re doing,” he said. “You’ll get all the help and equipment necessary to have a safe and fun time on the water.”