Paddle Surfing: A New Way to Catch a Wave
Author: Whitney Farmer | Photographer: Tim Neil
If you’re like me, one of the most exciting parts of moving to an island is finally having a legit opportunity to learn how to surf and not be a poser. However, if you truly are like me, you trip over carpet and run into doorframes more than infrequently.
Considering my complete lack of the finesse and the coordination it takes to catch a wave combined with Hilton Head Island’s lack of waves, it didn’t take long for my dream to wash away with the tide.
But recently, I met some people, right here on the island, who have resurrected my hopes of authentically entering the world of water sports—a requisite for every true island girl.
Glen Barroncini could be called Hilton Head Island’s pioneer stand up paddle surfer. Originally from New York, Barroncini has been on the island for 14 years. He makes his living as a chef, but his passion is everything water. “You could say I’m just short of having gill plates,” he joked.
Stand up paddle surfing has just recently debuted on Hilton Head Island, thanks to Barroncini and his devoted group of enthusiasts, but its roots can be traced back to early Polynesia. The modern version of the sport dates back to 1960s Hawaii, where beach boys would stand on their boards and paddle into the waves to take pictures of tourists learning to surf.
Today, the sport has evolved from its simple beginnings, and can be adapted to suit the skill of the most balance-challenged beginner to the very skilled expert.
Barroncini, who taught himself paddle surfing through trial and error, is a walking advertisement for the sport. Looking not even close to his 43 years, he touts the physicality required and promises it to be a great core workout. But the workout is just an added bonus. Barroncini is enthralled with stand up paddle surfing for an entirely different reason.
“I wanted to get into it because I enjoy surfing. But, there’s a lack of waves here and I really wanted to get on the water,” he said. “I wanted to utilize our placid waters.”
For those of us who still have nightmares from the time our brothers tricked us into watching Jaws, Barroncini says that paddling along the safe, smooth harbors of the island is a must-do.
Using what he calls “a longboard on steroids,” stand up paddlers do just that: stand on the board and paddle along calm waters with what looks like a one-bladed oar. To spectators, it looks like a surf board gondola—a unique way to lose yourself in the pristine serenity of local wildlife that otherwise goes unappreciated.
“Most people have yet to experience what’s just 20 minutes off shore. I call it my playground, my backyard.,” said Baronncini. “I’ve seen a school of hundreds, maybe thousands of tarp, sea turtles… It’s so peaceful.”
Barroncini has paddled over 14 miles at one time, from the north end of the island all the way to South Beach, enjoying the calming environment the whole way. On the hard core side, he heads straight to the ocean for a more extreme level. “It’s another facet of surfing,” he said.
Once waves are added, stand up paddle surfing becomes a completely different sport. The paddle is now used to help pivot and maneuver through the waves in a series of quick, complicated tricks.
Barroncini practices with a core group of four or five who paddle surf regularly. One of those regulars is friend, Jamie Maples. Jamie works at Sunny Daze Surf Factory.
“I think there are a lot of people who want to do it but don’t because the initial investment is so steep,” said Maples. (The 10- to 12-foot boards can easily run $1,400-1,600, plus another couple of hundred for the paddle.) “They don’t want to put that much into a sport they don’t know if they’ll like or not. But there’s no question, I love it.”
According to Barroncini, the seemingly steep cost is truly a great investment. “It’s an outlet for me,” he said. “It’s how I unwind. You can lose yourself, find yourself, clear your mind.”
Maples agrees. “It’s the most exciting thing that has happened to me in a long time,” he said. “It’s all we talk about.”
If you’re one of the people who want to try it before you buy it, Sunny Daze Surf Factory now offers lessons and paddle surf board rentals.
“Anybody can do it,” Maples emphasizes. “A girl went out for the first time the other day. By the end of it, she was doing head stands on the board and never got wet.”
For more information, check Barroncini’s all inclusive website, atlanticpaddlesurfing.com. To try it out for yourself, call Sunny Daze Surf Factory at 843-682-3293.
Maples guarantees a good time. “We just want more people to know about it and get out there and have fun.”