If you have been at the beach even once this summer, you have seen the how the sport of stand up paddle boarding has taken off. With a great big lake in our backyard and one of the most scenic backdrops ever, Chicago has really been hit with SUP fever and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. One local guy that has been in the water for years and continues to push the sport right here in the Chi, is our good friend Matt Lennart. With some serious touring and races under his belt, we thought he would be a good person to chat with about where SUP is now and where it’s headed in the future.
Tell us about how you got involved with SUP.
I came to SUP from a windsurfing/surfing background. I used to come to the beach anytime it was windy or wavy, but once I found out about Stand up it gave me something to do even when the lake was calm. I started with just a recreational board and would go out and paddle for hours at a time. I loved the freedom of being out on the water, the perspective and view from standing on the board, and the meditation of balancing along with the repetition of the paddling.
What made you want to get into the touring / racing / competitive side of SUP?
I was spending more and more time doing Standup and I was really surprised that more people weren’t getting into it, so I started my endurance paddle project, The Windy City Waterman Stand up for Charity, as a way to draw attention to the sport. I decided I would paddle over 50 miles across the lake and dedicate the paddle to a couple local charities. Having set this lofty goal, I knew I needed to learn more about training so I started talking to other paddlers from California, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest who had done similar paddles. Once I started learning more about all the stuff they were doing – endurance paddles, big downwinders, racing – I realized how much this sport has to offer. I wanted to do it all and help build a strong community around Standup in Chicago. I guess you could say I got involved because I loved the sport and I wanted to share it with others… I just got tired of paddling alone (hahaha).
What are your favorite places to paddle? (Chicago and beyond)
My favorite beach in Chicagoland is Greenwood beach in Evanston. It’s a great spot to launch with less boat traffic than the downtown beaches and once you’re out on the water you have a great view of the Chicago skyline. I like to paddle from Evanston to Montrose beach and back… it’s about 13 miles round trip and that’s a pretty regular training paddle for me. Of course, Montrose and North Ave are also great beaches. North is amazing, paddling right under the skyline. It’s fun to paddle south of Navy pier too, but the boat traffic can get pretty brutal. All of Chicago is amazing. I’ve been to a lot of great paddle destinations including California, Hood River Oregon and even Maui and they’re all really fun, but I have to say Chicago is as awesome a paddle venue as any of them! We had a bunch of pro paddlers here in June for a Standup World Series event and they were all blown away with how amazing Chicago was for Standup – and these are guys who have paddled all over the world. We are really lucky to live in one of the best Standup cities on the planet!
The sport has been growing in the Midwest like crazy. Where do you see it going?
We’re at the beginning of an incredible time for the sport. People are aware of SUP now and a lot of people are getting to try it, which means we’ll have more and more people stepping up to the higher levels in the sport in the coming years. We now have a thriving race series (www.midwestsup.com) with over 12 races a season on or around Lake Michigan, and Chicago had 3 SUP races this summer… Next year there will be even more! The great thing about the race scene growing is that every event is more than just a race – it’s like a Standup festival. There are always boards to demo, clinics to attend, and a super fun beach party vibe. The people are amazing and there is a really high level of camaraderie. Even if you weren’t into the competitive side of the sport, I would seriously recommend to anyone that they try to attend some of these events because they’re so fun and you get to meet a lot of great people.
Any exciting races or events coming up that you are looking forward to?
While we still have a lot of paddle season left, the event and race season is pretty much done for 2012, so I’m already working on 2013. We’re going to have another big year with the MidwestSUP series, there will be another Standup World Series event (www.standupworldseries.com) which I will be helping to organize, and I will be doing a lot of clinics and demos for my board sponsor, Starboard. One of my big goals for 2013 is to do more to help promote everything going on in Standup around Chicago and The Great Lakes. I’ll be doing a lot of work to my website, www.windycitywaterman.com, to make it more of an informational resource for anyone interested in Standup, from recreational paddling to elite racing and ultra-endurance events. The thing about this sport that has most impressed me is the great community of people that I’ve met, and I want to do everything I can to help it grow and thrive.