Stars wink out one by one as the dusky sky brightens from lavender to gauzy pink. In the pregnant pause between night and day, Mother Nature holds her breath as cottage owners pad outside in slippers and kids stampede toward beaches. While saner sorts linger beneath bed sheets, anglers seize the dawn, knowing sleep is a small price to pay for these quiet moments.
Wide awake since 5 a.m., a man stands atop a fiberglass paddleboard. Had he been sitting in a traditional rowboat or canoe, he wouldn’t have seen the sunfish staging near the weed line, but from his elevated perch he enjoys crystal clear views of their underwater world. Bamboo rod in hand, he tenses like a heron. Line and leader swish through the humid air as the cast unfurls, dropping the fly onto the water with a subtle blip. Rings widen and the tension mounts.
A void appears on the surface as the foam “spider” disappears in a miniature whirlpool. Raising the rod, the angler feels the tug of a hefty pumpkinseed sunfish. After a brief tussle, he draws it alongside the paddleboard, admiring the dazzling array of turquoise, olive and gold colors before releasing his prize with a deft turn of the hook.
Fishing isn’t the only thing you can do on standup paddleboards and Rich Mosher saw that potential in 2006 when he introduced them to West Michigan.
Rich and Lisa Mosher opened The Outpost of Holland in 1972. What began as an Army/Navy surplus shop quickly evolved into a specialized store catering to paddlers, rock climbers and adventurers. The Moshers have made it their mission to ride the cutting edge of emerging trends and were the first to introduce standup paddleboards (SUP) to the region in 2006.
“We visited a supplier out west and immediately recognized a viable market for paddleboarding back home,” says Mosher. “The fun part of being involved in a new sport is that you’re part of the movement as it grows and evolves.”
These days, folks are finding lots of creative uses for paddleboards, ranging from surfing on the Great Lakes to island hopping, rustic camping and fishing — and even yoga.
“Paddleboarding is something literally anyone can do with minimal startup cost,” explains Steve Roodhouse, an instructor at The Outpost.
“Once outfitted, you can get as technical as you want. If you’re looking for leisure, head to an inland lake and have a day of it; if challenge is what you desire, paddle out into Lake Michigan and you’ll really get to work. The micro-muscles involved surprise even highly physically fit individuals.”
The Outpost offers a Saturday morning “lesson/demo” for anyone interested in exploring the sport.
“Our goal is to expose students to different styles of boards and get them comfortable on the water. It’s amazing to watch the gains they make in an hour’s time,” says Roodhouse.
Classes run 8:30 a.m.-10 a.m., Memorial Day to Labor Day and cost $35.
When reflecting on his decision to invest in what would eventually become a water sport revolution, Mosher remembered a local couple who purchased paddleboards for their vacation home up north.
“Our cottage has been in the family for generations,” Mosher said, recounting the conversation. “We’ve owned every type of watercraft imaginable through the years, but those paddleboards have been the most family-friendly pieces of outdoor equipment we’ve ever had, hands down. They get used all the time.”
Though there are SUP races for those who enjoy a competitive environment, paddleboarding is more contemplative than pulse-pounding. For anyone looking to add a dose of adrenaline to their diet, kiteboarding is an alternative board sport that packs a thrill.
Kiteboarding combines elements of wakeboarding, snowboarding, surfing and para-sailing, and only requires minimal equipment and some wind.
Brian LeFeve has been a fanatical kiter for nearly two decades and began teaching the sport in 2002. Though he was involved in windsurfing and wakeboarding for much of his life, his passion for kiteboarding took off in 1998. Prior to that time, he’d heard rumors of prototypes being developed in France and about wakeboarders in Maui using kites in place of powerboats. LeFeve knew he had to get in on the action.
“Once I felt the power of the kite and realized its potential, I was instantly hooked,” he recalls. And who isn’t intrigued by watching a kiter launch high into the air, flipping and spinning their way back to the water?
“With all the public beaches and wind, it was clear from the beginning that kiteboarding had plenty of potential in Michigan,” LeFeve says. “In the early years, though, there wasn’t much emphasis on safety, so we nearly killed ourselves learning the ropes.”
LeFeve’s passion snowballed into a business when he opened Michigan’s first kiteboarding company, Great Lakes Kiteboarding, with locations in St. Clair Shores and East Tawas.
“Getting started in kiteboarding isn’t difficult,” he says, “but lessons are crucial. Most anyone can do this. We’ve seen kiters as young as 7 years old and as old as 70.”
Great Lakes Kiteboarding offers private lessons that last five hours for $299, and two- and three-day camps that range from $499 to $699.
“In kiteboarding, we’re looking for a ‘clean’ wind and open, sandy beaches,” Lefeve says. “Side shore or onshore winds around 15 to 25 knots are ideal. On the other hand, wind coming off land is typically gusty and turbulent, and anything over 40 knots becomes very dangerous.”
LeFeve believes East Tawas is one of Michigan’s best kiteboarding destinations, perhaps even the premier kiteboarding location in the United States. There are several reasons for this, including miles of public access and dependable wind conditions.
Like LeFeve, Aaron Johnson is a self-taught kiter, and these days he works as the inbound marketing specialist at Grand Haven’s MACkite. Sixteen-years ago, he was flipping through a copy of Surfer magazine when an article featuring kiteboarding caught his eye.
“I started doing some research and relentlessly watching VHS tapes about kiting. Lessons weren’t readily available back then, so I got my hands on some gear and learned by beating myself up,” Johnson remembers.
“Considering the ample beach access, a great community of riders and excellent wind conditions, we’re really blessed here in Michigan,” Johnson says. “Don’t get me wrong, traditional Great Lakes surfing can be exceptional, too, but suitable conditions are few and far between. Conversely, you can go kiting more often than not.”
On any given afternoon, West Michigan kiters may decide to free-ride, perform tricks or even ride down-wind, town-to-town. Prevailing southwesterly breezes — common in the summer — provide an easy ride from Grand Haven to Muskegon.
Johnson echoes Brian LeFeve’s focus on safety. He’s also a proponent of lessons.
“A two-day class at MACkite will turn a complete novice into a safe, self-sufficient rider,” Johnson says.
Two-day classes cost $399 per person and run four hours each day.
“Kiteboarding is an absolutely amazing experience,” Johnson affirms. “There’s a reason why this sport is on a lot of peoples’ bucket lists.”
THE OUTPOST OF HOLLAND
Rich and Lisa Mosher, owners
Steve Roodhouse, lead paddling instructor
25 E. 8th St., Holland
MACKITE OF GRAND HAVEN
Aaron Johnson, inbound marketing specialist
16881 Hayes St., Grand Haven
GREAT LAKES KITEBOARDING II OF EAST TAWAS
Brian LeFeve, owner
686 Tawas Beach Road, East Tawas
GREAT LAKES SURF SHOP
Great Lakes Kiteboarding School of St. Clair Shores
Brian LeFeve, owner
23517 Nine Mack Drive, St. Clair Shores
Author and freelance writer Jon Osborn resides in Holland.