If the North Fork stand-up paddle boarding community could be considered a tribe, then Chris Dowling is its chief.
Dowling, who along with his wife, Blake, owns One Love Beach surf shop on Main Street in Greenport, started a weekly community meet-up in 2013 for enthusiasts and as a way to introduce beginners to the sport.
If you’re not familiar with this water sport, stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP, is a sort cross between surfing and kayaking. Participants stand on a sturdy board and use a long oar to steer through the water.
So while the waves off the South Shore might beckon surfers to the beaches of Montauk, the mirror-like flat water of Peconic Bay on a calm day is better suited for paddlers (the same can be said for Long Island Sound in favorable conditions.)
An avid paddle boarder himself, Dowling sends out a weekly email directing fellow paddlers to a meeting spot on the North Fork, be it Town Beach in Southold, Gull Pond in Greenport or perhaps Mattituck Inlet.
The informal crew is made up of people from all walks of life and can include executives, correction officers, jewelry makers and restaurant workers, he said. They gather Tuesday evenings for an activity that’s one part exercise, one part meditation and one part social outing. There is no fee to attend and no pressure to make it if something else comes up.
Afterward, they meet for a pint and something to eat at First and South restaurant in Greenport.
“Everybody gets something different out of it,” said Dowling, 46, of Greenport. “Some people like the escape. Once you get on the board and your cell phone is locked back in your car in the lot and you don’t have work or family or anything breathing down your neck, all that kind of weight lifts up your shoulders. You’re out there in nature and it’s beautiful.”
The group, which could be six or 25 people, frequently includes Alexa Suess, a 22-year-old silversmith from Greenport.
She enjoys the serenity of nature as much as the camaraderie, she said.
“It’s like flying,” said Suess, who has been paddling for about a year and a half and now participates in races. “You sort of can take in all of the sights and the scenery and the fish below and the skies above you.”
Paddle boarding instructor Evelyn O’Doherty of East Hampton began paddling about five years ago after an injury kept her from surfing. She credits paddling with strengthening her core and improving her posture, which allowed her to avoid spinal surgery.
Even so, she enjoys the companionship of the sport as much as the physical relief it brings.
“The people that are attracted to stand up paddling are the finest people I’ve ever met in my life,” O’Doherty said. “We share something that we love. We’re all concerned about the environment and we come together and have a great time.”
One of the selling points of the sport is a low physical barrier for entry, once you get past the start-up cost of about $800 to $4,000 for a board and more for safety accoutrements.
But if you’re feeling intimidated, Dowling offers the following advice for novices: “Falling in is fine. You’re just going to get wet and you’ll be able to get back on the board again.”
To join Dowling’s mailing list or inquire about board rentals, call One Love Beach at (631) 333-2064.