The early morning light begins to crawl over the crystal water as faint splashes kiss the shore before they venture out, stretching towards the horizon.
“When you wake up hearing the waves… It just gets you so jazzed up,” says Ariel Amaral, an avid standup paddleboarder. “You see the glow off the water and all you want to do is rush out and get in as fast as you can.”
Amaral has been standup paddleboarding for over ten years, long before it was established in Ontario. She is now a Blu Wave Team Rider, Paddle Canada Instructor and PaddleFit Pro Head Coach with Blu Wave SUP Academy, and a part of Team Canada.
Amaral stumbled across the sport while travelling through Hawaii and was instantly hooked. After working in the boardsports industry in Blue Mountain for many years, she finally caved and bought her first board simply because she missed being on the water.
It took less than a month before Amaral traded in her beginner board for a racing one. The industry was growing, and Ontario SUP Race Series events had begun taking place around the province.
A year later, Amaral signed up for her first race and it became an “instant love.”
“When I finished the race – probably last – I was literally crying tears of joy. I was just so overwhelmed and happy. Like, oh my gosh, I love this,” she says. “And then it kept going.”
Nine years later and Amaral still gets the same feeling.
Aaron Pilon, the owner of Blu Wave SUP, won the overall championship in the elite division in 2012 and 2013. Blu Wave began sponsoring the Ontario SUP Race Series in 2012.
Amaral met Pilon through SUP4MS, a charity in support of multiple sclerosis. After meeting Amaral at one of the events, Pilon found Amaral’s love of the water and the sport so contagious he offered to sponsor her.
“It was really cool because at the time I wasn’t very fast… But Aaron said he wanted to sponsor me because I had the right attitude. That’s what makes Blu Wave so special,” says Amaral.
Blu Wave has sponsored racers all over Ontario and Brand Ambassadors across the country.
“We sponsor athletes and other people who are involved in SUP, either from a competitive standpoint, or who are just passionate about the sport,” says Pilon.
The sport offers more than just racing.
Tim Sproll, the lead guide of SUP at Free Spirit Tours, says he likes the tranquillity that standup paddleboarding offers.
Sproll got hooked shortly after participating in a SUP4MS event in Toronto as well, and a few years later he made the move to the Collingwood area.
“I just loved it,” he says.
Sproll got certified as an instructor and collaborated with Jennie Elmslie, one of the owners of Free Spirit Tours, to make standup paddleboarding more accessible for everyone.
“It’s the fastest-growing sport on the water,” says Sproll. “People thought it was just a trend or the newest fad, but it has come along way and it’s here to stay.”
The best part about southern Georgian Bay is the fact that the area offers multiple locations for standup paddleboarding. The bay has a tendency to get wild and almost ocean-like, which is what Pilon and Amaral love so much about it, but Free Spirit utilizes the Nottawasaga River to help newcomers ease their way into the sport.
“There is more technique involved than people think,” says Sproll. “We’d love to take people out on the bay more, but if they are struggling or doing it wrong, we find our clients don’t enjoy it nearly as much.”
According to Sproll, the number of paddleboard rentals has increased exponentially.
“People are way more familiar with standup paddleboarding and a lot of them have already taken a lesson somewhere else or tried it while travelling,” he says. “They are being rented almost as much as kayaks and canoes.”
Much like any sport, the community around standup paddleboarding is enough to entice you.
“When you look around, especially in Collingwood, every 5th car has a board strapped to the top,” says Amaral.
“It’s like with bikes, when you pass another racer you wave. It’s the same with paddling; you’re in an instant community even if you don’t have any idea who a person is. But most of the time you do. Or if you don’t know the person you probably recognize the board,” she continues.
Amaral loves the fact that the area offers something for everyone.
In Collingwood, you see a lot of touring and racing boards geared to the water. There are a lot of serious paddlers who can be seen training or trekking around at Sunset Point Park and along the harbour.
In Wasaga, there are more all-around boards and people out in the water playing. There are a lot more beginners and people wanting to just go down to the beach and play around on different boards.
“It’s so important,” says Amaral. “The two things go hand in hand because it keeps everybody learning and growing.
Between Side Launch Days and the Wasaga Beach SUP Festival, along with outfitters like Free Spirit Tours and Blu Wave SUP, there is ample opportunity in the area to get out and enhance your skills or try the sport out for the first time.