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Surfers ride the waves of Lake Lanier
Pro and novice paddleboarders hang 10 in event at Olympic venue
Bryan Wheelock paddles Saturday across Lake Lanier on a Splash Stand Up Paddleboard during International Surfing Day. The event was sponsored by the Surfrider Foundation Atlanta Chapter and Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Kowabunga, dude! Surf's up on Lake Lanier!

Though the only waves came from passing boats Saturday, the Surfrider Foundation and Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club celebrated International Surfing Day with SUP Splash Lanier at the Clarks Bridge Park Olympic venue.

The celebration held several SUP (stand-up paddleboard) races, a free SUP clinic, Hands Across the Sands demonstration and a shoreline cleanup.

Paddleboarding originated in Hawaii, migrated to California and since has grown in popularity throughout the U.S.

"It's been around forever. The revolution started about four years ago and it's the fastest growing watersport in the world; it's like the bicycle of water," Danny Johnson of Whitecap SUP said.

The paddleboards look a lot like a surfboard. The 12-foot-long board is wider than a surfboard and has thick padding to stand on. Riders use a long, curved paddle to propel themselves through the water.

SUP is a sport that can be enjoyed on both the flat water of lakes as well as the waves of the ocean coastlines.

"We wanted to bring an event to the inland areas. We mostly have events in the coastal areas but the sport has become much more popular inland," Steve Combs, Chairman of Surfider Foundation Atlanta Chapter said.

Many of those in attendance at Saturday's event had never been on a paddleboard before. Some of the racers had only one day of experience.

Paul Ott of Atlanta competed in the recreational two-mile race and completed before half of the racers. It was exhausting, he said, but fun.

"My wife and I took a class last week, so this was only my second time on it, I did pretty good I think," Ott said.

Tracey Pearson of Atlanta and her son, Gabriel, 9, have been stand-up paddleboarding for over a year. This was her first race, and she says balance and core strength are key in paddleboarding.

"It was exciting. It (the lake) was nice and glassy so it wasn't that hard. I'm used to paddleboarding on the ocean so this was nice, just cruising along," Pearson said.

Gabriel offered his advice to SUP newcomers saying "you just have to try to stay balanced and try to get a current going."

"It's a lot of fun once you get going on it," Gabriel said.

In addition to the races, a 15-minute demonstration called Hands Across the Sands was held. More than 50 racers held hands, forming a human chain on the beach, as a way to demonstrate unity in the quest for clean energy.

"We just want an opportunity for people to show that they care about the environment and would prefer clean energy as opposed to offshore drilling, and we're going to do that by lining up and holding hands, showing our solidarity," said Mike Sturdivant, Chairman of Surfrider Foundation Emerald Coast Chapter.

Hands Across the Sands is an international event, with people all over the world gathering together at the same time. Last year, more than 100,000 in 43 countries participated, and this year that was expected to double.

"We realized that this is a global thing - it doesn't need to be a ‘not in my backyard' thing," Sturdivant said.

The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club plans to hold the event at least once a year. Club President Doug Smith says he finds the sport relaxing, though he's more of a canoe man. He says the public just seems to gravitate to the new sport.

Emma Tillirson, 11, and her little sister, Holly, were excited, too, as they anxiously awaited their SUP lesson.

"It's going to be fun," Emma said.

Holly agreed saying, "This is cool."