Paddle Boarding - Making a Splash in Chicago!

Paddle Boarding - Making a Splash in Chicago!

I've received a few dozen e-mails asking me about paddle boarding and the kind of workout it produces.  Like most of you, my exposure to paddle boarding has been pretty limited, until last week when I took a lesson from Ian Jacobson, owner of Great Lakes Board Company on North Avenue Beach.

In it's first year, the Great Lakes Board Company has quickly become the epicenter for the paddle community in Chicago, for good reason.  Jacobson isn't just some guy who wants to spend his Summer hanging out on the beach in his new "lemonade stand." Both he and his staff are experienced paddle boarders, surfers, roller bladers and wind surfers,  they use their experience to make sure their customers experience is a good one.

Walking up to Great Lakes Board Company , I quickly realized that Ian has a great job, busy, but great.  He was laying in a hammock with a beautiful girl he met the day before, enjoying the afternoon. He has the best office in Chicago.

The atmosphere is laid back, fun and healthy.  I found my self using the word "dude, awesome and bro," more than I normally do.  Don't let looks deceive you, Jacobson is a smart businessman and at 26 has turned his passion into a thriving business.  "This location is one of the busiest in the world, we are here to build a community for people to enjoy the sport," says Jacobson.  "On my business card it says enthusiast, cultivator."

At land and at sea, Jacobson is working to build a community in Chicago

The description is perfect.  The community of paddle boarders is growing as the word spreads about the awesome workout it provides.  Jacobson a New Trier grad. is living proof that you don't have to wear a suit and rock a Blackberry to be a "businessman," his board shorts, expertise and passion are the foundation of  Great Lakes Board Company success.

To answer the question "is paddle boarding a good workout?"  Yes, as my tired muscles will attest, after an hour of boarding, I was beat.  A paddle board is essentially a giant balance board on the water.  In order to work correctly, your core, stabilizer muscles, glutes and thighs all have to engage to keep you balanced.  Add in the resistance of the water and having to constantly paddle and you are getting a workout that is an amazing mix of cardio, and resistance, plus as an added bonus you are working on your tan!

"Paddle boarding is definitely a great workout and a sport, " says Jacobson.  "It's a full body workout for people of all levels. If you paddle hard for 30 minutes to an hour, you are going to feel it."

It's not hard to learn, after a 15 minute lesson with Jacobson, I was attempting to get up on my board.  It's a lot like cycling, where you go at your own level, even if you can't get up onto your feet, paddling from your knees provides an excellent workout for your core and upper body. The difference between cycling and paddle boarding is that when you wipe, it doesn't hurt at all, it's actually a refreshing break.

Jaocbsons' tip on falling "don't fight it, the only time that people get hurt is when they start to flail twist as they are falling, which is when they can hit the board or smack themselves with the paddle."  I used the Lipton Iced Tea Plunge approach, when I couldn't keep myself up, a nice back flop into the cool lake, no bumps, no road rash.

It's surfing, kayaking, aerobics and yoga blended together  in a bathing suit out in the sunshine, the perfect athletic combo platter.

Bikini clad Kelly, was taking a post workout nap in the sun and told me that she is on her board every day, "My workouts depend on the water conditions, when it's smooth like today (Friday), I go for distance, on choppier days, it's more of an intense workout, that beats up my legs and upper body, it's an amazing workout!"  Check out the picture of Kelly below and you can see, she is in very good shape!

Before you get going, you need to know how to paddle board.  Being a bit type A, I was ready to grab my board, paddle and get to it, luckily Jacobson was there to tell me to  "chill for a sec." and walk me through the do's and don't of paddle boarding.  If you are going to head out to paddle, a lesson isn't mandatory, but strongly recommended, " We can tell from the beach who has taken a lesson and who hasn't.  People who do take a lesson have a much better experience and normally come back again and again."

Rule #1- Life Vest. Unless you are Jacobson, who can talk on his Iphone while paddling, or bust a hand stand on his board, you are going to fall, a lot.  Though these wipe outs are as low impact as it gets, you are falling into water, while working out, a vest will keep you safe and help you get back on your board.

Rule #2- Start on your knees, get used to the motion and then try to stand up.  It's not like surfing where you are flying along on the waves and have to "snap up" or bail.  You are only gong 2 to 3 miles per hour when you are on your knees.  The easiest to get up from your knees, it to put both of your hands out in front of you, so you are on "all fours," push up, while you bring your feet underneath you and stand up.  It's that simple. Staying up is a different story.

Rule #3- Don't let go of the paddle. They can get away from you, and you don't want to be chasing them around the lake, pulling along a board behind you.

Rule #4-  Don't stop paddling. It's a lot like golf in the fact that when you get the form right, you glide right through the water. Part of that form is keeping one hand on top of the paddle and another in the middle.  The top arm is expended and the source of your power as you push through the water.  From there, you can paddle on either side of the board and voila you're moving! The resistance of the water, along with the paddling, helps to keep you upright and moving.

Rule #5- Look up.  I found myself looking straight down at the board.  "It's there under you, it hasn't changed," Jacobson yelled from his board, "look up focus on the waves, the horizon and the amazing view."  Keeping your head up, and knees bent, helps your balance. A secondary bonus from doing this is the view.  Paddle away from North Avenue Beach and the sounds all disappear, it's just you and the water, peaceful, quiet.  Turn your board towards the beach and there is Chicago, big bright and beautiful.

Falling. Once I got the form down, I fell less and less, until I had a good 20 minute stretch where I didn't fall at all.  This is where the workout really kicks in.  When the board wobbles and shakes, you are rocking the core and lower body to keep yourself dry. As I paddled North towards Diversey and then back South, I was soaking wet with sweat, breathing heavy and if it wasn't for my massive ego, I would have jumped back into the water.

Besides falling into the water, it's about as low impact as it comes. I am still nursing a sore Achilles tendon and this didn't aggravate it at all. If I had to choose between swimming countless laps in the pool to stay in shape or an hour on a board, it's no contest.

Once you are more comfortable with the basics you can do all sorts of things on the paddle board, from yoga to push ups to long intense rides.  I like to kayak, but I can never get comfortable during a workout, either my back hurts or my legs fall asleep, in paddle boarding, none of these problems exist.  You are upright, knees bent, body working, ripping through the water and burning calories.  Paddle boards are much lighter than a kayak as well.

Before I actually boarded, I watched other people boarding, they all had smiles on their faces as they worked out.  Between the endorphins from the workout, the vibe and general coolness paddle boarding, it's hard not to walk away feeling pretty good.

The price of admission isn't cheap.  If you are looking to go out and buy a board and paddle, it can run anywhere from $750 to $2000.  Great Lakes Board Company, rents their boards out for $25 an hour or they have a punch card that you can get 10 hours for $200.

If you are looking for your next challenge then paddle boarding is something worth checking out and Great Lakes Board Company is the place to do it.

Best Office In Chicago.


Ian Jacobson, teaching proper technique
It's surfing, kayaking and yoga blended together.

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