1Seabrook's Zapstix Surf Shop employee James Morse said stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, has "exploded" in the area the last couple of years.
"It's definitely taking over New Hampshire," he said. "The last few weeks I've been working, more people are looking at stand-up paddleboards than surfboards."
Morse said like surfing, SUP has been around for a long time and no one knows exactly where or when it was invented, but it likely originated from Tahitians and Fijians.
"The kings back in the day were probably doing it," Morse said.
In recent years, it gained a resurgence as pro-surfers like Laird Hamilton converted to the sport.
"It's the fastest growing sport in the country right now," said Plum Island surfer Ross Kunkel, who works at Cinnamon Rainbows surf shop in Hampton, N.H. "It's been huge in California and Hawaii for a while, but it's new for New England and the East Coast in the last couple years."
Kunkel said Cinnamon Rainbows began carrying stand-up paddleboards about three years ago, and it has grown from just a few employees dabbling in the sport to the shop needing a new rack to store its stock of 24 boards.
"We've increased the inventory 10-fold," he said.
Surfers are converting to the sport because, unlike the steady swells of the West Coast, Central America and Hawaii, New England waters can be hit or miss on waves, Morse said. He calls SUP "flat day fun" for surfers because it provides a workout and something to do when there are no waves.
"You gotta have something to do when it's flat," Morse said. "It's similar to surfing because you can ride waves on it, but it's different because you don't need waves to ride it."
He said the sport can be done in the ocean, riding waves or just traveling down lakes.
Kunkel often paddles the Merrimack River — just the other day, he brought it up to Amesbury and paddled under the Chain Bridge. While he prefers to fish off his board in the river, he said many people surf the ocean's waves with their paddleboards, including store manager Phil Carey, who rode swell from Hurricane Bill on his paddleboard.
"It's fun — around here, a lot of days are small wave conditions," Kunkel said. "When it's flat, you can still go over to the beach. It keeps you in the water seven days a week."
To paddle the waters, the boarder stands on the board — feet parallel, unlike a surfer's stance — and propels himself with a long paddle, combining the fun of surfing with a strong workout.
"It's a great workout, and way more fun than kayaking," Kunkel said. "You can cancel the gym membership, because the workout is fantastic. Your legs have the balancing, and your arms and core benefit from the paddling."
Paddleboards are thicker, wider and longer than normal surfboards, Morse said — often ranging from 9 feet to 15 feet or more in length — which gives better stability and buoyancy.
"It's so big and floaty, like a kayak," Morse said.
But the boards are also more expensive, fetching anywhere from $900 to $1,700 each, Kunkel said.
Because of its increasing popularity, Zapstix just ordered another shipment of paddleboards, Morse said. The store's website advertises private SUP lessons for $45 per hour, as well as paddleboard rentals for $25 for a half day or $50 for a full day.
Cinnamon Rainbows sees about 50 to 60 people during their free stand-up paddleboard demonstrations held every Tuesday and Friday evening from 6 to 8, weather and surf permitting, as well as guided coastal tours for $35. All the gear is provided and it's about an hour and a half water time.
"It's a fun thing to do — take it out, go for a paddle," Morse said. "Anyone can do it — it's fun for all ages."