SURF'S UP! Get your paddle.
No kidding. Paddle surfing is the new beach sport.
Climb into a kayak or onto a paddle surfing board, grab a wave and ride hydropowered.
Paddle through the waves -- up and over, up and over, till you get out from the beach.
Nose around toward shore and paddle gently. Be patient.
Whoosh, you are catapulted, flying in front of a wave with wind whistling by and surf rumbling behind.
Shift the paddle and dance on the wave, a rocket rhumba. You are airborne and whooping with joy.
It's easy to get hooked on this sport and not too hard to learn it.
Wild River Outfitters of Virginia Beach offers one-day clinics at Virginia Beach and guided sorties to other beaches. Instructors Roger Adams and Kim Whitley teach the basics in the morning on a quiet inlet and take the class out into the surf in the afternoon. Paddle surfing began long ago and far away (in the '30s in Australia), when it was suggested that beach lifeguards could get to swimmers quicker by paddling.
So, surfing was grafted to kayaking. It was too much fun to keep just for serious use and so it also became a sport.
Paddle surfing was picked up in the U.S. on the West Coast first, naturally. Though the sport was also popular briefly in Virginia Beach in the '30s, Whitley says, it didn't make real inroads on the East Coast until about 10 years ago and began to take off only in the last three or four years.
While the original boats were similar to kayaks -- some were called oomiyaks -- today's paddle surfer may be in a kayak or on a board that resembles a surfboard but is broader and blunter.
On the boards, paddlers sit just as in a kayak, with feet up in front of them stuck into stirrups. The boards also have seat belts and some have seat indentations molded into the surface for comfort. Beginners may have a little trouble staying on the boards but an expert can roll them over and back up just like a kayak.
Like any water sport, paddle surfing has some hazards. The most critical point in paddle surfing, Whitley tells his students, is anytime you paddle through the shore break, where waves break on the beach.
Anyone who has body surfed knows what it's like to be rolled and tumbled and scraped across the beach. Add a long, double- bladed paddle and a boat to the brew, and it's easy to understand why getting the shore break right is important.
By and large, Whitley advises, "Try to go out and come in between waves." In their classes, Whitley and Adams shepherd the students through the shore break.
Avoiding the shore break doesn't dampen the fun. If you are riding a wave, you can slide off the backside of it before it hits the beach and paddle out for another one, Whitley says.
When Whitley and Adams ride a wave through the shore break, as they do to demonstrate the technique, they try to keep the boat headed straight in.
If it gets turned broadside, they lean back into the wave, putting the bottom of the boat towards the beach so the water shoots over their body and the boat takes all the pounding and scraping. It looks easy but it isn't, the students learned.
Wild River's clinics are limited to 10 people per session. During one, earlier this summer, ages ranged from 14 to 50 and all the students were paddling comfortably in the surf before the day was out. And all of them got at least one good ride on a wave. -- Gail Bradshaw. SURFIN' SAFARI
Paddle-surfing day clinics cost $25 and include equipment, lunch and instruction. Private instruction is also available. For information and registration, write Wild River Outfitters, 111 S. Witchduck Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23462, or call 804/497-4890.
On September 28 and 29, the East Coast Paddle Surfing Championships will be held at Virginia Beach and it should be a wonderful show. Information on the contest is available from Wild River Outfitters. SURF SAFETY
Surf paddling is fun, and following some basic safety rules provided by Kim Whitley of Wild River Outfitters will keep it that way:
*Wear a life jacket and don't go into the surf alone.
*Don't go out in heavy waves or high winds. The first can trash you, the latter can blow you out to sea.
*Look out for swimmers. Even if there's no one around when you start surfing, you may create a crowd, and some of them inevitably will get in the water.
*Look out for sharks as you would when swimming. But if you see fins, don't panic. They may be porpoises which like to swim along with surfers.