Hala Team Rider Melanie Seiler explains how paddleboarding is a gateway to active living

There is a movement happening in southern West Virginia to improve community health by increasing physical activity programs. These programs are entry-level and led by trained members of the community called Community Captains. The lead organization, Active Southern West Virginia (Active SWV), offers a wide variety of activities and aims to reach all ages. Programs range from walking, hiking, biking, yoga, tai chi, dance aerobics, indoor fitness, rock climbing, and stand up paddle boarding.

The fast progression and freedom of movement with paddle boarding makes it a perfect introductory water sport and, luckily, West Virginia has many rivers and lakes to choose from.

Community Members as Instructors

The Active SWV model is recruiting residents to lead the programs for their families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It’s a peer-to-peer approach and seeing great success since its inception in 2015.

Active SWV’s Executive Director and Hala Team Rider, Melanie Seiler, started simply by first offering demo days. This entailed providing 10 minutes of instruction and 20 minutes of sample paddling on flat, calm water. The popularity was hard to facilitate – one 2015 demo day had 96 participants in 3 hours. As the participants gained interest, so did local paddling enthusiasts. These paddlers were looking for a way to access and test paddleboard equipment, and give back to their communities.

The first instructor course was held in 2016. Active SWV certified three Community Captains as American Canoe Association Level 2 SUP Instructors. In 2017, those instructors mentored 3 more community members, and in 2018 a total of 7 certified Community Captains were leading 6 person Introduction to SUP classes – all free to the community! 

This capacity building model will continue to grow with the increasing demands inflatable stand up paddleboarding is seeing in West Virginia. Active SWV uses a variety of gear, including Hala’s bomber inflatables, and equipment has been made possible with partnership from the New River Gorge National River and grant funding from the National Park Foundation.

What Does it Mean to the Participants

Some families have taken to the sport of paddle boarding quickly, like the Nicolau family. They participated in a cold April demo day in 2016, purchased their first Hala board, entered a few SUP races and triathlons, and now own 3 Hala boards. Others, like sisters Jacqulyn, Jessica, and Julia enjoy team sports, but had never tried a paddle sport until this summer.

The most determined participant, Rocky, is an older man managing Parkinson’s Disease who sees benefits to paddle boarding to ease his tremors because of the mental focus and muscle strength required to stand and paddle on the board. “I gave Rocky my full attention and direction because I could see he was determined to stand. After the first failed attempt, I quickly find myself gripping him to the side of the board trying to ease his tension to float and relax. I wasn’t sure he would climb back on the board, but Rocky was sure. He fell in two more times, but on the fourth attempt he was standing and calm. His tremors were not present and his face lite up with a wide smile,” recalls Seiler.

More to Come in 2019

The Active SWV SUP program will continue to grow in partnership with the National Park called Get Active in the Park. Instructor training will begin in the spring with free classes offered throughout the summer. The season ends with the annual New River Gorge SUP Race on the New River in September. The second West Virginia Youth SUP Race will be held prior to the Attainment and Downriver Races. All are welcome to try paddle boarding in WV!

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