Exploring Northern Ontario by SUP
By Michelle McChristie
“Where are you going surfing?” asked the young man at the park gate when we checked into a site at Quetico Provincial Park. He was puzzled by the large surfboard strapped to the roof of our family’s vintage Volkswagen camper van. After all, this was 2010 and we were in the heart of canoe country – surfboards (in this case, a standup paddleboard) were a rare site.
Much has changed since then and standup paddleboarding, known is SUPing, has emerged as the fastest growing paddlesport in the world. Though the sport has Polynesian routes, it is popular throughout Ontario – not a surprise considering the amount of blue on our map. There are about 250,000 lakes and over 100,000 kilometres (62,000 miles) of rivers in this province, so a paddler is never far away from a playground. And, the outdoor industry has responded swiftly to meet the demand for this newfangled sport with retailers and retailers adding SUP gear to their inventory, and outfitters and paddling clubs adding introductory and advanced lessons to their paddling curriculum.
My family grew to love this sport after renting a board in 2009 and then buying one the following summer. After spending a weekend at Rock Island Lodge in Wawa in 2011, we were hooked. With an array of boards and paddles at our disposable and a warm sheltered bay in which to paddle, we spent a weekend teaching our kids (then ages five and seven) the basics. As their confidence grew, they ventured further out of the bay and out to the mouth of the Michipicoten River to play in the surf created by the clashing currents of the river and Lake Superior.
Accessibility and versatility are part of what has standup paddleboarding so popular. The boards are light and easy to carry and most people have the skills and intuition to manage basic paddle strokes. For those looking for a little more finesse, an introductory or advanced course provides the tools to paddle efficiently, confidently, and safely. Boards come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from wide and stable recreational and fitness boards (SUP yoga, anyone?) to long and sleek racing boards. There are even inflatable boards that pack into a backpack, so you can explore northern Ontario by SUP regardless of your mode of transportation.
Exploring northern Ontario’s lakes and rivers by SUP gives an entirely new vantage point to familiar kayak and canoe routes. Standing means you can see a little further and have the freedom to move around. It’s a great workout because the power in a paddle stroke comes from the paddler’s core muscles while a variety of muscles are involved in balancing on the board (if balance is not your forte, think of the SUP as a swim platform!). Whether at a campground in Quetico or on the north shore of Lake Superior, standup paddleboarding is an easy way to get on the water and discover a new corner of northern Ontario.
- Hiking can be enjoyed year-round, but you might need to strap on a pair of snowshoes when the white stuff accumulates
- Mountain biking is best in the summer and fall and fat biking is gaining popularity, particularly in winter
- Backcountry skiing and snowshoeing offer an opportunity to explore frozen shorelines and discover gigantic icicles and ice caves, or get a better view of rock formations and pictographs
- Ice climbing offers a unique experience as frozen waterfalls and seeps make for ideal routes
- Snowmobiling enables you to travel swiftly and bring more gear, like a small shelter for ice fishing