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Wednesday 7 December 2022
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Two Girls Paddle Board Down East Coast

On Oct. 12, 28-year-old LouAnna Harris and Jules Gismondi set off from Pier 84 on the adventure of a lifetime — paddle boarding all the way from New York to Miami.

Equipped only with a micro-stove, solar panels, camping gear, and, of course, their boards, the girls are using the trip as a personal and humanitarian opportunity. The trip is a fundraiser for both Mission Blue, a marine conservation organization, and First Descents, a group offering outdoor experiences to young cancer patients.

The epic, 1,500-mile journey has its origins in the Manhattan Kayaking Company in New York, where both Harris and Gismondi met and worked. The idea to complete a paddle boarding trip took root last summer.

According the Harris, the main challenge was in unpredictability of life on the ocean. “You can prepare as much as you can but until you really get out there there’s only so much you can control,” she said.

Harris and Gismondi are taking the sport to its extreme limits, but stand up paddle boarding as a recreational activity has become increasingly popular over the last few years. In 2011, 1.2 million tried stand up paddling for the first time. Cited as a fun and engaging way to exercise, stand up paddle boarding (or SUP) combines the use of a boat paddle and a surf board to create a unique outdoor water activity.

According to the Boston Sun, paddle boards were plentiful at the Baltimore Boat Show in late January. Paddle boards built for fishing, racing, for kids — even one with rubber grips for dogs — were on view at the convention.

Carleen Birnes of Severna Park has witnessed the growth of the SUP trend first hand; she taught a class of 35 SUP three years ago, and now oversees 10 instructors and 1,400 clients.

“Getting on a treadmill and staring at a TV screen is soul-sucking,” Birnes said. “Exercising on water, surrounded by nature, how cool is that?” She added that her sunrise class in Magothy it a spiritual experience for herself and her students.

With paddle boarding becoming a beloved sport, used as a spiritual and emotional tool as well as a physical one, it’s no wonder that people like Harris and Gismondi are using it as a way to challenge themselves and explore the country’s coastlines and water environments.