By Cody Worsham
Perspective is all a matter of where you’re standing – and what you’re standing on. For Walker Higgins, the LSU lakes transformed when he looked at them from the center, feet firmly placed on a board instead of the shore.
“I’ve run the lakes thousands of times,” said Higgins, the owner of YOLO Board retailer Muddy Water Paddle Company, “but the first time I brought my board onto the water, I had this totally different experience of Baton Rouge. It opens up a whole new perspective on the city.”
Higgins and his crew are offering that new perspective to the city as a whole on Saturday in the second of two summer paddling events, Paddle Battle Baton Rouge. Beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday at BREC’s Milford Wampold Park, Paddle Battle provides the city’s residents with the opportunity to try out stand up paddleboarding (SUP), one of the fastest growing sports in North America.
A longtime outdoor enthusiast with strong ties to the local fitness community, Higgins’ affinity for SUP began four years ago when his then-girlfriend, now-wife gave him a board for Christmas.
“I got it out on the water,” he said, “and I just fell in love with it.”
Since, he’s founded Muddy Water with Spectrum owner Troy Archer, whose brother, Jeff, helped found YOLO Board, a company who specializes in selling SUP boards. They incorporated the company in May 2013, and since, Baton Rouge has embraced the sport. Higgins calls Baton Rouge the fastest growing SUP community in North America.
“If anyone disputes that, I’d be glad to show them the numbers,” Higgins said, citing growth from five paddlers two years ago to today’s community of 135-and-counting. “It’s growing extremely fast. From talking to other board shops and YOLO themselves, there’s no one doing numbers like us that are landlocked, new communities.”
Higgins cites the city’s tightly-knit fitness community as key to that initial growth, but he added that the sport is now gaining mainstream popularity.
“People who are already active are the first movers to this,” he said. “This last year was when we made that first impression, and now we’re starting to move to the next level to get people who aren’t as active. We’re still growing that community – even more than we did last year.”
SUP’s growth isn’t just about seeing Baton Rouge from the water, although that new outlook doesn’t hurt. It’s also a hell of a workout that can burn up to 1,000 calories an hour – and it does so in subtle fashion.
“For a lot of people, you can get out on it and not realize you’re working as hard as you are,” Higgins said. “To me, it’s like trail running – you can distract yourself. It’s an immediate connection with nature and the water.”
Paddle Battle gives residents of all experience levels the chance to sample that connection. It’s a family-friendly event with a taste of competition that has attracted more than 500 participants over the last four years. There are 1-mile and 2-mile relay races, as well as kid races, all of which get the competitive juices flowing in a relaxed environment.
“The race Saturday is definitely a fun day on the water that appeals to the whole family,” Higgins said. “We’ve got a relay race, but I tell people to use the term ‘race’ loosely, because half the people who show up have never paddled before. Some people get super competitive, but it’s funny because they have no idea how to paddle board.”
Sign up ends two days prior to the event, so hurry over to Muddy Water’s Facebook page to get on board. In the meantime, there’s still time to practice. The store offers rentals and delivery or pick up to the lakes (and soon hopes to provide on-site rentals), and in store you can also find a variety of lifestyle products – including life vests, watches, hats, and sunglasses – so participants can look the part on race day.
“It’s really a great way to get an introduction to paddle boarding and the community we’re growing,” Higgins said, “because it’s a lot of fun.”