Standup Paddling To A College Degree

Photo: Ned Johnson

Photo: Ned Johnson

Standup Paddling To A College Degree

Standup paddling for college credit sounds too good to be true, but at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. students are receiving credit toward their undergraduate degrees for hitting the water.

Ned Johnson and partner David Rose of Paddleboard Orlando and Palm Paddleboards have been teaching the SUP class since its first term in January 2013. After holding SUP events in conjunction with the college’s intramural sports department for a few years, students suggested the director of the athletic department consider the addition of an SUP class. Shortly after, Johnson and Rose—who are certified SUP instructors through WSUPA, WPA, PaddleFit and ASI—were named adjunct professors, and had a full class of 25 wide-eyed students enrolled in a semester-long course, eager to learn standup skills.

The one-credit class helps students to fulfill the college’s graduation requirements of two P.E. credits. The SUP class meets once a week for about two hours, where they learn proper stroke technique, water safety, and how to perform various turns.

Photo: Ned Johnson

Photo: Ned Johnson

“Our first couple classes are on land and in a pool at the college,” says Johnson. “We have to consider safety, so we have a swim test and always start our students paddling from the edge of the pool deck while they learn the basics of stroke technique. We really try to stress the importance of safety [on the water] to our students, so we always practice assessing risks, getting back on the board after falling, and how to help save your paddling partner—because you should always paddle with another person.”

Once students have a better grasp of basic standup paddling skills, the class moves locations, meeting at Lake Virginia on the edge of Rollins’ campus. Because Lake Virginia is part of Winter Park’s chain of lakes that spans 2,781 acres, students are able to build mileage while honing their standup skills.

“The college sits on a chain of lakes interconnected by old logging canals, so we’ve been able to build up to five-mile paddles,” Johnson said. “The first two terms, we met twice a week for an hour, but we decided to change our schedule this term because after unloading boards and whatnot, there’s just not enough time for the students to be on the water. Now that we meet for longer, I’m shooting for our class to build up to a seven-mile paddle by the end of the term.”

Photo: Ned Johnson

Photo: Ned Johnson

Because Johnson and Rose have a rental location nearby, they provide all the necessary equipment for each class. Students paddle the partners’ 10’6 to 12-foot recreational boards and have the option to challenge themselves on displacement boards once they’ve nailed their skills on the rec boards.

At the end of the term, just like any normal college course, students must take a final exam. The exam is broken up into two parts: an oral, on-land test and a water test.

“The land portion is done orally in pairs, and in the water they must demonstrate a correct forward stroke, back stroke, ability to stop quickly, and three turns: a sweep or c -stroke, a cross bow turn and a pivot turn,” says Johnson. “They must also demonstrate paddling from the knees, prone paddling with a paddle, and how to fall. They have the option to perform a water rescue with their partner too.”

Photo: Douglas Nelson

Photo: Douglas Nelson

When the term concludes, students have the option to take higher-level SUP classes outside Rollins College, through Johnson’s Paddleboard Orlando. With a new, nearby lakefront location in the works, Johnson is hoping to draw in more students to further their SUP skills with events like dolphin and manatee paddles, day tours, and NOCQUA night paddles.

Beyond the obvious perks of being an adjunct professor of SUP, Johnson says the class is rewarding because of the enthusiasm of his students: “This is probably the only class where the students all show up early and don’t want to leave.” —Shari Coble


For more information, visit: Rollins.edu, PaddleboardOrlando.com
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