Less than two hours from Manhattan, eastern Long Island is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the south and Long Island Sound to the north, with interior water bodies ranging from freshwater ponds in the woods and marshy tidal creeks to expansive tidal bays. The town of Riverhead lies where the two forks of the East End diverge, divided by Great Peconic Bay. Creeks with names like Sawmill and Meetinghouse date back to colonial origins, Shinnecock Bay is named for the local Native American tribe, and an un-mistakable landmark, the Big Duck, stands as a reminder of the area's agricultural roots.
Jim Dreeben, owner of Peconic Paddler, has provided locals and visitors a gateway to the east end for 48 years, renting and selling canoes, kayaks, and now SUPs. —Tom Fucigna Jr.
SUP mag: What’s your background?
Dreeben: My first time canoeing was with the Boy Scouts at Camp Wauwepex in Wading River in January, 1952. No wet suit, no PFD; whoever heard of them then? I was wearing wool and work boots.
I ran the gas station across the street from our current location from 1966 to 1983. In 1980, I bought the property and started renting and selling canoes. Kayaks appeared a few years later, and then came standup paddleboards.
SUP mag: How did you first get into standup paddling, and why did you decide to get into the SUP market?
Dreeben: About five years ago, we were kayaking on a river in Hawaii and saw a couple paddling standing up. I did not have a clue, but after we came back home I got up on a piece of Styrofoam 23 inches wide and 10 feet long. It was less than three inches thick and super tippy, but I was hooked. Friends thought I was crazy when I started buying SUPs and gambling on the unknown.
SUP mag: What was your first real SUP after your foam slab experiment?
Dreeben: It was a Jimmy Lewis distance board, 12'6" long and 29" wide, with lots of bow rocker but a hard chine, so it is pretty fast for its shape.
SUP mag: What features of your location make it appealing for standup paddling, and what SUP-related activities do your customers like?
Dreeben: This is a perfect spot for most water sports. Across the street is a half-mile of river that runs into Peconic Bay, with beaches and a bird sanctuary. It's usually not too windy, but if it is, we paddle in back of the store, where we have eight miles of fresh water river protected from wind and current. We also paddle on Peconic Bay, Red Creek Pond, Lake Ronkonkoma, Shinnecock Bay, and in the ocean.
My customers are mostly flat-water cruising paddlers. A few are into physical fitness and many surf: I even see a few guys out in winter. Many yoga people also use my SUPs. I have not seen SUP fishing here yet, but I know it's going to happen.
SUP mag: What brands of gear do you carry?
Dreeben: We sell and rent boards by Jimmy Lewis, Lakeshore, Surftech, Boardworks, Ocean Kayak and Nature Shapes; paddles by Werner, Quickblade, Surftech and Gillespie; and PFDs from Kokatat and MTI.
SUP mag: What size, or types, of boards have been popular?
Dreeben: The 11-foot Cruise Control from Jimmy Lewis is our most popular. I also use and sell a fair number of Jimmy Lewis Mission 12'6" boards. Lakeshore displacement hull SUPs, especially their 11'6" and 12'6", are popular too.
SUP mag: Have any accessories been popular?
Dreeben: We sell a lot of leashes, Yakima racks and cross bar pads. Yakima has cool new cross bar pads for factory racks and I think they will become popular.
SUP mag: Have you organized any events, such as races?
Dreeben: On July 20th we'll help the Long Island Aquarium organize and run the Paddle Battle Long Island SUP and kayak races for our first time. I was going to run a race through my store, but it's a lot of work and the aquarium has more resources, so we are doing it together.
We do free SUP demos Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, and I invite anyone who wants to paddle with me after work most days in June, July and August, on my board or theirs. I also promote SUP, giving talks to groups like kayak and bike clubs, the Boy Scouts, and even occasionally at private homes where they invite neighbors.
SUP mag: Do you have any standout standup paddling customers or locals who should be part of this story?
Dreeben: My 11-year old grandson, Jared, got into SUP when he seven. We met Danny Mongno, of Werner Paddles, and Dan Gavere while we were at an SUP race in Wrightsville Beach, NC. Dan did a clinic, and took a bunch of older guys and Jared for an instructional paddle across the bay, out of sight. I was nervous, but the guys watched out for him. Now, Jared helps me teach and does demos. He teaches confidence, walking the board and doing 360s from the tip. When he brings his friends here, the parents are amazed at what they learn from us in a few hours. Kids pick it up fast. When Jared is here for a few weeks in summer we plan paddles every day with whoever. Last year about 60 people showed up at Red Creek Pond to paddle with him.
SUP mag: Where do you think the SUP market is headed?
Dreeben: It seems that the sport will keep growing. We get so many phone calls about it. Sales are pretty good now, and early season inquires seem positive.
SUP mag: How do you think the experience of paddling an SUP is different from canoeing and kayaking?
Dreeben: Canoeing or kayaking can supply a good workout, but only if you paddle like you are racing. SUP is something cool that provides a great workout, even if you are just standing still on the board. The core workout is great. I had no idea about "core" before, but now I write letters to prospects or talk about core strength, and customers love it. It must be something that is stressed in the gym, but I don't go there. I'd rather paddle.