Where is the best place to live and be a standup paddler? That simple, eternal question drove the latest iteration of SUP Magazine’s Paddle Town Paddle. This year, we broadened the query to its logical limit: Where do the most professional opportunities meet the best SUP lifestyle potential? Naturally, we had to expand our scope beyond North America to the top cities across the globe. Our selection criteria was simple: Urban hubs where you can maximize days on the water and enjoy different types of paddling adventures within a day’s drive. Narrowing down a nominee list to determine winners, however, was anything but. How do you define best? How do you judge culture? How much does community count for? Passion?
So, we handed the reigns to our readers to decide. After thousands of votes cast on social media, with countless comments hurled (some profanity-laced), in the end, the following Elite Eight locales surpassed all others as the world’s best cities to live and paddle now. Over the next few weeks, we will be releasing profiles on each of the readers' choice for the top eight paddling hubs in inverse order, starting from eighth-place until we reveal the world's top paddle town! Add them to your SUP bucket list.
No. 6 – Tampa, Florida
Blessed with countless beachfronts to launch a board, Tampa's estuaries, slow-moving rivers, lakes and more—including 165 parks and beaches covering 2,286 acres within city limits, and 42 more in surrounding suburbs covering 70,000 acres—make this Gulf city a haven for standup paddleboards. Those SUP fanatics wanting a picturesque flatwater experience will be hard-pressed to find a better place to dig their paddle.
The Tampa Bay Area is rich with lazy rivers including the Little Manatee, Myakka, Withlacoochee and the easy-to-spell Chassahowitzka, or as the locals call it, the "Chaz." Each of these water trails offer warm water temps year-round with a high chance of marine wildlife encounters—including alligators on the Myakka and a guidebook's worth of birds on the Withlacoochee. Meanwhile, the 3,000-acre wildlife refuge Weedon Island Preserve offers a four-mile paddling trail that includes scenic mangroves and seagrass beds (just make sure the tide is high enough to paddle the entire trail). But it's not all mangroves and manatees, those looking for an urban paddling experience can embrace paddling past the shimmering lights of downtown Tampa.
With so many beautiful paddling locations, it's no surprise that the area features a dedicated and tight-knit SUP community. "The SUP vibe here is amazing," says Good Vibes SUP owner Yen Loyola. "In the past it's been pretty scattered, but everyone is coming together more and more now. You see paddlers out all the time."
Both the Invictus Paddling Club and Tampa Bay Paddling Club offer locals an opportunity for group paddle outings and social gatherings while the area's biggest gathering of paddlers takes place at the annual Shark Bite Challenge and Paddlefest, which attracts more than 500 paddlers to Honeymoon Island State Park in nearby Dunedin, Florida, each April. Meanwhile, Urban Kai and WhatSUP Paddlesports highlight the many outfitters and SUP shops popping up in the city that local newspaperman Steve Otto deemed The Big Guava. —Eugene Buchanan
This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of SUP Magazine.