Shop Talk: Tahoe Paddle & Oar

Tahoe Paddle & Oar opened its doors in 1986 as a canoe and kayak rental shop in Lake Tahoe, Calif. In 2005, they added standup to their program, becoming the first shop to introduce the paddle sport to the Tahoe community. Located on the picturesque north shore of Lake Tahoe, the store lies in the epicenter of beauty. Crystal clear waters and mountain peaks as far as the eye can see make Tahoe the ideal SUP location. Here, owner Phil Segal tells us about the shop's history, local races, and a day tour that will take you from California to Nevada and back and still have you home in time for supper. —Rebecca Parsons

SUP mag: What's your background?
Segal: I've always been a water baby. I rowed in college and have been paddling my whole life. I moved up to Lake Tahoe in 1981 and started working and developing programs with the parks and recreation department up here, and my avocation became a vocation.

SUP mag: Tell us about the history of Tahoe Paddle & Oar.
Segal: We started Tahoe Paddle & Oar in 1986, just doing canoe and kayak rentals. We opened up a retail store in 1991 and started SUP rentals and sales in 2005. We were the first shop in Lake Tahoe to bring standup boards up here. I went to Hawaii in 2005 and that was the first time I'd actually seen standup paddling. After that I started working with Joe Bark to develop a flatwater board because up to that point everything was surfboard shaped. Joe had the expertise and a long history in pro paddleboards. Then, Surftech became involved and it kind of kicked off from there.

In 2008, we did an offshoot with some of the local guys and formed the Lake Tahoe Paddleboard Association, launching a lot of our races up here. Today, the store is still very active in all paddle sport activities, but standup paddleboards are probably 90 percent of the business now.

SUP mag: What different events are you involved with?
Segal: We support all the races up here, but the three races that we do makeup O'Neill Tahoe Cup series. The first race is in May on Donner Lake, our second race is the Jam from the Dam in July, and the final race of the series is the Tahoe Fall Classic in September—that's the longest of the distance races. It's a 22-miler, point to point. This is going to be the eighth year we've done it.

SUP mag: What about Tahoe makes it an ideal place for standup?
Segal: It's gorgeous. It's not like you're paddling in a tropical area. There are objects down below you, old remnants of Tahoe. Optically, it's a mind-blower. The different areas on the lake, especially the north shore and the east shore, offer unbelievable paddling.

SUP mag: What type of customers do you typically have?
Segal: As far as our rentals, 80 to 85 percent of the people are in the novice level because most of the locals have their own boards. From the retail end, about 30 percent of the people know what they want and what they're looking for in a high-performance board. 60 to 70 percent just want something that can get them on the water; they're not interested in the race boards.

SUP mag: What SUP gear do you carry and what's the most popular?
Segal: We're pretty much a Surftech-specific shop. The store rents anywhere from 50 to 75 boards, they're all Surftech softops and are very user-friendly. In the store, the majority of the boards that we have are the Bark raceboards that use Surftech technology, making them a little bit more durable than a custom board. We have Bark boards for every ability level—those are the most popular boards on the lake right now.

SUP mag: Do you lead tours?
Segal: Our season is May to September and we paddle 25 to 30 people a day between the kayak and standup tours. Depending on the weather, we like to take a two-mile paddle along the shoreline to hot springs, where you're actually paddling from California into Nevada. We also do group SUP tours to Sand Harbor on the east shore, which is very popular. People get free parking at the store and the beach is right across the street.

SUP mag: Tell us about your team-building activities.
Segal: A lot of groups come up to Tahoe. They try to get a group of employees together and work as a team. The most popular activity is when we give the group instructions, let them paddle for a little bit, and then they come back and do relay races off the beach.

SUP mag: What's the craziest thing you've seen someone doing with an SUP?
Segal: Well, I've seen people take a SUP down Squaw Valley in the snow. That's probably about the nuttiest thing I've ever seen. It was soft snow, and they were turning it.

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