- F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail|
A tour group takes their paddle boards to the Kanawha River as Appalachian Boarding Company led a group tour during Eagle Fest at UC.
Appalachian Boarding Company led a group tour on the Kanawha River during Eagle Fest at UC.
Appalachian Boarding Company owner Evan Young leads a group tour on the Kanawha River during Eagle Fest at UC.
Appalachian Boarding Company led a group tour on the Kanawha River during Eagle Fest at UC.
By CARLEE LAMMERS, Staff Writer
August 25, 2016
When Evan Young's feet touch a paddle board, a lot begins to change.
As his paddle gently strokes the water, transporting him and his standup paddle board through the river, he feels strong senses of exhilaration and relaxation — a “beautiful balance of opposites.”
He finds balance on the paddle board. Paddle boarding allows him to build strength, let go of his worries and maintain balance — both in the water and in life.
But it wasn't always that way.
Evan and his wife Brooke both worked in retail, managing the Buckle retail stores in Charleston. Some weeks, he'd pour in 60 hours of work in the office. The two had found success by many standards — but something wasn't right. Something didn't feel right.
“My wife and I hit this peak financially where one day we woke up and realized we had a quarter-million household income but we didn't really feel that we had anything to show for it. The only thing that reflected our success was our bank accounts at the time,” he said.
“Just as fast as we were growing our business we were growing our young family and we looked up one day and we've got three beautiful girls. We realized there was an extreme imbalance.”
So, he began looking to his roots for answers.
As a kid, his family would travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for vacations. That's where he gained respect for the power of the wave. He loved to surf, he loved the beach and he loved the turmoil of the waves.
In high school he was a bigger athletic kid — shining on the basketball court and soccer field. He came to love running and facing things head-on. However, he began to lose sight of all of that spending hours on end working in retail. He gained weight, he couldn't run anymore and he lost sight of the balance he wanted in his life.
“I got really out of shape because I was sedentary and working 60-plus hours per week, and I basically lost the balance in my life,” he said. “I started to regain it when I fell in love with water sports. It's so low-impact that I realized I could be an athlete again.”
He first saw the popularity of stand-up paddle boarding while on a trip to Puerto Rico with his wife. After seeing the widespread popularity of the sport, Young said he was shocked to see it wasn't catching on yet in the Charleston area.
Standup paddle boarding combines elements of surfing and kayaking. Participants can sit, kneel or stand on the board and use a paddle to maneuver through the water. Standup paddle boarding can be done in a variety of different bodies of water, including lakes and rivers.
“Paddle-boarding is the fastest growing water sport in the world, but it's not hot here right now,” Young said. “We went to Puerto Rico and were just captivated by it because we just saw people paddling out past the break, past the surf and then they'd battle out to it and surf it back in. Then it'd look like they were just walking on the water from a distance.”
Their trip to Puerto Rico planted a seed.
After a few years of contemplation, practice and fine tuning, the Appalachian Boarding Company was born.
The two launched the stand-up paddle board and surfing business out of their garage in Hurricane this summer. He left his retail job and spends his days now connecting people with their inner balance — both on and off the board. They keep 20 boards in the garage and always have a few extra loaded in their van.
Appalachian Boarding Company offers fitness classes, therapeutic paddling trips and half-day trips throughout the Tri-State area. Rather than making participants come to a storefront, the Youngs bring the boards to their guests.
They bring the gear required and spend time teaching guests about the fundamentals of paddle boarding before they begin a class or trip.
“We didn't set up the storefront at first because we wanted to be able to extend our reach. One of the beauties of our business is the mobility,” he said. “We take boards to people so they don't have to hassle with tying them down on the roof.”
Since he began his own journey on a standup paddle board, Young has lost 40 pounds, found a rhythm in his life and has restored his balance. He's connected with nature, his new office, and has seen real benefits from his time on the water.
As a West Virginia native, Young said he believes there is potential to use standup paddle boarding as a means to restore some of the real hurts he sees in the Mountain State.
“Anybody, no matter how far lost or off they may seem, they had a point in their life where they did have balance. That's [what] our whole mantra is, that we want to help West Virginia regain its balance, on and off the board,” he said. “When you learn to paddle board and you take on that challenge, you start to see other areas of your life become more balanced, you start to feel that rhythm in all areas.”
Whether it be at-risk youth, wounded warriors or those struggling with addiction or mental illness, Young said the Appalachian Boarding Company's mission is to get people on the water and teach them to paddle with a purpose.
Many of the lessons learned on the board, the trial and error of standing on the board and the sense of accomplishment after a trip, mirror a therapeutic process that can have real benefits on a person's healing.
Plus, Young said he is a firm believer in connecting with nature to help overcome obstacles like depression. He has a passion for using the adventure of standup paddle boarding as a therapeutic process for those struggling.
“People use drugs to exhilarate them or to help them escape something they're running from. But when you put them outdoors, that gives them the exhilaration and fills that void that they're trying to cure with drugs or whatever it may be. And then, when you get them out on a board, they get that adrenaline and that rush,” he said.
“It also teaches great principles about picking yourself back up when you fall down. People in recovery go through vicious cycles sometimes, too, where they fall many times, they may relapse numerous times, but that's why we preach getting back on board and giving it another shot. You have progression; someone may see a goal and say, 'I don't know, that looks hard.' But it's a lot easier than you think once you give it a shot.”
As Christians, Young said he owes a lot in his life to God. His family's faith plays a large role in their company, their ability to connect with creation and help others work toward balance.
“You get people out into God's creation and let Him take over their lives and reshape and regain the balance there for them as well. I can't sit here this whole time and not give Him credit for what He's done. It's been beautiful for us. We're not killing it financially right now, but we made the changes in our hearts and minds before,” he said.
It also plays a role in helping West Virginia move forward.
“West Virginia will continue to suffer if we try to keep up with the Joneses as well,” he said. “I worked retail and I fed into that mindset for so long.
“If we turn our mindset to giving, that is where we can break down the barriers and the chains that bind us here because people start to panic about financial things and only worry about taking care of themselves. But when we start to give is when we start to get rewards personally.”
Fitness classes and trips for beginners are usually held at Meadowood Park in Tornado. Young said Pettigrew Lake is the perfect, calm destination for beginners to learn. The boarding company plans to host regular Monday night fitness classes throughout the rest of the summer paddling season at Meadowood Park. The classes will include an intro lesson, a tour of the lake and surf training. Participants can burn anywhere from 750 to 1,000 calories in a single class, he said.
Young said there are several other spots in the Charleston area that are the perfect destination for a standup paddle board trip. Spots along the Kanawha River provide a mix of adventure and beautiful scenery for evening trips.
Another one of his favorite spots is along the Elk River.
“It's so beautiful and it's one of the prime fishing spots in the region because of its location,” he said. “The same river that devastated so many homes and properties and lives could be the very same river that helps the entire region regain its balance. It's so beautiful and so underutilized and it's a very impressive water trail.”
In the winter season, Young said the company still plans to do paddle boarding trips, wetsuits provided.
During the winter months, Young said they plan to use the aquatic center at the Tri-County YMCA in Teays Valley to do indoor lessons. They hope to expand into other area YMCA facilities, as well.
The winter season also marks surf season. Appalachian Boarding Company has plans for extensive surf training, which culminates with a New Year's trip to Rincon, Puerto Rico for a trip to one of the world's renowned surfing locations.
“Rincon itself has made top 10 lists of international surf towns, and by surf towns I mean it's all locals or pro surfers who transplanted there. We just happened on this beautiful location and have met some friends that have become like brothers. There's no better way to beat the winter blues than a surf trip to Puerto Rico,” he said.
“The people who are committed to chasing that perfect wave will get out in cooler temperatures and not worry about it being 55 degrees in November. A little sunlight and a wetsuit and you'll be OK. We're certified in safety and rescue as well, and we would never compromise anyone's safety. When it all culminates in a New Year's Eve tour in Rincon and a New Year's celebration in San Juan, it doesn't get much better.”
While the Appalachian Boarding Company isn't the first to offer standup paddle boarding in the state, the Youngs are the first to bring a boarding company to Charleston. There are several groups throughout the state that offer standup paddle boarding lessons and trips, including in Fayetteville and at Stonewall Jackson Lake.
In the future, the two hope to expand their reach, serving schools, helping athletes cross-train and partnering to make a therapeutic paddling program. Appalachian Boarding Company also hopes to expand its trips, offering additional winter trips to Puerto Rico and a trip to the Pacific northwest.
“There's really nothing stopping us from making Charleston one of the most premier paddleboard destinations in the United States, and I believe we can make that happen ourselves with all of the appropriate authorities,” Young said.
“Paddleboarding is just the avenue we take to try to help people. There are a lot of endeavors that we see coming up because we think there are so many different ways we can take this. The benefits are endless.”
For more information on Appalachian Boarding Company, like them on Facebook or visit www.appalachianboardingcompany.com.