Paddleboarders are leading the way when it comes to exercising and sightseeing along the eight-mile stretch of the Peconic River that runs through downtown Riverhead and out into the bay.
Jim Dreeben, “the boss” at the Peconic Paddler, located on Peconic Avenue in the heart of downtown Riverhead, says paddleboards are his best seller. Dreeben, 73, describes himself as one of the oldest merchants in Riverhead. He started to canoe when he was 12 years old before moving on to kayaks and ultimately getting into stand up paddleboarding, a sport he describes as “pretty easy to do” and very good exercise.
Dreeben has been selling and renting canoes, kayaks and paddleboards at his shop since the 1980s. “People understand the value of exercising and being physically fit.”
Paddleboards are less expensive than canoes and kayaks and are easy to transport. A top-of-the-line board costs about $1,600 and a paddle sets you back another $300 depending on what you buy. You can customize boards and spend a lot more if you want to. Some paddleboarders use the board from an old windsurfer, while others head out on wide surf boards or old long boards.
A lot of people take lessons to get skilled in the art of stand up paddleboarding, while others just take to the sport like ducks to water. “I’ve seen people stand up on a board and go” Dreeben said. The preponderance of windsurfers and surfers on the East End makes the sport a logical progression for many water sport enthusiasts, especially when the surf is not up or the wind is not blowing. Still waters are ideal for paddleboarding but hardcore guys like Dreeben go out on choppy waters too.
Dreeben, in conjunction with the Long Island Aquarium, is organizing the first annual Paddle Battle to be held on the Peconic River on July 20 (paddlebattleli.com). The event consists of three categories, a 12-mile elite long course for experienced paddleboarders, a five-mile competitive course and a recreational 2.5-mile course for fun lovers.
“We are looking forward to this,” Dreeben said of the first annual Paddle Battle. Dreeben is organizing the event with the Aquarium. “We are trying to keep it toned down the first year and not go too hardcore. We want to keep it casual and let everyone get involved.”
Those who like to kayak and canoe have rediscovered the river also, according to Dreeben. He reports that he sells one canoe for every 30 kayaks. Kayaks are lightweight and easier to transport than canoes, and Dreeben still rents a lot of canoes to people who want to explore the river at a leisurely pace.
While paddleboarding may seem like a relatively new “surface water sport” it actually dates back to the 1700s when natives paddled out to sailing ships in the harbor as depicted, for example, in an engraving dating back to 1781 created by John Webber, the ship’s artist for Captain James Cook. The well-known picture shows natives of the Sandwich Islands paddling out to Cook’s vessel on what appear to be long boards. The Sandwich Islands are known as the Hawaii Islands, the indisputable capital of surfing.
Paddleboarding as we know it originated with ocean surfers in Hawaii in the 1930s before spreading to the California coast. In the 1950s and ’60s, big wave surfers dominated the sport, which became widespread by the mid-1990s to the point where people of all ages and levels of skill now go stand up paddleboarding.
The use of paddleboards is now preferred to rowboats by lifeguards as an easier and faster way to get out into the water to save a swimmer in distress.
“It’s a great workout and it’s just a lot of fun,” Dreeben concluded.