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Finding Minnesota: Stand Up Paddle Board Races

NISSWA, Minn. (WCCO) -- We will never grow pineapples or enjoy lakeside palm trees in Minnesota. But now we can "hang 10."

Stand up paddle boarding has exploded in popularity over the past few years.

"I mean with all the water here, it's perfect," said Kristin Baldwin, of Minnetonka.

Austin Riewer, 17, of Baxter tried it for the first time last fall and has persuaded friends to do the same.

"I think when people see them they're like 'Oh, that's cool, I want to try that,'" he said.

The paddle boards are more buoyant and heavier than surfboards, which makes them easier to stand on.

"When I go out, we'll do yoga on it, too. My husband and I both have a board," Baldwin said.

She has more actively embraced the outdoors since surviving breast cancer, and she said the sport brings her closer to nature.

"I watched a loon swim under me the other day when I was paddling," she said. "It was amazing to see. It was only the second time I'd seen that. It was cool."

In the Brainerd lakes area, one man is responsible for much of the growth.

Evan Lawrence is a native of Ham Lake who spends his winters enjoying water sports in places like Maui, Fiji and New Zealand. That's where he first spotted the paddle boards.

Now he sells them in a shop with an improbable name, the Minnesota Surf Company.

"I used to be a fishing guide up in this area," he said. "So I know the lakes really well and I started thinking about all the water and all the access and I was like, 'Wow, that's probably a really, really good idea.'"

He's been able to show first-timers that there's little to fear.

"Most people are going to be able to pick it up within a few minutes," he said.

Lawrence is now riding a different kind of wave, the popularity of something he believes has only started to grow.

"And with the lakes like this, we have completely calm water sometimes," he said. "And anybody can get on a board and feel comfortable, whether you're 7 years old or 80 years old."

On July 13, the Minnesota Surf Company is holding paddle board races behind Zorbaz on Gull Lake.

After the last race, spectators are invited to try out paddle boarding for free.

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