Dundalk paddleboard race celebrates camaraderie and clean water

At the sound of a horn and the encouragement to “Go! Go! Go!” dozens of stand-up paddleboarders set off Saturday morning on the calm waters of Dundalk’s Bear Creek.

They furiously pushed their paddles, kicking off the second-ever B’More SUP Cup, a paddleboard race with the dual goals of having some summer fun and raising money to support clean water that the sport depends on.

“We really want it to be an atmosphere where people can get out and have fun,” said Jessie Benson, owner of B’More SUP, the company that sponsored the race.

The race offered two options for its 80-plus participants: a 2.5-mile loop up Back Creek and back to Anchor Bay East Marina, or a two-loop version that covered 5 miles. Though the race was timed, no awards or official winners were announced.

A portion of the race registration fee goes to Blue Water Baltimore, a nonprofit that advocates for water quality in the creeks and rivers in and around Baltimore.

Kyle Aune, who was the first finisher of the 2.5-mile paddle, is keenly aware of the importance of clean water. Aune, 30, is a doctoral student at the Johns Hopkins University, studying environmental epidemiology with a focus on how climate change affects people.

A transplant to Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood from Birmingham, Ala., Aune said some people warned him against paddleboarding.

“You hear: ‘The water is terrible. Don’t fall in the harbor,’” Aune said.

But he feels comfortable paddling in Bear Creek, which he said doesn’t have as many problems with sewage overflows as the Inner Harbor or other waterways closer to the city. He checks the bacteria counts at Bear Creek posted by Blue Water Baltimore.

This summer has been a tough one for people who enjoy spending time on the water — whether for boating, fishing, paddling or swimming.

The season started out cold, followed by repeated storms. Each time it rains, polluted stormwater comes rushing off roadways, sending nutrients and bacteria into the water.

And when the Susquehanna River swelled during storms, floodgates were opened at the Conowingo Dam, sending debris and sediment cascading down the Chesapeake Bay. This summer, trash, trees and other debris littered bay beaches, spurring a round of finger-pointing between Maryland and Pennsylvania officials over who is to blame.

B’More SUP supports Blue Water Baltimore’s work to improve the health of local waters. In addition to offering financial support through the race, B’More SUP sponsors “SUP ‘n Scoop” events in which paddlers pick trash out of waterways.

“We partner with them all season long,” Benson said.

Water and weather conditions on Saturday were perfect for a race, with sunny skies, calm winds and flat water.

Lisa Rodriguez paddled to the finish line shortly after Aune. She has been paddling for seven years, but this was the first time she had her board out in Bear Creek. She was impressed with the “beautiful” course that passed the Sparrows Point Country Club and went under the Wise Avenue drawbridge.

“First time here in Dundalk,” she said. “Who would have thunk it?”

A 51-year-old construction worker who works in remodeling, Rodriguez said she instantly found friends among paddleboarders when she moved from Ocean City to Catonsville.

“It’s a great community. Very supportive of one another,” Rodriguez said.

The closeness of the paddleboarding community led to the B’More SUP Cup to be rescheduled from its original date in early July.

Benson scratched the original date following the June 27 death of 25-year-old Cody Iorns while on a paddling excursion near Annapolis.

Iorns, an Army veteran and double amputee who was a frequent paddler, suffered a medical emergency on the bay near Tolly Point. His inflatable life vest did not inflate, and his companions found him face-down in the water and tried to resuscitate him, according to the Maryland Natural Resources Police. He was pronounced dead at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Iorns’ funeral was held July 8 — the original date for the B’More SUP Cup. Many paddlers wanted to attend, so the race was rescheduled to Saturday.

Stand-up paddleboarding has grown as a sport and a recreational activity over the past several years. Benson’s business includes paddleboard rentals and training for races, but also exercise classes such as yoga, Pilates and barre on paddleboards.

The Outdoor Industry Association has identified stand-up paddleboarding as one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities. In 2017, 3.325 million adults and children in America participated in stand-up paddleboarding. The foundation started tracking paddleboarding in 2010, when 1.05 million people participated.

pwood@baltsun.com

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