North Shore Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
Connecting People to the Waterways since 2012
If you’re looking for a fresh perspective on Lake Superior, stand up paddleboarding provides an unbeatable experience. North Shore SUP – a full-service outfitter offering instruction, guided tours, and equipment rental – wants to help you get started. Their fitting slogan is, “Connecting people to the waterways, one paddle at a time.”
The Superior-based business is owned and operated by Heather Holmes and Garrett Russell, two Twin Ports “transplants” who have fallen in love with Lake Superior and the entire Twin Ports region. The couple’s 12-year-old son, Brecken, also loves the sport and regularly helps out with the family business.
Stand up paddleboarding is appropriate for all ages, ranging from small children to senior citizens. Your dog can even join in the fun!
Despite their familiarity with our area, neither Holmes nor Russell is originally from the region. Russell was born and raised in Colorado. He worked as a ski instructor and river guide during high school and college and earned an undergraduate degree in outdoor education. In 2018, he earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and later, yet another degree (an adjunct to his master’s) - in administration - in 2021.
Holmes’ family of origin moved frequently, ultimately ending up in the Twin Cities area. As a teenager and young woman, Holmes became interested in yoga and alternative medicine. She is certified to teach yoga and also has a degree in nursing.
Interestingly, the couple met in Alaska. “I moved to Anchorage, and Heather was running the hostel where I was staying,” Russell said. After learning that they were expecting their son, the couple moved to Minnesota to be closer to Holmes’ family.
When deciding to start their own business, stand up paddleboarding became a clear choice for this outdoorsy couple. “The versatility of the board was a huge draw,” Holmes said. “It’s just a really fun sport that you can do on all different waterways.”
“Paddleboarding is an incredibly fun and unique sport,” Russell added. “I had just graduated from UMD and we were somewhat familiar with the waterways up here. We realized we had the opportunity to move here, and, ultimately, we created the first paddleboard-specific business on Lake Superior.”
Upon relocating to the Twin Ports, the couple recognized that something was missing. “When we moved to the area, we noticed a huge lack of opportunity for the public to get out on the water,” Holmes said. “We really saw a big void.”
Holmes and Russell created North Shore SUP in 2012. Their initial home base was the bay side of Park Point, with … humble … accommodations. “During our first year in business, we hauled all our gear in a minivan,” Russell shared with a laugh. “We were literally the van down by the river.”
North Shore SUP later moved operations to Superior’s Barker’s Island in 2017. “Barker’s Island is more sheltered from the wind, with lots of protected inlets,” Russell explained. “And it’s right across from the highway, making it very accessible for our customers.”
The couple has added new equipment and inventory as the business grew. They transported their boards and paddles in an enclosed trailer for many years. They are pleased to announce that they recently added a permanent shop to their enterprise, featuring a front desk, changing area, and gear/merchandise sales.
North Shore SUP offers a variety of adventures for its customers. A popular choice is to complete a full circumnavigation around Barker’s Island. Finishers have the privilege of signing their name on the inside of the front office door.
Other options include full moon and evening paddles, along with the Wisconsin Point lighthouse tour. North Shore SUP also offers “paddle parties” for birthdays and other special events. There are ice cream social paddles, and summer camps for kids.
Holmes also teaches paddleboard yoga, and has brought on another yoga instructor, Katie Swanson, owner of Swan Song Yoga, to assist. Here, the group paddles fifteen minutes to a special location on the eastern side of Barker’s Island, featuring a full sand bottom. The boards are then anchored, and participants practice yoga on these floating platforms.
But, for those adventurous clients who are up for a challenge, North Shore SUP is always willing to offer custom paddle trips. For instance, paddle adventures on the Brule River and Wisconsin’s South Shore are a few options that have been added over their ten years in business.
Paddleboards are quite different from surfboards. For example, they are ten to fifteen times more buoyant than a surfboard and longer and wider, making them specially designed for standing. Softer boards are also available, which are helpful for people with joint pain or injuries.
North Shore SUP offers a variety of equipment customers can use during a tutorial or rent for an independent excursion – from boards and paddles to floating toys, wet suits, booties, and dry bags. There are general recreational boards, as well as racing, touring, whitewater, and surf-specific boards. Children’s boards are among the shortest, at eight feet long. The longest board, intended for touring, is sixteen feet. Board width is typically between 28 and 38 inches.
Paddleboards are constructed of a few different materials. There are inflatable boards made of military-grade rubber; these are a great option for paddling the Brule River. Other boards are made of fiberglass epoxy, bio resins, and closed-cell recycled foam. Most of the boards weigh between 25 – 30 pounds.
Many of North Shore SUP’s boards were purchased from the Glide company out of Salt Lake City, Utah. “We seek out companies that stand by the values we believe in,” Russell said. “Glide’s components are made in the U.S, and everything is recycled.”
When it comes to paddles, the sizes and materials also vary. Each customer is fitted with a paddle appropriate for their size and type of adventure. Wooden paddles are good for efficiency and durability, while carbon paddles are good for touring. Fiberglass paddles are helpful for river paddling. Many of North Shore SUP’s paddles are sourced from Northwest River Supply, based in Moscow, Idaho.
Before a customer ever steps foot on a board, plenty of safety precautions and instructions are exercised. Safety is a top priority for Russell and Holmes.
Russell, who is certified to teach through the American Canoe Association, walks participants through the basics of the equipment, along with entering/exiting the board from the safety of the Barker’s Island dock. Both Holmes and Russell have first aid and CPR training, and Russell is also OEC-certified (outdoor emergency care), through his ski patrol.
Each paddleboarder is fitted with a PFD (personal flotation device) and a leash connecting their board to their ankle. And, dogs are fitted with a CFD – canine flotation device.
In addition to learning techniques, boarders learn navigation, including how shipping lanes operate. Intro lessons also teach participants how to climb back on the board if they fall off. And while adults can choose to paddle without a guide, children are never left alone.
Season + Off-Season
North Shore SUP’s season is very short – they are open from June 1st – the end of August. The off-season marks a return to Ogden, Utah for Holmes and Russell. In the non-paddleboard season, Holmes works part-time as a substitute teacher and barista. Russell works as a ski coach, behavior coach, and adventure coordinator for children.
Despite splitting their time between locations, Holmes and Russell absolutely love the Northland. “Not being originally from here, it’s just so unique,” Russell said. “Until you’ve seen what Lake Superior actually looks like, it’s just a picture on a map. It’s truly like an ocean. The community is great here, too. People embrace being outside year-round, and it’s a good place for a healthy, active lifestyle.”
“Duluth and Superior have a very nice, small-town feel,” said Holmes. “There are community activities happening year-round, and we have a very high quality of life here.”
For more information, please visit duluthsup.com. Potential paddlers are also encouraged to call or text North Shore SUP at (218) 343-1308.