Stand-up Paddling on Lake Minnetonka

Meet surfing’s Minnesota-approved cousin: stand-up paddling.
Wai Nani Surf and Paddle co-owner Holly Evans readies for a day of stand-up paddling on Lake Minnetonka. The company plans to open an equipment rental shack at Wayzata Beach this summer.

Minnetonka locals Holly Evans, Stachia Fey and Christine Thompson have always been self-described “water enthusiasts,” but it wasn’t until 2010—when the trio was first introduced to stand-up paddle-boarding—that they discovered a true passion, and made it their goal to share it with the entire lake-area community. 

Stand-up paddling or SUP, as it’s commonly known, is a reinvented version of surfing where paddling can serve to supplement or entirely replace wave-created motion. Though it initially gained popularity on the west coast, SUP is quickly working its way into the Midwestern mainstream, with new outfitters and rental offices cropping up yearly.

What we seemingly lacked, however, was a social infrastructure, something that Evans, Fey and Thompson were quick to address through the creation of Wai Nani Surf and Paddle.

Roughly translated from its native Hawaiian as “beautiful water,” Wai Nani was introduced as a way for local paddling enthusiasts to come together as a “tribe” and generally spread their appreciation for the burgeoning sport.

Much like the sport itself, the Wai Nani “tribe” is open to anyone and everyone and, for a $25 suggested donation, offers a wealth of insider information—which ranges from technical forums and invitations to social events and information on their much-talked-about “eco-excursions.”

Never heard of them?  “The name pretty much says it all,” says Evans, as she recalls clusters of tribe members weaving gracefully through miles of lily-pad laden inlets, bays rife with cattails and marsh grasses, and picturesque open waters. Excursions are typically held on Sunday mornings, though the occasional evening “Full Moon” paddle is a favorite of many, and can offer a new perspective on our favorite lake.

Excursions are free for tribe members, open to the public and all are encouraged to attend—regardless of your age, gender or experience. There is a minimum rental fee of $50 for a board and paddle. “The great thing about SUP is that it’s so accommodating and non-competitive,” avers Evans. “Whatever your physical abilities, health limitations or age, you can do it and you can make it into whatever you want. It’s just a great way for like-minded people to get together and maintain a healthy lifestyle in a social way,” she enthuses. 

Case in point? Dave DeFontaine, a 65-year-old retiree with a long history of back and shoulder issues, who got into the sport nearly seven years ago and is now one of its biggest local proponents. “I was instantly hooked,” remembers DeFontaine, who currently hits the lake 5–6 times per week and uses the sport as an enjoyable way to stay physically and mentally active. “SUP is low impact and there’s not much of a learning curve—it gets you out there and keeps you moving.” And that’s important because, as DeFontaine quips, “sitting is the new smoking.”

For those really looking to get out and get active, Wai Nani organizes more fitness-focused outings, and plans to introduce paddle-board yoga classes this coming summer.

Currently, Wai Nani offers a limited selection of basic, entry-level boards for rent or sale, but for more specialized gear, local residents can look to iDOL Surfboards, a local company that designs and constructs an impressive array of handmade boards, ranging from basic recreational to sleek racing and specialized fitness boards.

All iDOL products are custom-designed and handmade in the Twin Cities area by one of the company’s three partners: Alex Brost (the owner), Eric Oppen and Stefan Rochetti—a trio of creative, self-taught entrepreneurs with a passion for life on the water and a knack for building boards.

Each board initially starts out as an industry-standard block of foam, which is planed and shaped by hand until the desired length, width and style of the board emerges. The process continues with the addition of six layers of high-quality epoxy lamination (which lend lightweight strength, rigidity and durability to the structure) and a vented leash plug (which helps equalize pressure and temperature changes between the board and its environment). Finishing touches include a traction-grabbing deck, a set of replaceable fins and a completely personalized design scheme.

The entire process takes about 10 hours of manual labor, though the added overnight dry times of each layer of epoxy makes the creation of each board into a 10-day affair—one that’s actually quite enjoyable, says Brost. “We prefer custom jobs, and we’ll go over every design aspect with the customer,” he details. “Together, we can come up with something that can make up for your weaknesses and complement your strengths.” 

And really, it’s this forgiving, compensatory nature that has made SUP an increasingly popular sport among outdoor and water enthusiasts of all ages and abilities, and what motivates Wai Nani and iDOL Surfboards to continue in their efforts to “share the stoke” with the entire lake-area community.