FOR THE eight years that she lived on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, the view from Melody Elliot’s workplace remained the same: a vast and sweeping stretch of rippling water. When you punch the clock on a tour boat, that’s what you get—not that she ever, ever complained. Whenever Melody stopped to scan the horizon, she’d see the same lanky 20-something fellow, with a tan body and a face slathered in sunscreen. He’d be out there playing in the waves, balancing on a longboard, his fingers clamped around the neck of an oar.

That was when stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, first became popular in Hawaii. Looking back now, Melody wishes she’d been more curious, that she’d gone up to the guy and asked for his name and what he was doing out there. Within a couple of years, more paddlers started showed up, and Melody decided to give it a go for herself. She’d always been a surfer, so that balancing part came easily. All she had to do was add a paddle to the equation. After a few tries, she was sold.

When she moved to Eureka Springs with her family years later, after they’d built a quaint little house overlooking Beaver Lake, her eyes would wander off to the water. “I kept looking at the lake,” she says, “and I was like, Oh my gosh, I really believe that this is what I’m supposed to do.” She kicked off her business, SUP Outfitters, in 2013, drawing in a steady group of devotees who wanted to learn and practice the sport. They came not only for the restorative effects associated with being surrounded by calm waters, but because SUP can sure make you work up a sweat: It gets your cardiovascular fitness in check, tests your balance and improves your equilibrium. (Melody says she’s even worked with folks who took up the sport after a recommendation from their neurosurgeons.)

“The benefit is that you don’t have to have a wave,” Melody says. “That’s why we can do it on flat water.” And if there’s one thing Arkansas’ got plenty of, it’s flat water. To encourage you to give SUP a go this summer, we asked Melody to walk us through what you’ll need to get out on the water.


ALL ABOARD

How to suit up before you ship out

1. Sunscreen, Hat, Sunglasses

If you decide to go out on the water on a hot summer day, forgetting to protect yourself from the blistering sun will probably leave you peeling like an onion, especially if you lose track of time while paddling away. Melody suggests covering your bases by applying sunscreen before heading out, shielding your head with a hat, and even packing a pair of polarized sunglasses. If you want to go a step further, invest in a long-sleeved rash guard, which is designed to shield your shoulders and upper body from UV rays. (Maui Jim Waterman sunglasses, $250; available through Mertins Eye & Optical in Fayetteville)

2. Life Jacket

We know. Some life jackets, especially ill-fitting ones, tend to look and feel a little off, and it’s tempting to ditch them altogether. While a flotation vest might not be the most comfortable garment, it’s one that you should never forego—even if you can “swim just fine.” This is something Melody is gung-ho about, because you just never know when the weather might take a turn for the worse. “I see people out there and they don’t have life jackets, and they don’t realize it’s a $500 fine, and I get upset about it,” she says. “It’s very important that you really know what gear to take with you either to the lake or the river.” (Astral pullover YTV PFD, $120; rei.com)

3. Leash

Leashes that tether you to your board come in different lengths and shapes (for example, straight leashes are designed for flat-water paddling, while coiled leashes are used to minimize drag where there’s a current. One end of the leash attaches to the leash plug on the board while the other wraps around your ankle with a hook-and-loop fastener. (That is, if you’re paddling on a lake. For river-paddling purposes, the leash attaches to your life jacket with a special ring). It might be a small piece of the puzzle,

but a leash will come in handy so your craft doesn’t get blown away if you take a dip—willingly or not—during a particularly windy day. (FCS SUP leash, $36; surffcs.com)

4. Paddle

When it comes to paddles, length is of utmost importance. Too short, and you’ll find yourself hunching forward; too long, and you’ll be bending over backward (literally) to make it work. To stay on the safe side, Melody recommends opting for an adjustable paddle. Since the right paddle length is very much a personal thing—it has as much to do with the length of your arms as it does with your height—an adjustable system allows you to find that sweet spot. “And what if you lend out your board?” Melody says. “The person that’s 5-foot is stuck with a 6-foot paddle. It’s important to me to try to go with an adjustable paddle, and that’s all I use.” (Kialoa Insanity adjustable paddle, $199; kialoa.com)

5. Paddleboard

Hold off on whipping out your credit card and buying the first paddleboard you spot at your local outdoor outfitters. Even though the sport is still relatively young, there’s an overwhelming number of boards to choose from, each serving a different purpose. For example, all-around SUPs are ideal for rookies, while yoga SUPS—which boast a deck pad and a wide template—offer stability and comfort while om-ing. Fishing-specific boards come complete with a rod rack and a spot to strap your cooler, and if you want to take the sport to the next level, there are even racing SUPs designed for speed. That’s not even getting into the issue of solid versus inflatable boards. All of which is to say, tapping a professional’s expertise goes a long way. (Bote HD all-purpose board, $1499; available  through the Bote retail store in Hot Springs)


WATER’S FINE

Seven places to get your feet wet—no need to BYOB

Beaver Lake: SUP Outfitters

New to paddleboarding? Learn from one of Melody’s certified SUP instructors on Northwest Arkansas’ beautiful Beaver Lake. Once you find your sea legs, marvel at the area’s wildlife and breathtaking limestone bluffs with one of SUP Outfitters’ Eco Tours. Or rent a board by the hour and go exploring for yourself. (sup-outfitters.com; (479) 244-7380)

Lake Wedington: Love To Float Outfitters

The 102 acres of calm water surrounded by lush hardwood forest at Lake Wedington make for some spectacular stand-up paddleboarding, if you ask us. Between the lake, hiking trails, volleyball court and horseshoe pits, you probably won’t even want to leave. So don’t! Stay overnight at one of the recreation area’s six historic cabins originally built by the WPA in 1938. (lovetofloatoutfitters.com; (479) 799-5683)

DeGray Lake Resort State Park Marina

From your standing position on your SUP, you’ll experience a vantage point not afforded to low-sitting crafts like canoes and kayaks—one that allows you to look straight down into the watery depths below. And if you find yourself floating on the crystal clear waters of DeGray Lake, you’ll realize exactly what you’ve been missing all this time. (degray.com/things-to-do/marina-boat-rentals.aspx; (501) 865-5840)

Greers Ferry: Fairfield Bay Marina

At Greers Ferry, you can rent a regular ol’ paddleboard—or you can kick things up a notch by taking a stand-up pedal board for a spin. Swap your paddle for a pair of handlebars and get to stairsteppin’ on the board’s pedals to engage the fins below. (visitfairfieldbay.com/marina; (501) 884-6030)

Lake Ouachita: Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa

You certainly won’t be able to see all 40,000 acres of Lake Ouachita on a SUP, but you’d be hard-pressed to accomplish that feat in a speedboat, too. Slow down and soak up the beauty of the lake’s serene coves, the 200-plus islands on the horizon and the majestic Ouachita National Forest all around you. (mountainharborresort.com; (870) 867-2191)

Norfork Lake: Take It Easy Resort

While paddleboards and wine are certainly best enjoyed separately, a glass of vino just tastes better after you’ve spent a relaxing day paddling under the sun. That’s why, in addition to offering paddleboard rentals for all ages and skill levels, every Thursday this lakeside cabin resort invites guests and locals to an evening float and dock-side social with potluck appetizers and BYOB drinks. Now that’s our kind of party. (takeiteasyresort.com; (570) 467-5284)

Lake Norrell: SUP 501

With paddleboarding’s soothing ambience—placid waters, cool breezes, waves lapping against the side of your board—combining it with the meditative practices of yoga is a no-brainer. Sign up for one of SUP 501’s private classes, including paddleboard rental, or gather some family and friends for a small group class and find your inner balance together. Namaste. (sup501.com; (501) 249-2746)