It's almost like walking on water" is how Mississippi Gulf Coast native Amanda Mavar-Schmidt describes standup paddleboarding, a cross between surfing and paddling.
She's enjoyed the waters of the region her whole life and says it's in her blood to be on the water.
After Hurricane Katrina, Mavar-Schmidt moved to the Florida Panhandle where she saw the sport of paddle boarding "explode." The popularity of the sport she now calls her passion wasn't lost on her, so when she returned to Mississippi, she opened Paddles Up Paddleboards and More in Ocean Springs in July 2013.
At first a mobile business, she bought eight paddle boards, rented them out and gave lessons. Then, she began selling her boards, basically "out of my garage."
She opened a location at 1018 Washington Street in Ocean Springs in July 2014. And business is good.
"People get on those boards and fall in love with it," she said. "It's a great way to get out on the water."
She particularly enjoys paddling along Front Beach in Ocean Springs where she frequently sees dolphins. She also likes to put in across from the yacht club in Biloxi and paddle over to Deer Island.
"We take a cooler, lunch, snacks. We have a lot of fun," she said. "You can paddle to the south side of Deer Island and it's beautiful. It's a nice place to get away for the day."
Mavar-Schmidt says she sees a lot of wildlife while on the paddle board, almost like sneak-ing up on them when you're paddling quietly Though, one paddler fell in while watching a four-foot alligator, scaring the gator off.
"She got back on her board very quickly" Mavar-Schmidt said.
Stand up paddling is growing in popularity across the country Paddlers have been participating in stand up paddling, or SUP, since the 1940s in Hawaii. It's similar to surfing, but can be done anywhere there's water.
It's considered to be a great workout for the legs, arms and core, and it's a sport people can enjoy at any age.
In the past decade, the popularity has grown significantly. A report from the Outdoor Industry Foundation showed it was the most popular outdoor activity among first-time participants in 2012. That maybe because it's easy to learn.
"When people are interested in it, they are determined to get on the board and stay up," Mavar-Schmidt said. "Once you get it, it's like riding a bike. You can't unlearn it."
She puts first timers on a board that's 11 to 12 feet long and 32 to 34 inches wide, depending on their size and height. The boards weigh about half what a kayak weighs and, like a kayak, can hold coolers or fishing equipment.
Paddles Up rents boards, dropping them off and picking them up at designated locations. The business also takes on average three guided trips a week, though it is now entering a slower season.
They offer lessons, and for the Christmas season have layaway for purchase of the boards. A good quality board and paddle costs about $1,100, though soft tops can be purchased for about $800.
Like any other industry, "you get what you pay for," Amanda said. "It's worth it, if you really like paddle boarding, to get a good board."
She also sells used boards throughout the season, she said, as well as longboard skate boards and Penny boards, the smaller skate boards similar to those sold in the 1970s, that are gaining popularity.