Chris Carragher was a surfer his entire life, until he went on his first stand-up paddleboard ride with his niece in 2013. He saw the Isles of Shoals in the distance and he set a goal to paddle to the islands and back by the end of summer.
“My wife and I [had recently] gotten involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters as mentors, so the paddle evolved into a charity ride called Stand Up For Littles,” Carragher said.
In that first year he raised $6,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Hampshire — and from there the idea for the Seacoast Paddleboard Club developed.
“I started getting emails and phone calls from other paddleboarders in the area who wanted to join me for [the charity paddle] next year,” he said. “It was kind of like a bucket list thing for me and I thought I was done, but I was just getting started.”
In 2015 Carragher started the club as a way to train for the annual Isles of Shoals paddle, now called the IOS Invitational. Since then it has evolved into weekly paddles at Peirce Island and a monthly beach cleanup.
“We have 75 to 100 members now, so it’s really grown,” Carragher said.
With such a large group, Carragher has seen the club develop into a robust community.
“The people in the club are my favorite part of belonging to it,” said Nick Brown, a member of the SPC. “[These are] super nice folks from different backgrounds, careers and experience-levels [who] all share at least one interest: paddleboarding.”
Sarah Patey, a board member for the SPC, became interested in it because of the different places they paddled.
“The first time I used a paddleboard was a tour [with] Cinnamon Rainbow [in Hampton]. The next year I bought a board package and started taking it on my local lake almost weekly,” Patey said. She joined the SPC to travel to other places rather than just in fresh water.
Carragher likes that paddlers of all skill levels can join the SPC, and that you don’t have to be on the ocean to enjoy paddleboarding.
“Personally, I enjoy the ocean because it’s relaxing. You never know what you’re going to see — whales, dolphins, schools of fish,” he said.
Allyson Strain, also a board member for the SPC, recalls her first paddle with the club in 2014 as a sight she’ll never forget.
“We were out on a beautiful day, [with] flat seas and low winds, and we saw two dolphins,” she said.
The SPC is involved with multiple charities in New Hampshire. Besides Big Brothers Big Sisters, the SPC does an annual Halloween costume paddle with the Portsmouth Halloween Parade. In the past the club has done a Paddle with the Pups event to support the NHSPCA. Every month, the club also gets together at Pirates Cove to participate in a beach cleanup.
“We adopted the beach from Blue Ocean Society in 2017. We’ll collect anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds of trash and debris,” Carragher said. “We preach to protect the places you love and protect the places you paddle.”
For new or aspiring paddleboarders, Carragher advises others to remember to have fun.
“It’s a lot easier than you think,” he said.
Strain’s advice is to paddle within your means, while Patey suggests just keeping at it and practicing.
“Most importantly, be safe!” Brown said.
The SPC has made safety one of its biggest priorities, working with the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor paddlers during events. Carragher said they promote a safety culture for paddles, such as wearing a leash and having a Portable Flotation Device.
“When we go out as a group, we come back as a group. Nobody gets left behind,” said Carragher.
As for the future of the SPC, Carragher is looking for different places to host paddles, such as Maine and Massachusetts. Besides the community paddles, he would like to work with more charities.
“We are always looking to get involved in things near to our heart. [We’d] love to work with animal rescues or anything to do with conservation and protecting the environment,” he said. “We’re always keeping our eye on the horizon for new opportunities.”
The SPC wants to keep the true spirit of the club in mind, emphasizing the importance of having a community around a common interest and also making sure to have fun.
“Really we’re a social club with a paddling problem,” Carragher said.
The IOS Invitational is considered the flagship event for the club. The 14-mile trip has raised almost $90,000 for BBBSNH in the past and has a $25,000 goal for this year’s paddle, which takes place Saturday, Aug. 3. You can catch the paddlers hitting the water around 5 a.m. at Pirate’s Cove Beach in Rye, and they’ll head out to the Isles of Shoals, returning to the beach several hours later.
Brown’s favorite memories of being with the SPC are from the IOS Invitational — regardless of how tough it is.
“Last year was a fog-shrouded start in darkness. The year before had rough sea-surface conditions,” he said.
Anyone can become a member of the SPC for a minimal annual fee and participate in weekly paddles.
Weekly Paddle – Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
Every Tuesday night from May through September, the SPC community paddles begin at the Peirce Island boat ramp in Portsmouth and typically go four to six miles. Members are encouraged to arrive by 6:15 p.m. to be ready to paddle by 6:30 p.m. The paddle lasts for approximately two hours, and members must have proper safety gear.
Weekly Paddle – Sunday, 9 a.m.
On Sunday mornings from June through September, the SPC hosts paddles starting from Pirates Cove Beach in Rye. These paddles are recommended for intermediate to advanced paddlers and travel for eight to 12 miles. Paddlers should arrive no later than 8:30 a.m. and prepare for a three-hour trip. Members must have proper safety gear.
IOS Invitational – Saturday, Aug. 3
This annual event raises money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Hampshire and is a 14-mile round trip to the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. There will be six teams taking the challenge this year. While registration is closed, you can cheer on the paddlers as they start their trek from Pirates Cove Beach at 5 a.m. The paddle normally lasts five to six hours.
— Danielle Roberts