Chattanooga Paddlesports owner hopes to make paddling a more accessible sport for all

Photo contributed by Chris Murphy / Aidan and Giulietta, Chris Murphys kids, paddle on the Tennessee River.

Chris Murphy, owner of mobile paddleboard rental business Chattanooga Paddleboards, is working to start a nonprofit organization to support and develop paddle sports in the Greater Chattanooga area.

He plans to launch the organization, which he's calling the Chattanooga Area Paddle Sports Association, in January 2024.

Created for high school students through adults, the organization will host free races and help others hosting races to cover costs such as insurance and infrastructure, and it will provide training for paddlers — particularly young paddlers — interested in competing.

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Few young people are participating in local races, and getting more young people out on the water is essential to growing the paddling scene in Chattanooga, he says.

"A group of us sat down and said that the biggest gap that needs to be filled is basically younger paddlers — getting them into the sport," says Murphy, whose goal is to eventually have a fleet of boards that anyone can use at little or no cost, in order to get them interested in and excited about the sport.

Many paddling races have a category for teams, and he'd like to see more young paddlers participating locally.

Murphy's first step in starting the nonprofit will be to hold free races on Thursday nights for anyone — of all ages — who wants to participate, which he'll follow up with one or two larger events.

"We can potentially have schools facing off against each other, which would be kind of fun," Murphy says.

Initially, the organization will be targeted toward paddlers who own their own equipment, but since equipment costs can be prohibitive for some people interested in paddle sports, Murphy will continue to work toward his goal of making euqipment more accesible for those who cannot afford it.

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The cost of stand-up paddleboards ranges from about $150 for recreational boards to more than $7,000 for top-notch racing equipment, he says. Paddles and safety equipment such as life jackets add to the expense.

Aside from people involved in common paddle sports, such as stand-up paddleboarding and canoeing, the association will also welcome people interested in other paddling disciplines, such as surf skiing (originally designed for ocean rescues, surf skis are similar to kayaks but longer, narrower and more lightweight, and the paddler sits on top rather than inside), outrigger canoeing (multiple paddlers sit in a line facing forward, in the direction of travel) and prone paddling (lying down on a board and paddling with hands, almost like swimming).

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Murphy currently is in the process of attempting to set a world record by paddling every day for 1,000 days, a feat he plans to complete just before he starts the nonprofit organization.

"If I can train every day here, there's no reason we couldn't have world-class athletes out of Chattanooga in any kind of paddle sports discipline and represent ourselves around the world, whether it be the Olympics or any kind of world-championship event," Murphy says. "That's what I'd kind of like to see. I'd like to see it grown to the point where this could be a hub of whatever paddle sport discipline you can think of."

  photo  Photo contributed by Chris Murphy / Chris Murphy, shown with dog Fin Barley, wants to get more young people into paddling through his nonprofit organization.