Paddle boarders walk on water to encourage adventure, less drug use
HUNTINGTON — It has been happening for a while now, much to the bewilderment of those who happen to be walking near the Harris Riverfront Park on Wednesday afternoons.
Evan Young and his wife Brooke, owners of the AppBoCo Outfitters (Appalachian Boarding Company) store at Pullman Square, have led a group of paddle boarders onto the mighty Ohio River at sunset every Wednesday for weeks now, no matter the weather conditions. They intend to do it throughout the winter months, and there is a special reason for doing so.
With wetsuits properly adorned, these folks paddleboard the Ohio River for a purpose, and that is to encourage Tri-State folks to get interested in a sports-focused adventure lifestyle, and just as important, to encourage folks in the shadows who are addicted to hard drugs and alcohol to seek a new path.
Young follows up his every Wednesday paddleboard adventure on the Ohio River with a free music jam and poetry slam at the Pullman Square address of his AppBoCo Outfitters store.
They call the event “WhatSUP Wednesday — A Stoked and Sober Social.” They key to this happening is to not be judgmental when it comes to those possibly addicted to drugs or alcohol who want to participate. The whole point of the night is to encourage folks to see first-hand what attainable adventure can be experienced, which may in turn enable someone to make a positive decision in their life and not die on the street.
Huntington, as we all know, has had its share of bad publicity on the airwaves due to the opioid epidemic. Young’s idea is to provide a light in the town square to let folks know that another, more positive way of living is possible. Everyone is welcome to participate at the WhatSUP Wednesday events, both sober and otherwise, which creates a space for folks to experience a normal life for a while who may be lost in their own despair.
Considering the positive response to the weekly paddleboard excursions on the Ohio River at Harris Riverfront Park, Young and his ever-growing group of paddle boarders have vowed to continue their ‘walks on water’ every sunset on Wednesdays all through the winter months and into summer.
“It all stems from our original opening remark we put on our website (appboco.com) that says, ‘What’SUP West Virginia?’ which represents our mission with SUP meaning ‘Stand Up Paddleboarding,‘” said Evan Young. “But, we like to take that dialogue further and also say ‘What’s up in West Virginia?’ We know that we have long been the most obese state in the nation and now with the opioid epidemic, everyone knows that we have our social struggles by now. Our stewardship focus is less on river cleanup
and more on community cleanup. We feel like we can connect people to paddle sports and the outdoors as a way to cope with dealing with too much drugs or food.”
Somehow, the idea was hatched to paddleboard the Ohio River every week to give the citizenry an entertaining spectacle to watch. The decision to do it throughout the winter months is to showcase their commitment and solidarity as well as to perhaps reflect a little bit of craziness and fun.
“Every Wednesday, we chase the sunset right at Harris Riverfront Park,” said Young. “I have a few wetsuit warriors that come with me, and we have done this every Wednesday this winter. We want the people of Huntington and the community to have that consistent expectation that they can go to the river on any given Wednesday at sunset and look out and see people walking on water, so to speak, as we try to breath that hope into Huntington that we need. If you have ever seen paddleboarding at a distance; it really does look like someone is walking on water. That is how it was for us when we first saw it in Puerto Rico and then we brought it back here.”
The point of the excursions is to purposely turn heads and encourage the imagination of those on the wrong side of life.
“There could be a junkie doing a drug deal at the far end of the park who then sees something different that he has never seen before, and that may resonate with him,” said Young. “Or, it could be a family playing on the playground or folks walking their dogs or skateboarders. If I have shown 12 people what paddleboarding is for the first time on a Wednesday evening, I have done my job.”
Young, who was born and raised in nearby Putnam County, says that paddleboarding has enabled him to lose 85 pounds over the last few years and to quit drinking 90 percent of the alcohol he used to imbibe.
As for the music jams and socials that happen at the AppBoCo Outfitters shop at Pullman Square after the paddleboarding is over; the goal is to provide a positive and creative environment for folks of all walks of life. It is a chance for people to wander into the light who may have been in the dark for way too long.
“We call it a Stoked and Sober Social,” said Young. “We encourage folks to get stoked on the river watching us paddleboard, as opposed to getting drunk or high before they come and enjoy some tunes, and we are trying to challenge people to carve out a window of clarity in their day where they can just come in and socialize in a sober setting for a little bit. And, it is a no judgment zone. If some folks need to pre-game before the jam, that is fine. We just ask folks not to imbibe or have open containers there for the sake of the kids in attendance, and for people that are in recovery who can’t yet be around it.”
The reaction to these events have already proven to be positive, one soul at a time.
“We have one guy from the projects that is there every Wednesday and is one of our go-to paddle boarders,” said Young. “We also have a veteran that shows up who is now 115 days dry after 17 years of alcoholism. He says that he has never done that with his own willpower, without an intervention of some kind. And, he says that he had never played music in public sober before now. He tells us that without the hope and inspiration of the sense of community that he gets on Wednesday nights, he wouldn’t have made it this far. Even though we are on a rock-bottom budget and we have to make a living along the way; we know we are helping people with this mission.”
The next WhatSUP Wednesday Ohio River paddleboard excursion and Stoked and Sober Social to follow will happen on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at AppBoCo Outfitters at Pullman Square. The paddleboard exhibition on Jan. 23, however, will mark a very special event.
“Jan. 23 will be the day when my wife and I find out the gender of our fourth baby,” said Young. “We are going to make it a gender reveal party. My wife will paddleboard from behind the marina and around the corner to Harris Riverfront Park and when she does; she will either be on a blue paddleboard or a pink one.”