Competitive standup paddleboarding is quickly becoming one of most popular sports on both inland and coastal waters of the United States. The Destin area has become an epicenter of the sport, and may soon have a native professional.
Garrett Fletcher first took interest in standup paddleboarding, or SUP, about two and half years ago when he saw some paddlers off the coast of Destin. He visited GUSU Paddlesports to buy a board and learn more about the sport. A natural athlete, Fletcher quickly got a solid grasp on the paddle and GUSU hired him to teach SUP lessons.
This summer, Fletcher took his board around the country. He competed in 19 different SUP tournaments and finished in the top 10 in every race, including 1st place finishes in 10 different tournaments. Though he started slower than he wanted in May, Fletcher's times got better throughout the summer, culminating Aug. 4 with a 1st overall finish at the Little River Toona Challenge at Lake Allatoona, Ga.
"It's kind of bittersweet that my best race was my last of the season," Fletcher told The Log.
Fletcher also plays football at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala, where he will likely be the starting running back in his final season this fall. Fletcher said he is on schedule to graduate with a degree in athletic training after the fall 2014 semester. After that, he plans to turn his attention to becoming a professional paddleboarder.
"If I get a sponsor to pay me to go to tournaments, I'll focus on that," Fletcher said. "Until I really discovered SUP, I planned to go to physical therapy school. I'll be honest, I don't really like school. I like being out on the water."
Most of Fletcher's races this summer were either four or six miles in length. He pushed himself to another level in July, though, when he was part of the relay team that won the 100 Mile Paddle on the Hudson River in New York. The two-day race started 75 miles north of Manhattan on the Hudson River and ended after a paddle around Manhattan.
His goal next year is to earn a podium finish at the Battle of the Paddle in Dana Point, Calif., the most prestigious SUP race in the country. His ultimate goal is to one day win the race.
SUP not only provides the competiveness of team sports that Fletcher loves so much, but it also provides comradery with other racers, Fletcher said.
"It's a tight-knit community of racers and fans," Fletcher said.
Though many of the major SUP tournaments are held in California, Fletcher said he wants to stay in Destin after college. He would be willing to move to California during the race season, though, if his sponsors wanted him to. That transition would be easy for Fletcher. His brother, Dawson, lives in California about half of the year, where he works as an actor. Dawson has guest starred in episode of CBS's "Big Bang Theory" and the Disney Channel's "Good Luck Charlie." He also acted alongside Harrison Ford in the upcoming feature film "Ender's Game."