There are some people out there who love to paddle—and then there is Lisa Schell.
As Managing Editor for Distressed Mullet (which is one of the world's top paddling websites and based out of Raleigh, NC), Schell keeps her finger firmly pressed on the paddle community's pulse. If she isn't out there paddling herself, she's writing about races, profiling paddlers, and reviewing the latest gear on everything from paddles to boards and fins.
She's a paddling instructor for REI, an ACA certified SUP instructor, and has spent years paddling everything from flatwater kayaks to outrigger canoes and paddleboards. Just spend a moment on Distressed Mullet and you'll notice Lisa has articles on everything from how to survive the Chattajack Race to how to not look like a kook. She even wrote a profile on one our Asheville SUP guides, Holly.
All of her paddling knowledge aside, what made us want to reach out to Lisa is the fact she—much like our owner—grew up in Maui but somehow landed here in North Carolina. We always want to sit down and chat when people have connections to the islands, especially when it's a paddler like Lisa— the"Most Stoked Paddler on Earth."
This past May, back on Maui, we got a chance to sit down with Lisa and talk about everything from her Hawaiian upbringing to what exactly it is about paddling that keeps her out on the water.
Tell us about your connection to Maui. That's where we got our start, too.
I was actually born on the island of O'ahu but went to elementary school in northern San Diego County. During high school I'd spend summers on Maui in a house in Ha'iku, on the north shore, and I still go back there every year—next trip is November!
So how'd you end up in North Carolina from Maui and San Diego?
I lived in Northridge in California and then moved out to Maryland for a bit before settling down in Raleigh. I worked for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund where we'd work toward increasing water quality.
Then you're probably familiar with RiverLink, the non-profit up here in Asheville that's been doing awesome work for our rivers for over 30 years?
I know Karen Cragnolin very well—RiverLink is a great organization.
So how'd you initially get into standup paddling out here in North Carolina?
Kayaking was really the gateway to standup paddling as I was sea kayaking for who knows how many years. I first a saw a paddleboard at what was then known as the East Coast Canoe and Kayak Symposium. A Naish rep talked me into trying one and I've been in my kayak about three times since.
What is it about standup paddling that instantly got you hooked?
The connection to the water was just even more intense. You could just see so much more from the vantage point of standing, and when you’re sitting in a kayak you're of course connected to the boat, but there’s something about that foot connection you get from being on a SUP. That, and it's also just much more accessible—it's easier to load a paddleboard than a 16 ft. sea kayak that I have to wrestle to get on the car by myself.
How many boards do you currently have?
I'm going to say about 10.
In addition to standup paddling (and SUP surfing when there are waves), you recently started paddling outrigger canoes. How's it compare with standup?
I've been paddling outrigger for about two years now. I like the history of the outrigger and the tradition behind it (it's originally a Polynesian craft), and there's a different kind of finesse and a different kind of skill than you find with standup paddling. For one thing it takes the balance element out of it, and with an outrigger you really learn how to brace. Becoming comfortable with bracing on the outrigger canoe has made bracing on the paddleboard seem like second nature.
How'd you get into paddling outrigger out here in North Carolina?
I blame it on Carolina Paddleboard Company. It's all their fault. Haha. For North Carolina I have to give them a lot of credit for kickstarting the movement, if you will.
When it comes to standup, have you noticed a surge in popularity over the last couple of years?
Absolutely. When I bought my first board and went out to any of the area lakes around Raleigh I’d be the only person a standup. People would always ask me “is that a surfboard?” Now you can't go any given weekend without seeing people on a standup board, running the gamut from Costco boards to high end custom boards.
What about a dream trip? Pick anywhere in the world—where are you going if you had a choice?
Of course coming out to Maui is always up there, and I'd love to do Fiji or Costa Rica to SUP surf. I also really enjoy the expedition paddling, and as crazy as this may sound I’d like to do a trip on Lake Powell in Arizona.
Lake Powell, I love it. The beaches of Arizona! What about when you're closer to home? What are some favorite spots?
I like Hammocks Beach State Park and Bear Island, which is a barrier island that's largely still wild and has campsites right on the beach. I also like the primitive coastal camping on Masonboro Island.
When you aren't camping on barrier islands you're also pretty active in the racing scene. What is it about paddle racing that keeps you inspired to train?
I mean, where else can you be on the starting line with the top people in the sport and then drink a beer with them afterwards while talking about the race?
Seriously though, I'd say it's really the paddling community that makes the sport so great. It's that island connection, that aloha spirit, and that sense of ohana, or family. There are people who are coming into our community from other sports, and as the sport grows I hope that's something we never lose. There's that special quality to it that you don't find in the other quasi-competitive things that have been out there longer, because at the end of the day we're all just connected by water.