On sunny weekends, growing numbers of people can be seen out in Shilshole Bay, seeming to walk on water.
Call it surfing, Ballard style.
They balance on long surf boards, propelling themselves around the Sound with oversized paddles.
Stand-up paddleboarding, a sport with origins in Hawaii, has caught on in Seattle the last couple of years, giving people a taste of surf culture without the surf — unless you count wakes from freighters and cruise ships.
Crystal Bhibalkul, 29, emerged from the Sound on Sunday after a 90-minute workout, her first time to try the sport. “It’s really beautiful going back and forth and seeing all the Sound has to offer,” she said.
“It was cool going down in the morning through the fog,” said Justine O’Brien, 30, another novice. “You could see views you’ve never see before.”
The two women wore wetsuits but said they only fell in twice before getting the hang of it. They carried 11-foot surf boards from the beach across the road to Cheka-Looka Surf Shop in Ballard, where they had rented the gear.
It costs $25 for two hours and $60 a day.
Other local surf shops also carry stand-up paddleboards.
Adrienne Jack-Sands, a surfer and stand-up paddleboarder who works at Cheka-Looka, said she’s seen an upsurge in interest in the sport this summer, particularly among women.
“I’ve taken tons of friends out, and it’s pretty easy, unlike surfing where there’s a really long learning curve,” she said.
“A lot of women want to surf but don’t know how to start,” she said. “I’m convinced women are better at stand-up surfing,” she added, since a lower center of gravity is good for balance.
The shop held a competition near Shilshole marina earlier this month. About 35 people took part, including Cindy Hales, of West Seattle, who won the women’s race.
Hales, 35, started paddling only a couple of months ago to get back in shape after an injury.
“It was pretty quick to pick up and learn,” she said. “I was a little nervous. It seems a lot more intimidating than it is. You think I don’t want to fall in that freezing cold water.”
A mixed martial artist who competes and teaches in a gym, Hales said she liked getting outside and seeing nature from a different perspective.
Paddleboarders are also the object of curiosity.
“Boaters will pull up and talk to you,” she said. “They’re like ‘What is that?’ ”
Stand-up paddleboarders should stay close to shore and out of shipping lanes, but they can still experience some waves, Hales said. Near Discovery Park, they wait for cruise ships to pass and surf the 3-foot wakes.
Last October, the U.S. Coast Guard classified paddleboards as vessels, meaning people paddling beyond the coastal surf line must carry a life jacket.
Another stand-up paddleboarding competition is planned around Mercer Island on Sept. 27, and Cheka-Looka is organizing outings for groups of women to paddle together off Shilshole.