On the water, student aims to just keep paddling

Senior Jack Martin makes a name for himself in emerging sport



Stand-up paddleboarding takes senior Jack Martin across the country and beyond to compete. Contributed photo

Gabriella Naparstek, Contributing writer

“It’s quiet,” he said. “Almost peaceful. All you can hear is the paddle splashing the water, there is nothing else on your mind.”

This is how Jack Martin,  a 17-year-old paddleboarding prodigy, describes his favorite pastime.

Jack began surfing at age 7, and being a creative kid, he would take his father’s canoe paddle and use it to propel his surfboard. Before he even knew it, his makeshift creation would soon become a favorite hobby. At age 14, Jack began working at a local shop, Collinsville Canoe and Kayak. It was there he discovered that his childhood invention was actually a real water sport. What started as a hobby soon became a strong passion for Jack. He usually races every weekend during the summer, and attends two to three big paddleboarding events throughout the year.

Jack is pretty well recognized on the East Coast for paddle boarders under 18. He is sponsored by Werner Paddles, and Bic Paddleboards, a big deal among the paddleboarding community. He receives free boards, clothes and accessories from these companies, along with free housing whenever he has to travel for a race.

“Sometimes they’ll even pay for the race registration if I’m lucky,” he added.

“I am so proud of him,” said Deb Martin, a smile erupting cheek-to-cheek. “Being able to watch Jack do what he loves, and do well at it, is an amazing thing for a mother to experience.”

Not only has paddleboarding been something to occupy his time, and keep him in shape, it has also allowed Jack to travel across the world, going to places he most likely never would have visited. He has competed in races in Oregon, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, North Carolina, and California. Paddleboarding has opened up a whole new world for him, one of growth and opportunity.

“Puerto Rico was my favorite place to go. I have never seen a more beautiful place, and I actually met some genuinely good people down there,” said Jack, a graduating senior at Mills.

He has grown close with the people that he met, and has stayed with them on multiple occasions. Paddleboarding has a welcoming community of riders, making it easy for Jack to create bonds and friendships along the way. There was one person in particular that Jack met and had grown very fond of, Mike Simpson, from Compton, R.I. He used to be a professional whitewater kayaker, but switched to stand-up paddling. He has paddled around Puerto Rico and the whole Atlantic Coast. Jack first met him when he was 13, and he became “Uncle Mike” ever since. Mike always tells Jack to “just keep paddling,” his own version of “just keep swimming” from “Finding Nemo.”

“He reminds me what the sport is really about, and it’s not winning. You can’t take it seriously, you have to just have fun, because that’s what life’s about. Paddling and surfing is just another way to benefit your life,” explained Jack.

Although Puerto Rico was one of the best places he’s traveled to, it was also where tragedy struck. It was the day before his big race. He had gone out surfing with some friends, wanting nothing more than a good time. He was riding a wave, without a worry in his mind, when he fell off his surfboard and was pummeled by the raging ocean. He dislocated his shoulder, meaning he wouldn’t be able to do the one thing he had come all that way for, paddling. Jack was devastated.

“I’ve never just watched a big race, I’ve always participated. I could picture myself out there, I could picture myself finishing, so it was a disappointment to not get to race in the one place I love the most,” he said.

Because of his injury, Jack has not gotten to participate in a lot of local races, and one big event in North Carolina. He is still recovering, but come late July, he will be back out on the water, where he belongs.