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Dive, bike and paddle to these North Atlanta outdoor adventures


Even in a metropolis like Atlanta, there’s plenty to do for thrill-seeking outdoor types. We at Living Northside did our own exploring and discovered some exhilarating sports — and brave enthusiasts.

This story originally appeared in the April/May edition of Living Northside Magazine

PADDLEBOARDING

Intrepid newcomers accustomed to life near the ocean might worry that with no beaches nearby, their sense of adventure will be stifled.

They should meet David Schubert.

He finds a way to get out on the Chattahoochee River almost every day — and many nights (although he warns others against it).

On the evening of Super Bowl Sunday, he decided to standup paddleboard on the river in Roswell before the football game. There was still some daylight when he put in on Azalea Drive to travel toward Don White Park. Usually, when night falls, the 47-year-old can depend on the moonlight and headlights from road traffic passing in the distance. That night, it was eerily quiet.

“There was no light coming from the moon at all, and all the cars were gone because everyone was at home eating nachos and getting ready for the game,” he says. “That was the only night I felt like, ‘Damn why did I do this.’ I forgot my light, and that night I took a different board. I knew where I was, but the water lately has been generating really high. On a narrow race board, that makes a lot of whirlpool.”

That was the rare occasion that David was relieved to get back. In the last five years, paddleboarding has become his favorite activity.

David and his brother Barrett own Go With the Flow, a paddle-sports shop just off Canton Street, where standup paddleboarding has become in demand among their customers.

“I don’t recommend anybody paddling at night, especially by themselves, but Barrett and I grew up on the river and we know it very well,” David says, adding that he’s hooked on the fitness and mental relaxation aspects of the sport.

Big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton popularized standup paddleboarding, known as SUP. Paddleboards are generally wider and designed to be more stable than surfboards.

The Schuberts have been avid kayakers since they were teenagers, and say it took some convincing from manufacturers to sell them on the idea of paddleboards. They started with an inventory of about eight in 2011. Today, they have nearly 80 boards displayed and in stock, and they’re making room for more.

“Standup paddleboard is inherently easy,” David says. “You have fun the very first day. In surfing, you’re laying on the board and it’s not an easy game. This is different.”

The surprisingly lightweight boards are made for people of all shapes and sizes. An average one is about 12 feet long and 30 inches wide. The wider the board, the more stable it is for the paddler. They come in vibrant hues for various uses. Fishing models accommodate a cooler and tackle racks. Some models are designed for yoga.

Paddling is easy breezy, the brothers say.

“You can paddle as gently as you want all day long or work harder at it and get a workout,” says Barrett, who enjoys fishing from his board on the river.

Entire families are taking up the relatively new pastime. A parent and child can be on one board or the child can be on a smaller-sized one and have the tether on their ankle. For safety, paddlers wear an inflatable belt that looks like a fanny pack and becomes a flotation when activated.

David’s daughter, Sarah Peyton, has been paddleboarding since she was 7. She had little interest at first, but the now 10-year-old is winning races. “In those early days, she’d say ‘Daddy let’s make mud pies,’ or she’d want to stop and get out and look for golf balls,” he says. “But now it’s come full circle. She’s won every race she’s been in. She’s racing kids anywhere from 15 and under.”

Racing is a small part of the Schuberts’ paddleboarding market. They notice most people sight-seeing on the river.

“Fortunately for us, being located in Roswell where we are one-and-a-half miles from the river, [Morgan Falls Dam] is four miles down,” Barrett says. “So you have Bull Sluice Lake that’s a part of the Chattahoochee over there. You can paddle down to the dam and back to your car and it’s totally flat. And the lake is smooth as glass at times.”

Paddleboards can glide anywhere a kayak can go. Different length fins clip into the bottom of the board to navigate the underwater terrain.

Whether you want a peaceful or action-packed experience on a paddleboard, David says: “Once we get someone on a paddle board and they actually [understand and experience] it, they’re hooked.”

Go With the Flow. 4 Elizabeth Way, Roswell 770-992-3200. gowiththeflow.com

insider Tip:

David Schubert considers paddleboarding’s fitness workout akin to cross-country skiing. “You’re doing upper body work,” he says. “You’re doing super core work. And you wouldn’t think so, but it helps you to have strong legs.”

What’s SUP?

The average price of paddleboards and equipment at Go With the Flow is about $1,500. Some higher-priced models are as much as $2,400. They offer board and equipment rentals for $59 per day.

Little known fact: Bic, known for its ballpoint pens, sells paddleboards, kayaks and surfboards under its sports brand.

SCUBA DIVING

It’s natural to do a double take when you see SeaVentures at Holcomb Corners Shopping Center in Alpharetta. You’re walking in a parking lot off of a main thoroughfare on the way to the movie theater or a restaurant, and your eyes fall on the storefront’s aquatic design, a swimming pool glistening through large glass windows, and the words “scuba diving.”

You won’t be transported around the world as soon as you walk through the door, but oh the possibilities.

SeaVentures, owned by Wyatt and Beverly Foster, provides recreational scuba diving certification and hosts trips to places such as Cozumel, Belize and Palau in the South Pacific.

“One of the reasons there are so many divers in Atlanta is because it’s an international gateway and you can go almost anywhere,” Beverly says. “I think that has affected our travel program very well.”

Scuba classes can be in a group or private with flexible times to accommodate each student’s schedule.

Rob Aitkens of Alpharetta and his daughter, Sydney, took a private class with dive instructor Mike Mercer on a recent Saturday night. The lessons and certification were Aitkens’ gift to celebrate Sydney’s 16th birthday. He plans to take her scuba diving in Maldives, South Asia, for her high school graduation present.

“Diving is one of those things where it really doesn’t matter if you’re male or female,” he says. “Anybody can enjoy it. It’s especially great for kids, the exploration. She now has a skill that she can use for the rest of her life to explore the world.”

Cheri Luther of Brookhaven has explored much of the world and considers open water a beautiful part of it. But until recently, claustrophobia stood in the way of her adventures. Last year, she completed a scuba diving academic course, but the final test, which is required in open water, was a hurdle she couldn’t get over. And when she traveled with friends to Belize and then Guadalupe Island, Mexico, to dive near great white sharks, Luther had to be content with snorkeling on her own instead.

“This is a big challenge to myself,” she says. “Getting certified in fresh water means taking off the mask. You do all of the things that could possibly go wrong and try to troubleshoot. You need to know how to maneuver. All the pool work [at SeaVentures] you have to do in open water. The worst part for me was taking the mask off and putting it back on.”

Luther and a SeaVentures instructor spent a day going though the maneuvers until she could do them with ease. In January, she received her open water certification on a SeaVentures trip to Florida scuba diving resorts.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t even put into words how great the feeling was,” she says. “I did all of the tasks for open water on the first try. The pool work helped make me to desensitize.”

The pool’s 90 degree temperature helps students to stay focused and comfortable, Wyatt says. “Having an on-site pool allows them to come back and play and practice as much as they want,” he adds. “And there’s no extra charge for that.”

The Fosters start operating SeaVentures in 1990, and used the pool at Pace Academy for lessons before opening the Holcomb Bridge Road location in 1995. Wyatt had previously operated a family business, Sandy Springs Divers, with his parents for several years until he decided to travel the globe and charter boats to take divers on scuba trips.

It was on a charter trip to the Bahamas that he met Beverly. Someone told her about the trip at the last minute when another diver canceled. “We met in 1986 on a 65-foot sailboat and one thing led to another,” Wyatt says. “We got married and started SeaVentures. We were both scuba instructors by then.”

SeaVentures recently hosted a trip to West Palm Beach on its customized coach bus. “It’s quite a unique vehicle,” Wyatt says. “We took out the original seats and put in a booth. We have bunks and a kitchen. We drive down the road usually on a Thursday. Arrive Friday, check into the hotel, dive for three days and jump in the bus and come back to Atlanta.”

SeaVentures. 2880 Holcomb Bridge Road, Alpharetta. 770-992-3772. seaventures.com

Dive in

Divers credentialed as Professional Association of Diving Instructors teach lessons for recreational scuba diving certification. Costs for lessons, equipment and certification are about $1,300-$1400. That amount covers an all-inclusive trip to the Florida Keys for the open water certification. Some people have a trip planned to a place where they intend to receive the ocean certification and therefore pay about $600 for the academic and pool lessons at SeaVentures. That amount includes 10 pieces of scuba gear.

SeaVentures’ scuba diving getaways for certified divers range from $500 to $5,000.

RUNNING

In 2007, timing was everything for Mariska Van Rhooden when her friend Caryn asked for help training for a full marathon. Then 28-year-old Van Rooden was a generally active person but not a long-distance runner. Still, she agreed to assist her friend.

“[She] approached me at the right time of my life,” says Van Rooden, now 37. “I was searching for a way to get into shape and start living a healthier lifestyle. At the time, I was probably smoking a pack of cigarettes per day. It was time to change that.”

They joined a running club, which helped support their long-distance runs, and within six months both were at the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon.

“It was the most challenging thing I have ever done till that point, both physically and mentally,” Van Rooden recalls.

Today, the Dutch native coaches runners and frequently takes her trainees to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

“It’s a good way for me to be around people who like adding that into their lives,” she says. “It has given me a whole set of friendships that I never thought would come through that venue.”

Van Rooden has run 10 marathons and is preparing for the Berlin Marathon in September. She also incorporates swimming and biking by competing in triathlons. The Midtown resident co-founded Metro Atlanta Running Club (MARC), a nonprofit that encourages runners of all abilities.

“In that club you will find a large portion that does triathlons as well, but it’s mainly people who do long distance,” she says. “They get into 50 milers.”

Van Rooden’s friend Trena Chellino is one of MARC’s long-distance runners. “Mariska is a very good runner, but I actually do crazier stuff than her,” Chellino says. “I went from doing simple runs on the trails to endurance races. I now do 5Ks and I’ve done one 100-mile run. It took me 27 hours. After 50 miles you pick up a pacer — someone to go with you. So you have a crew and all kinds of stuff. I do weights, too. I hike, bike, run and then go to the gym to work out. I’m 51. I started all this kind of late in life.”

Chellino lives in Marietta and often runs at National Recreation Area trails on the Northside, such as Cochran Shoals and Island Ford. “Then up at Roswell Mill, that’s Vickery Creek Park,” she says. “They’re all really good for hiking and for running. The interesting thing was, I joined the Atlanta Outdoor Club in 2012 to hike, but I now run, and I also bike. I got into all that through AOC, not really intending to when I started, but the more I got in shape, the more I started cross-training for things.”

Jim Haggerty has been running for 41 years and still can’t get enough of it. “I had quintuple bypass surgery in 2009 and only missed three months,” he says.

His kids were worried when he returned to running so quickly, but if anything, his determination was even greater. “I decided that was enough of doing anything halfway,” he says. He joined MARC and trains for marathons, participating in about four of them every year. “At age 60, I have become a marathoner — I couldn’t be prouder.”

Haggerty lives in Roswell and enjoys running along Azalea Drive and Willeo and Riverside roads.

His other passion is golf. “I walk 18 holes carrying a golf bag each week, too,” he says.

Just doin’ it

Metro Atlanta Runners Club. runwithmarc.com

Atlanta Outdoors Club. atlantaoutdoorclub.com

BIKING

Misty Latham runs too, but more enjoys the burn of mountain biking and its terrain.

“Mountain biking is quick; it’s a really hard workout, shorter than road biking,” she says. “It’s just harder in general on your whole body. It’s rough, and you’re having to avoid people going in the other direction. Overall I would say it’s a great thrill.”

The East Cobb resident is the new president of Bike Roswell. They put on the Roswell Cycling Festival and the Historic Roswell Criterium, which this year falls on May 15.

Compared to road cycling, mountain biking takes some time to get used to, Latham says.

“I still wouldn’t call myself a real good mountain biker,” she says. “When it’s cold, mountain biking is a good diversion from road biking. The trees are covering you and the wind doesn’t get to you. Usually the road bikers go on mountain in bikes in the wintertime.”

Latham suggests riders visit the Southeastern Cycling website (sadlebred.com) for information on group rides. “If you want to go 3 miles and it’s a Tuesday, you can see where all the group rides are,” she says. “If it’s strenuous or easy, if it’s for everyone – [ you can] see exactly what the ride is.”

Rollin’ with it

Cycling websites

Southeastern Cycling. sadlebred.com

Bike Roswell. bikeroswell.com

Roswell-Alpharetta Mountain Bike Association, which maintains Big Creek Park. rambo-mtb.org

Want more adventure in your life? Try zip lining at Treetop Quest in Brook Run Park in Dunwoody. It’s a self-guided obstacle course for adults and children.


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