As the son of a DNR water- and boat-safety pro, Alex Linell has always loved cheating the wet life outdoors.
He bought his first kayak at age 12 and taught himself to windsurf when he found “a bunch of forgotten equipment” lying around.
Later, Linell discovered stand-up paddleboarding — shortened among aficionados to simply “SUP” — by improvising with an old windsurfing board and a boat oar.
The rest, quite literally, is history.
At the tender age of 25, Linell has experimented with stand-up paddleboards, raced them competitively and designed them for two of the Midwest’s top suppliers — Ray’s Sports in White Bear Lake and Minnetonka’s Idol Surfboards.
He capped it all off five years ago, when he broke two world records while becoming the first person to paddle the entire length of the Mississippi River on a SUP — 2,323 miles from Duluth to the Gulf of Mexico.
So, yeah, you can trust Linell if you want to know pretty much anything about stand-up paddleboards — and everything else he sells and/or rents at his new Black Oar SUP, surf, kayak, cycle and skate shop in downtown Hudson.
The shop officially opened April 1 at the corner of Hudson’s Buckeye and First streets — within yards of the St. Croix River between the public boat launch and St. Croix Marina.
“I always wanted to get into a storefront here, but it’s rare that you come across a waterfront storefront,” Linell beams last week while his business partners — dad Stan and girlfriend Brittany Weinand — work on the shop’s new black-and-white sign outside.
Linell adds: “You couldn’t get more ideal.”
The Hudson shop follows Linell’s flagship outlet in Minnetonka, which he started in 2014 after two years selling and renting boards from a truck and trailer that he shuttled between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Like the Minnetonka outlet, the Hudson version will be a boutique shop during the winter and spring to start out: It’s open only on Fridays and weekends right now, boasting the area’s largest selection of the finest local hand-made SUPs, some of which Linell designed himself.
The rest of the Black Oar product line-up: wake-surfing boards, kayaks, fat-wheeled bikes and long skateboards, all of which are perfect for both beginners and seasoned pros.
The shop carries all the accessories anyone would ever need too.
Easy and versatile
As a former designer, Linell loves explaining how a SUP’s precisely crafted low nose and concave water-side contours maximize stability against the wind and waves. These are not just boards; they’re engineering masterpieces.
The best part, of course, is simply the SUP experience, which Linell says everybody from kids to seniors can easily enjoy, no matter what their skill levels are.
“They’re just so accessible. They’re lightweight, so they’re easy to transport, and they’re extremely versatile — you can get a full workout, or it can be completely leisurely,” he explains .
“Once you do it, the light bulb goes off — everybody comes back saying they had an absolute blast. It’s also very, very easy to pick up. There hasn’t been anybody that I haven’t been able to get up on one very quickly. I’ve gotten my grandmother up on a longboard. My uncle too.”
Linell continues, now referring the his 2011 Mississippi River trip, the details of which we’ll get to momentarily:
“On my river trip, a lot of people asked me, ‘Why do you want to stand up that long?’ I told them that I’d rather stand up than be sitting all day paddling. It’s just a more natural position for humans.”
Asked what the secret is, Linell responds with three basics for novices “so everybody stays dry”: 1 — keep your eyes on the horizon, 2 — keep your shoulders and lower body square; and 3 — keep your paddle in the water.
“That gives you tons of balance,” he says.
Free demonstrations are standard. The Black Oar also rents out SUPs, kayaks and fat bikes.
For more information, stop in at 106 Buckeye St., go to the Black Oar website — www.theblackoar.com — email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (952) 807-2476.
The shop also has a page on Facebook. Linell’s personal website — www.alexlinnell.com.
Like its Minnetonka counterpart, the Hudson shop’s spring hours are from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Fridays, and Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Operating hours will expand during the summer.
Putting down roots
Meanwhile, Hudson is fast becoming the Mendota Heights native’s adopted home.
“I came out here a lot when I was younger. A friend of mine had a boat at the marina, so that’s when I kind of fell in love with it. I used to come here mobily all the time,” Linell recalls.
“I like the fact that Hudson is such a tourism destination, and there’s a lot more foot traffic here than there is in Minnetonka. A lot of people from Minnesota are moving here, and I can see why — I’m considering moving here myself. It’s very quaint here, and Hudson has such cool neighborhoods. Obviously, having the beautiful St. Croix River right here for us is perfect for me as well.
“It’s cool, too, how involved the (Chamber of Commerce and) Tourism Bureau is in promoting things. We’re members, and we’ll be part of this year’s Spring Showcase. There are also things like the ‘Discover Wisconsin’ TV show that are drawing a ton of people here from across the country.”
Linell got a fair amount of media coverage himself during his Mississippi River trip, which was inspired when noticed a few SUP distance records as his passion for the sport grew.
He also organized the trip as a fundraiser for the American Red Cross.
As his website notes: “Since Alex Linnell was a five-year-old boy swimming in Lake Itasca and hopping across the stones at the headwaters of the Mississippi, he has been all about outdoor adventures, trying things most others do not, and pushing limits.”
He originally intended to conquer the Big Muddy in the fall of 2011, but then he got word that two other experts were also vying to become the first — one from Europe and the other from Florida. He moved his starting date up to June 1.
“We threw everything together in three weeks,” Linell remembers.
Linell’s father Stan, now the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ top water- and boat-safety manager, followed Alex in a kayak for the first two days and joined him again for the month-and-a-half home stretch in a pontoon boat.
Brittany and Linell’s mom Jean also drove down to Louisiana to meet them when Alex finished.
Along the way, Linell cruised the river with oil tankers and barges that produced challenging wakes that kicked in his SUP’s surfing capabilities. But otherwise, the paddling was fairly steady.
“It was kind of a learning process the whole way, and you felt it from head to toe,” he recalls. “I only fell off two times during the whole trip, although the second time was kinda scary.”
Then Linell “got the buzz” that one of his competitors was somewhere on the Mississippi behind him.
“That’s when we really kicked into gear,” he says. “The last few days, I was doing 60 miles a day.”
On Aug. 9 — 70 days after he started — Linell finally paddled into the Gulf of Mexico, now the first stand-up paddleboarder in the world to span the Mighty Mississippi, and also the world record-holder for distance.
Five years later, Linell hopes to open both Black Oar shops six days a week year-round, and he’s got lots of dreams for expansion and product-line additions.
He’s got 1,000 square feet of outdoor space at his Hudson site, for example, that he’d love to fill with more kayaks. He’d also like to get into canoe rentals someday.
But all of that will come in its own time, Linell says. For now, he’s completely satisfied just living his dream job.
“Stand-up boarding is an experience that’s unlike any experience you’ve ever had,” he notes of his shop’s signature product.
“We just want to get as many people as possible to see what it’s all about.”