Get Out on the Water at Burlington Surf Club

As Temperatures Soar, Vermonters Ride the Waves at the Burlington Surf Club

By Ken Picard
Story originally published in Seven Days on 06|22|2021.

On a steamy weekday morning in June, Lisa Stever and Cathy Clear were walking to the beach to cool off when a reporter stopped them to ask about the Burlington Surf Club, where both Williston women are members.

“No! Don’t tell anyone about our secret spot!” joked Clear.

“It’s not much of a secret anymore, but it’s such a special place,” Stever added. “You’ve got shade, you’ve got the beach, they provide picnic tables … and the sunsets here are just spectacular.”

For years, people who walked and biked past the former Blodgett Oven factory in Burlington’s Lakeside neighborhood looked longingly at its scenic private beach and tree-lined lawn, which were off-limits to all but company employees.

Burlington entrepreneur and lifelong surfer Russ Scully, who moved to the South End in 1997 with his wife, Roxanne, was among those who eyed the secluded spot whenever he rode by on the Burlington bike path.

“Every time my eyes gazed over that fence at the enormous campus and buildings, my adrenaline would hit the roof,” Scully recalled in a blog post. “I’m not sure what excited me more, the repurposing of the buildings, or the thought of launching kites and windsurfers from that huge stretch of beach.”

Then, in 2017, Scully bought the 14-acre waterfront complex and converted its buildings into Hula, a 150,000-square-foot coworking space and tech innovation center. Completed in 2020, it’s now home to about 100 companies.

But the Scullys, who also own the Spot and Spot on the Dock restaurants, as well as the WND&WVS surf shop on Pine Street, wanted the complex to include outdoor recreational opportunities. After all, where’s the fun in working alongside Lake Champlain if you can’t walk right outside your door at day’s end and go play in the water?

Enter the Burlington Surf Club. Now in its fourth summer, the club offers annual memberships as well as day-use passes for nonmembers. Access is readily available from the Burlington bike path or by car from Lakeside Avenue.

Visitors to the club can enjoy free amenities, including a sand volleyball court, picnic tables, lawn games such as Spikeball and cornhole, and barbecue pits; charcoal and lighter fluid are available if you forget to bring your own. There’s even a four-seat surrey bike for pedaling around the property.

But the main attraction of the Burlington Surf Club is Lake Champlain — specifically, getting on the water and enjoying wind- and human-powered activities. To that end, members and nonmembers alike can rent standup paddleboards (aka SUPs), windsurfing gear and Hobie Cat catamarans. Watercrafts are rented by the hour or half day. Club memberships provide a 25 to 30 percent discount on most rentals, and wet suits are available free of charge. There are changing rooms and restrooms on-site, and members can store their own canoes and kayaks in the club’s barns.

The club also takes appointments for lessons in various water sports, including winging and foil surfing. Winging is a relatively new sport that involves riding a board powered by a handheld inflatable wing, without the use of the nylon lines used in kitesurfing. A foil is similar to a kiteboard but mostly rides above the water rather than carving through it.

A central feature of the Burlington Surf Club is its open-air, post-and-beam pavilion, where classes are offered seven days a week in yoga, meditation and other forms of fitness, flexibility and mindfulness. They include Nia, or neuromuscular integrative action, which blends yoga, dance and martial arts. The Nia teachers are Roxanne Scully and Sabrina Gibson, the latter a black belt Nia instructor and owner of Burlington’s South End Studio.

In keeping with the Burlington Surf Club’s goal of promoting active outdoor lifestyles, Gibson and Roxanne Scully also run weeklong sessions of SHE (strong, healthy, empowered) Girls Camp. In July and August, girls ages 9 to 12 bond with one another in a safe and noncompetitive environment and learn sports such as paddleboarding, windsurfing, yoga, sailing and Nia. Kids 9 to 15 also can be enrolled in half-day windsurfing camps, with sessions held throughout the summer.

Stever, who has a family membership with her husband, David, and their two daughters, said she often drops by for a couple of hours during the week to paddle, read a book “or just have some quiet time” before picking up her daughters from school.

When the girls are on summer vacation, the family often goes to the club for sunset dinners.

“They bring their friends, and they paddle,” Stever said. “It’s just a little piece of magic.”

The Burlington Surf Club is open daily from May 1 through September 30, with shorter daytime hours at the end of the season. Learn more at Burlington Surf Club.


Seven Days Staytripper Series

Created by Seven Days, the “Staytripper: The Road Map for Rediscovering Vermont” series presents curated excursions statewide. The series was originally published from 2020-2022 and highlights Vermont restaurants, retailers, attractions, and outdoor adventures to spotlight all corners of the state.