The first time you spy someone on a standup paddle board it can seem like a mirage.

“It looked wacky the first time I saw it in Costa Rica. I looked down from the hotel and saw someone paddling out like they were walking out to sea,” Dana Derischweiler said.

She had already done ocean and river surfing, so Derischweiler jumped in headfirst seven years ago ordering a board and paddle sight unseen from Hawaii.

“I hauled it out to Boulder Reservoir and just got right up on the board,” she said. Derischweiler owns three local eateries including Lafayette’s Super Mini Walnut Café.

“It’s just fun being on top of the water with that view. I always say that unlike in golf, you get better at this the more you do it.”
(That’s just  a little standup paddle board comedy.) 

IMG_2696More folks each summer are making their way to local lakes wanting to get up on a standup paddle board – fans just call it “SUP” as in “What ‘sup dude?”

Shawn Rodine has been SUP’s biggest proponent in Boulder County since 2012 when he opened Rocky Mountain Paddleboard. He operates at Boulder Reservoir and at Longmont’s Union Reservoir with rentals and lessons for individual and groups are available as well as yoga classes on paddle boards.

Really, that‘s Downward Dog on top of the board..

Rodine’s first SUP encounter seven years ago was on the Columbia River where he was a kayaker and river guide. SUP is one of the few sports you can do on an ocean, river, lake or creek.

He knows why the sport is taking off.

“The fun factor is huge. There are a lot of people here who have a little surfer in them,” he said. The other factor is accessibility. “Anybody can do it. I really enjoy showing people how easy it is,” Rodine said.

To SUP, you propel yourself using a cross between a kayak paddle and a canoe paddle that is slightly taller than you. You change hands as you alternate paddling on the right and left sides.

SUP boards bear a resemblance to surf and snow boards but they are generally bigger, thicker and heavier – it feels more like standing on a small raft. As you paddle faster the board stabilizes and sits up on top of the water.

“It’s absolutely more stable than a surfboard. It’s made to balance,” Derischweiler said.

“I’ve seen kids as young as four get up on the board and paddle away and also people in their seventies,” Rodine said. Plus you don’t have to stand all the time; you can kneel or swim with it.

Not everyone who enjoys SUP is an athlete, he said recalling a mother and son who were very nervous when they came out to the reservoir. “Each weighed almost 400 pounds but they were psyched to try it,” Rodine said. “They fell in a couple of times but got right back up. They had big smiles and overcame.”

Once you gain a need for speed, displacement boards are available which have a more streamline design that slices through the water more easily.

paddle2Before the chuckling starts about doing yoga atop a paddle board Rodine has checked his files. More than 300 enthusiasts signed up for paddle board yoga sessions at Boulder Reservoir last year and he expecting many more this season.

“The fastest growing part of SUP is on-board yoga,” he said. Eight classes a week are already scheduled, often in the early morning or evening when the waters are typically calmer.

For yoga practitioners getting away from the usual sweaty studio is appealing. “You’re on the water with birds above you, fish below and you can feel the breeze,” Rodine said.

Keeping balanced on the board does require some focus or you end up in the water learning a quite different pose: the soaked puppy.

Derischweiler praises the intensity of the workout you can get from paddle boarding.

“It’s really good for the core. People get back from boarding and their legs are sore all over. You don’t realize how many little muscles you use to balance.”

She points out an upside to the exertion: “You know you’ve earned that piece of pie afterwards,” she said.

paddle3One sign of the rising popularity of the sport is this summer’s Paddle the Rockies SUP Classic + Paddle Festival. The five-race series takes place June 14, July 12, Aug. 16 and Sept. 20 at Union Reservoir. Besides seriously competitive board races for men and women on a four mile course, there is a one mile fun race, free demos and a skills clinic.

Water venues across Colorado may have slightly different regulations concerning fees and wearing a personal flotation device. Many boards have tethers that leash you to it so the board doesn’t float away. Leashes are more essential for SUPing a river or ocean where additional protective gear like helmets may also be recommended. If you are renting locally everything you need will be provided.

The first time you SUP it is wise to go with an experienced paddler or take a class so you can learn the tricks of standing up and using the paddle. Other helpful hints from the pros include:

– Start by getting on your knees on the board and maintaining balance. Don’t look at your feet once you stand up but rather the horizon … which is good advice in any case. 

– If you feel yourself falling off, aim for the water. Slamming into these substantial boards can be quite painful.

– Be sure to wear sunglasses, possibly leashed to you, and bring a lot of sunscreen. You’ll end up spending a lot more time on top of the board than in the water. You can always do a cannonball if you need to cool off.

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– By John Lehndorff, Longmont Magazine

– Photos courtesy of rockymountainpaddleboard.com.

John Lehndorff is a Lafayette resident and journalist and the former Features Editor and Food Editor of the Daily Camera. You can read his Nibbles blog at: johnlehndorff.wordpress.com. John hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM):  news.kgnu.org/category/features/radio-nibbles