Outdoors

Standup paddleboarding takes off: ‘It just looks easy’

This video will teach you to paddleboard

Jayne Saunders of Idaho River Sports goes through the basics of stand-up paddleboarding.
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Jayne Saunders of Idaho River Sports goes through the basics of stand-up paddleboarding.

If you’ve gazed at the people gliding along ponds, lakes, rivers and ocean bays on standup paddleboards and wondered if you should try it ...

“Yes, you should,” Anna George of Emmett said.

George started paddleboarding (also known as SUP) about a year ago. She already has competed in flatwater and whitewater paddleboard races. She enjoys the fitness benefits and the freedom to explore Idaho from a vantage point you can’t get from the road or even other watercraft.

“There are so many beautiful, calm stretches (of river) that people do,” George said. “It’s something I’ve definitely become addicted to.”

She certainly isn’t alone.

Standup paddleboarding has become a full-on craze in the Treasure Valley. Quinn’s Pond is cluttered with paddleboarders from about 1 p.m. to dark on weekdays this time of year.

“It has just exploded,” said Jayne Saunders, who teaches SUP classes for Idaho River Sports. “I think it’s because you can take it so many different routes: You can cruise around out here recreationally, people do standup paddleboard yoga on them, there’s a lot of people getting into whitewater on them, a lot of people do overnight trips now where they’re camping from their boards.”

Jo Cassin, the co-owner of Idaho River Sports, said standup paddleboards have replaced kayaks as the store’s No. 1 seller. SUP rentals outpace kayak rentals by about 15 to 1. The store, which is adjacent to Quinn’s Pond and the Boise River Park, has more than 70 rental boards in its fleet and still has a waiting list during busy times.

Cassin for years tried to get friends to go kayaking with her and was turned down because they considered that sport “death-defying.”

Paddleboarding, on the other hand, “is not intimidating at all,” Cassin said. “It just looks easy.”

The basics are.

Paddleboarders mount their boards in shallow water by kneeling in the center, facing forward. They have one long paddle, which they use to move away from shore. After gaining some momentum and getting comfortable, they rise to their feet and paddle. On a calm body of water like Quinn’s Pond, many people get through their first experience without falling.

“A lot of times people are so surprised that they can stand up,” George said. “It’s fun to see that.”

Paddleboarding has its roots in the Hawaii surf culture. It has morphed into an all-purpose water sport — practiced on ponds, lakes, flatwater rivers, whitewater rivers and oceans.

It’s a natural addition for Idaho, where scenic lakes and rivers are abundant.

“Where I first saw it was on Kauai about 2006 and decided, ‘Hey, this looks like something I could bring home to Idaho and do here, too,’ ” said Jimmy Smith, another SUP instructor. “I tried to find a board. The only board I could find was in Hood River (Ore.). They had one, and I bought it.”

Smith has taught a nun, stroke survivors and “some really big people at the beginning of the year who were very small people by the end of the year by getting very attached to the sport,” he said.

“It’s a very good upper-body, core workout,” Smith said. “Anything that fools you into working while you’re having fun is going to do some magic.”

5 places to paddle

  • Quinn’s Pond: The pond adjacent to Idaho River Sports and the Boise River Park has a new beach that makes for an easy launch. “For a newbie, I think it’s a really good place to learn,” instructor Jayne Saunders said. “You’re far more likely to be successful in an environment like this because there’s just not a whole lot of hazards.”
  • Discovery Park: Discovery is part of Lucky Peak State Park, downstream from Sandy Point and the dam. “It’s all slow-moving reservoir, for the most part,” Saunders said, “but it’s actually really pretty.”
  • Montour Road bridge to Black Canyon Park: This stretch of the Payette River goes through the Montour Wildlife Management Area between Horseshoe Bend and Emmett. Put in at the bridge and take out at the boat access on the upper end of Black Canyon Reservoir. The access is 2.7 miles west of the bridge.
  • Cascade to Cabarton Road bridge: The Payette winds gently south from Cascade until it reaches the Cabarton bridge, where many whitewater rafters begin their journeys.
  • Alpine lakes: “Mountain lakes are awesome on a standup paddleboard because most of them, like Redfish, are so clear that you can just look straight down into the water,” Saunders said. “You’ve got a really cool point of view from the board.”

Boating rules apply to paddleboards

Idaho State Parks and Recreation issued a reminder last week that the U.S. Coast Guard classified standup paddleboards as vessels in 2008 (except when used in swimming, surfing or bathing areas). Rules that apply:

  • Paddleboards must have a Coast Guard-approved life jacket and sound-producing device aboard. Kids who are 14 years or younger must wear a life jacket. The fine for violations is $99.
  • Paddleboards must display the Idaho Invasive Species Sticker. The fine for violations is $72.
  • Paddleboards are subject to inspection at invasive-species checkpoints.
  • Paddleboarders can be arrested for operating their vessels under the influence of drugs or alcohol, just like drivers.

The annual Invasive Species Sticker costs $7 for non-motorized boats. It’s required for paddleboards of all sizes and construction. The sticker proceeds fund invasive-species prevention efforts by the Idaho Department of Agriculture. Idaho has one documented paddleboard death, a drowning on Payette Lake in 2013.

First-timer’s take

Like many first-time paddleboarders, I was convinced I was going to fall into the water — even after Idaho River Sports co-owner Jo Cassin assured me I wouldn’t. I arrived at Quinn’s Pond on an unseasonably cool, breezy morning, too.

But as Cassin predicted, I stayed upright. And when I stepped into the water to get on the paddleboard, I realized the water wasn’t cold anyway.

Paddleboard instructor Jayne Saunders gave me about a 5-minute briefing, and I slid my board into the water.

Kneeling on the board was easy. Standing up was trickier. I aborted two or three attempts because the paddleboard seemed unstable. Then Saunders suggested I get the board moving and stand up while it had forward momentum. That worked. The rest was carefree cruising around the pond, even with the choppy water created by the wind.

If you want to give it a try, Idaho River Sports (601 Whitewater Park Blvd., Boise; idahoriversports.com) offers a 90-minute class including gear rental for $37.

Chadd Cripe: 208-377-6398

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