I have a new love in my life and it’s called SUP. Yes, I’m a SUP’er. No, not the evening meal but a Stand Up Paddleboarder. The sport of Stand Up originated in the ocean but now has transformed, and is showing up in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers.
My fascination started when my friends Kat and Ryan Guay with Mountain Paddle Surf started repping C4 Paddleboards. Being frustrated with no surf in Colorado, I bought one immediately. This was my way to “get my fix”. Being born and raised in the Florida waters, I was in dire need.
The Reservoir was a great place to start, but soon was not enough for my adventurous spirit. It had to be harder, faster and more dangerous to keep my attention. This is where the river comes into play. My first time down a river was the 2010 SUP Whitewater Nationals, put on by the Godfather of river SUPing himself, Charlie Macaurther. I got a tutorial from long time river rat Ryan Guay, shimmied my way into a borrowed wetsuit , used my husbands retro PFD and helmet, and rounded up a pair of 12 dollar dive shoes I had just found the day before at a local thrift store. There were three events, a 7 mile downriver, a sprint, and a standing wave surf contest. I fared well enough to earn 2nd in the Women’s Division and was hooked on the river.
Next, was the Teva Mountain Games. The C4 Waterman crew was coming out from Hawaii for Teva’s introduction to the sport. The hype and excitement surrounding our new sport at The Games was encouraging. The race would be a 4 mile downriver run on the beyond freezing Gore Creek. I took 3 practice runs with the Hawaiians, exchanged line choices and laughed about the craziness of it all. It required exceptional balance, focus, guts, and anaerobic threshold. It was exhilarating!! The morning of the race the Teva Games issued a high water warning and offered to give anyone their money back if they wanted to back out. Not one SUPer bailed! People lined the banks and bridges to witness this new and crazy sport. Lungs burning and shoulders aching, I paddled my way to second place in 21 minutes. Next, I found myself on the podium with my new found girlfriends, and a check for 500 dollars in hand. I will be back for first next year!
As long as I am on a role, I might as well join the river rats for the oldest whitewater festival in the nation, The FibArk (First In Boating down the Arkansas river, or in my case first on board down the river). The race is a 26 mile downriver run through class 3+ rapids. The first recorded time was posted in 1949, and took 7 hours and 18 minutes. No one really seemed to want to run the 26 miles on a board, it was a little daunting. Three SUP’ers signed up, me being the first and only woman on a paddleboard. We were told to “just start where ever AFTER all the kayakers”. Being the new sport on the block isn’t always easy, and is often misunderstood.
This time I would wear a Camelback, pack my PFD with food and wear extra sunblock. I was in for a long haul and had no idea what a class 3+ rapid looked like. For me this wasn’t a race, it was an adventure. I started with a slow and consistent paddle stroke. The kayakers seemed to be traveling at about 3 times the speed. Not bad. The rapids are manageable, the scenery is gorgeous, and I have some of the racers in my sights. 30 minutes into the race, I am all alone and am wondering how long this will really take. One and a half hours in, and I float by the 10 mile take out wishing this was my exit. The crowd cheered me on, told me I only had 16 more miles and that I was doing…great. What did they know? My hands already had blisters, I was freezing, and the wind kept blowing me sideways and backwards. OK, I can do this! It’s still beautiful! The biggest rapids were to come, and of course when I was the most tired. There are three that I vividly remember. One, where a HUGE rock sat right in the middle, and threatened to flatten both me and my board. I dug the paddle in last minute and narrowly missed being squashed.
The second one was a horizon line with nothing to see beyond it. I picked a side(left I guess), tipped over the edge and saw 5 or 6 waves taller than my head. I let out a battle cry and charged the first three waves standing and then buckled to my knees out of respect for the dominating middle wave. I was spit off my board but had made it through unscathed and able to ask the safety boat ” How much longer, exactly!”. They responded, “just a little bit”. No, “exactly”, I’m dying over here! “Four more miles” they said. At this point four miles felt like forever. My muscles are seizing, my legs are tired of balancing, and my hands and wrists want to quit. I remember the last rapid because it was the finish line. I had done it!! 3 hrs and 15minutes and I was the first woman SUPer to race and finish the FibArk Downriver. Only 2 of 3 SUP’ers finished that day. I was one of them, and am proud.
If you are interested in this wonderful new sport I am instructing on Monday, and Tuesday evenings 6:00PM-8:00PM. $20 includes lessons,a PFD, paddle and board ($10 if you have your own). Coming soon, SUP Core Fitness class and Race series. Spread the SUPlove.