Stand-up paddleboarding, the next big thing on Dillon Reservoir?

Sebastian Foltz
Summit Daily/Sebastian Foltz

It started as a way for Hawaiian surfers to take photos of tourists trying to surf. They would use canoe paddles to power their longboards farther out into the ocean to get good shots. Now stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has become an everyman sport.

In other parts of the country the sport has exploded in the last few years. From flatwater to whitewater, paddleboards are increasingly becoming a staple of watersports. In some parts of Oregon, if there’s flatwater, there is probably someone stand-up paddleboarding on it. It’s become part of a morning workout routine for some avid SUP’ers. There’s even paddleboard yoga.

Here in Summit County, the sport appears to be on the rise. Area retailers say the easing of restrictions on Dillon Reservoir could lead to the sport growing quickly here. Until this year, paddleboarders were required to wear wetsuits or dry gear if they were going out on the reservoir. It was an ill-informed safety measure that a group of locals successfully petitioned to change.

The argument was that the average paddleboarder will spend about as much time actually in the water as a kayaker or any other boater, since a paddleboard is almost as stable. The necessity of a wetsuit to protect against cold water temperatures was unjustified. On top of that, standing on a paddleboard, in the sun, while wearing a wetsuit, could actually make a paddler more prone to overheating.

With the lifting of the restrictions, things are beginning to change.

“People are kicking the tires,” said Matti Wade, owner of Ten Mile Creek Kayak in Frisco, after answering some questions from a curious Breckenridge couple.

“We saw it in Hawaii,” the woman said, “and we were thinking about giving it a try.”

Wade fields questions daily from people who stop in his shop and are interested in the sport. Around here, the word is getting out, but slowly.

“I don’t know if many people know that we do them,” said Jen Shimp, office manager at the Frisco Bay Marina, of paddleboard rentals. The marina began renting paddleboards earlier this year.

Quick learning curve

One of the reasons they think it will catch on is the quick learning curve.

“It transcends age and ability,” said Wade. “They (beginners) get it pretty quick.”

Shimp tells people who come in to rent a board to start on their knees, rock back and forth, then gradually work their way to a standing position. “It’s all about balance.”

Shimp said it takes the average person about 15 minutes to get a feel for it. “By the time they get back in, their having a blast!”

When to go

For Dillon Reservoir, it’s best to get out early in the morning or late in the afternoon, because the wind typically picks up around 10 a.m.

Before the wind picks up, the reservoir is often completely flat. Early in the morning there’s also less boat traffic. Rowers, kayakers and paddleboarders often witness a variety of wildlife in the morning hours. It’s not uncommon to see an osprey carrying a fish back to a nest. Shimp called it “picturesque paddling.”

Evenings, when the wind dies down, are also a good time to have a pristine paddling experience.

Hard or Soft?

The next question for any prospective paddler is whether to go for a hardshell or inflatable paddleboard. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Inflatables offer portability and a lower price point. They’re also good for anyone looking to use them in a river, since they’ll stand up to contact with rocks and flex in rapids. But what you gain in practicality you lose in performance on flatwater.

“Once you go hard-boarding you never go back,” Wade said to a customer.

A hard board will track much better in flatwater, meaning you glide on top of the water instead of pushing through it. The result is a more efficient paddle stroke, and it’s easier to cover more distance. The difference is bit like that between a whitewater kayak and a touring kayak.

While there are sturdy inflatables out there, Wade cautions, “Be leary of cheap inflatables online. If the price is too good to be true, there’s usually a reason for it.”

He’s seen a number of people come into his shop asking to have leaks repaired on cheaper boards. That said, a well-made inflatable will stand up to a lot of abuse. They require a good air pump to get them rigid enough to perform well.

Where to rent

The Frisco Bay Marina now rents hardshell paddleboards. Kodi Rafting, a retail shop in Frisco, rents inflatables. Ten Mile Creek Kayak offers demos of both hardshells and inflatables. Rates vary between $35 and $75 depending on style of board and length of time. Ten Mile Creek also offers lessons, and Kodi Rafting has guided tours on the Colorado River that start with some flatwater instruction.

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