Stand-up paddleboarding is the fastest growing water sport in the world and it also has a strong hold over paddling enthusiasts here in Central Oregon. Bend's ties to the sport run deep due to local surf stars like Gerry Lopez, and paddle manufacturers Dave and Meg Chun of Kialoa Paddles.
Chip Booth, who recently opened Stand Up Paddle Bend in the Old Mill District, believes that much of the explosion in popularity is due to the number of transplants coming from Hawaii and California to Bend who grew up surfing and skateboarding, as well as the popularity of board sports in general in the area, including snowboarding.
"The bottom line is stand-up paddleboarding is also very easy to pick up and have a great day your first time. It is not like skiing which takes a lot of commitment to add to your repertoire," Booth said. "This year we've seen an explosion in rentals; next summer I think we'll se an explosion in board sales."
This summer, three local SUP-focused race series took off, including the Naish Race Series at Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe every Wednesday night in July and August, the Naish Race Series at Sunriver most Sundays and the King and Queen of the Lake at Elk Lake Resort. SUP was even featured as a category in the Race for the River event put on by the Deschutes River Conservancy in August.
Jen Kjellesvik, who placed first in women paddlers in the Naish series in Bend, said it was a great way to grow the sport and increase people's awareness of the activity's competitive side.
"Here in Bend, athletes really like to be pushed to grow, and the races demonstrated that stand-up paddleboarding can be more than just playing around. This was a national series," Kjellesvik said.
Kjellesvik believes the next trend here in Central Oregon will evolve around whitewater stand- up paddleboarding, which to her, feels like a combination of kayaking, surfing and snowboarding.
Local athlete Jayson Bowerman is leading the curve on the whitewater SUP scene having just completed a clean run down Oak Springs on the Lower Deschutes and attempting a decent down the large waterfall at Rainy Falls on the Rogue River. Bowerman explained that on a stand-up paddleboard, you can make use of tiny little waves and subsurface currents, and that today's boards behave similarly to the kayak squirt boats of the '90s.
"The best place to learn white water stand-up paddleboarding is on the Lower Deschutes, the Umpqua and on the McKenzie because the channels are more defined and deeper without so many rocks to run into all the time," Bowerman said.
Both Bowerman, Kjellsvik and Booth agreed that the proposed improvements to the Colorado Dam currently being put together by Bend Metro Parks and Recreation District (BMPRD) and the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance would be a great asset to the SUP community in Central Oregon, and that the proposed whitewater features would be a great place to learn and practice skills.
Chip Booth, who also manages the well-established national SUPing website, www.standuppaddleflatwater.com, believes the improvements are just one more thing that will put Bend on the map in the world of stand-up paddleboarding.
"It will make Bend even more of a destination for SUPing and it will draw in a younger generation that will want to surf the wave and try tricks," Booth said.
This summer also saw many opportunities for people new to the sport to try it out in a supportive atmosphere without having to spend too much money. Women's Stand-Up Paddleboarding Night at Tumalo Creek sold out every night of the summer and at the height of the season had 30 women coming to try out the sport. Tumalo Creek also offers beginning SUP classes every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. for the rest of September.
Kjellesvik, who ran the women's SUP night, has a larger vision of integrating fitness workouts on paddleboards, and teaches classes and private instruction for SUPers ready to take it to the next level.
"I see this side of stand-up paddleboarding having a huge potential for growth here in Bend where people are so fitness conscious, but also love being outside doing something fun," Kjellesvik said. She will be offering SUP fitness classes throughout the year and plans to eventually integrate race training and whitewater instruction into her offerings.