Stand-up paddling on the Colorado
Ryan Summerlin June 23, 2012
BOND – At 9 a.m., the water was frigid, and the air temperature was struggling to break 70 degrees, but when you are offered a free, guided stand-up paddleboard trip, you can’t be fussy.Javier Placer and Erik Borg, guides for Stand Up Paddle Colorado, took me on a 21⁄2-hour, four-mile float from Rancho Del Rio to State Bridge on the upper Colorado River near Bond. Along this stretch is a mix of calm, patient currents sprinkled with Class II rapids along the way. But simply getting on the board was a chance for me to “get back on the horse,” so to speak. I had never been on a paddleboard before, never gone surfing and have spent ten glorious minutes on a skateboard, but riding the river on a 12-foot board was surprisingly easy to pick up. At the beginning, my legs were chattering, but at the end, I wanted to do it all over again. “It is addicting,” Placer said. “Everyone wants to start off as a white belt but get to black belt.”Although this run has a couple clusters of Class II rapids, it was a comfortable introduction because I was not immediately launched into the white water. The trip began at a tranquil, glassy section with a lesson on proper paddle technique, balancing, foot placement, posture, bracing and what to do when, not if, you fall in. The initial mile of this stretch is so calm that the teepees reflected clearly in the water, which serve as the base camp.The company’s headquarters is located at the far end of Rancho Del Rio and is comprised of two teepees; one starch-white geodesic dome and a 1967 Volkswagen van. Placer lives in one of these teepees. He has a queen-sized bed, closet, table and cooler in one teepee. The dome is where the outfitter’s 30 paddleboards are housed. The van is really there just to look cool, and it does its job extremely well.”This is our little slice of paradise, where mountain and beach culture meet on this sandy beach,” Placer said before we launched from the shore.The whole trip was delightfully surreal. The upper stretch of the Colorado River snakes through the remote desolate area around Bond. In the morning light, the red clay hills on both sides of the river made me feel as if I was surfing Mars. And stand-up paddleboarding itself is also an experiecence. It’s like walking on water while growing two inches taller, both of which are dreams of mine. The advantage of going in the morning is that the wildlife is still out grazing and hunting. Half-way through the float, two bald eagles leaped from their tree-top nest and glided over us. Borg said they were the biggest eagles he had ever seen.I had a good hour and a half to practice being on the board before we hit the first rapids. Although I fell more than a few times before I got the hang of it, standing on a board through churning, white water was easier than I thought. It might be called stand-up paddleboard, but I had to drop and kneel through the first white water stretches.”There’s no shame in that game,” Placer shouted across the river when I dropped both knees onto the board.When kneeling, the paddleboard cuts through the waves, bucking the rider only slightly. It’s exciting but safe, like riding a horse in a full trot; although, my first time standing up through the rapids was like surfing a mechanical bull. In a kayak, you only have to think about where the boat is going. It takes a multi-tasker to excell at stand-up paddleboarding becuase you also have to focus on balancing in addition to direction.I was surprised when I was able to stand up in the river the first time I fell. Even in the deepest sections of rapids, the water never rose above chest-high. But this largely depends on the water levels, which make each trip down the Colorado River unique.”I’ve run this route a thousand times and each run is different,” said Scott Stoughton, co-founder of Stand Up Paddle Colorado.But, after the first fall my taut nerves relaxed and it become addictive. I could feel myself getting better each time I went down a section of whitewater, staying on the board a little longer than before. For me, getting on the board for the first time was worse than the rapids.Soughton said that after he started practicing stand-up paddleboarding, the pain in his back from a slipped disk and knee pain was relieved.The company is even taking a group of Army generals down the river in the coming weeks to explore the benefits of stand-up paddleboarding for recovering veterans. In 2012, the nonprofit Stand Up Paddleboarding for Veterans started in Flordia.Stephen Kasica is an intern at the Vail Daily. He can be reached on twitter at @stephenkasica.