Get on your feet in whitewater paddleboarding |

Get on your feet in whitewater paddleboarding

Neko Catanzaro
Special to the Daily
With proper instruction, whitewater stand-up paddleboarding is easier than it sounds. Local companies like Stand Up Paddle Colorado and Alpine Quest Sports offer lessons on the Colorado River.
Anna Fischer | Special to the Daily |

EAGLE COUNTY — Stand-up paddleboarding is often called one of the fastest growing water sports in the world. Surprisingly approachable for all levels of athleticism, it is also incredibly versatile. Paddleboards can be used on any type of water, from the open ocean to alpine ponds, lakes and river rapids. 

Despite its accessibility, paddleboarding on Colorado creeks and rivers requires a greater understanding of technical maneuvers, as well as some local knowledge. Local outfits like Stand Up Paddle Colorado and Alpine Quest Sports can help you get on your feet when it comes to running rapids here in Eagle County and beyond.

Stand Up Paddle Colorado has locations on the Colorado River in Rancho Del Rio and on Nottingham Lake in Avon; and Alpine Quest Sports has locations in Edwards, Vail and Glenwood Springs.

Both companies provide all of the equipment you’ll need and have some seriously experienced instructors that teach two-hour, full day, private paddleboarding classes and more.

Matt Buckley, with Stand Up Paddle Colorado, says people off all ages have shown much more interest in the sport in the past five years or so.

“We’re seeing a lot of people come out for personalized instruction, we show them all the little ninja tricks so they can start running higher-class rapids on the Colorado,” he said. “We have some people show up with their own gear wanting a private lesson, others just want an introduction and a safe and fun day on the river.”


Dan Ossenfort, of Wisconsin, enjoyed a day out on the Colorado with Stand Up Paddle Colorado this summer.

“It was one of the funnest things I did all summer,” he said.

Tailored for all skill levels, these courses are a standout way for paddlers to get their river legs, as well as beginners to gain exposure to a new sport.

Sean Glackin, owner of Alpine Quest Sports, has been paddleboarding for eight years. He says his company’s day lessons are in-depth, providing instruction on basic paddling techniques and how to put those techniques to practice.

“Students will learn about river currents, rapids, navigation, personal safety, group dynamics and rescue,” Glackin said.

Full-day classes begin out on a lake and then continue on to the Colorado River where students will test their new skills on Class II rapids.

For those that are unable to dedicate an entire day, the two-hour introductory lake course offers all the basics. Both of Alpine Quest’s courses are offered April-October, and there is always a 5-to-1 student to teacher ratio.

“We take into account student ability and water levels to choose a portion of river that will give the best and safest experience on any given day,” Glackin said.


Alpine Quest instructor Forrest Knapp has been teaching for 13 years.

“The Upper Colorado is one of the perfect places to learn,” he said. “It begins with a stretch of calm water and then eases into rapids.”

The breathtaking scenery makes it an epic place for visitors to learn, while locals will gain a whole new perspective on the river.

Students acquire a wealth of information that they can apply to a variety of whitewater situations. From how to enter and exit an eddy to fin set up, ferrying and how to progress as a river paddler. 

River paddleboarding lessons are a hands-on, adrenaline rush with lots of whitewater action. The thrill of navigating rapids and understanding river movement has multiple benefits. It tests agility, balance and mental focus under pressure situations. 

Taking a dip is a typical occurrence, Knapp said. Students will master the art of falling and how to float safely in the river off their board.

Though the experience may appear extreme, the comprehensive skills provided will leave students feeling fully comfortable and adequately prepared for a river ride. Glackin said most attendees find the sport more approachable then expected. 

Sunny Rae Frost, of Avon, said it involved just the right amount of challenge.

“It’s exactly what I wanted,” she said.

“My goal was to learn how to drop to my knees, and I felt comfortable doing that while on the river.”

One class is all it takes to get hooked on this new whitewater sport. The only prerequisite is having a good attitude.

“Most likely you are going to fall off your board and make mistakes, but in the end you’ll come away having a ton of fun,” Glackin said.

Alpine Quest has a paddle club which meets every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. It’s a great way to meet other paddleboarding enthusiasts, get instructional pointers and try out new boards, Glackin said. If you have your own equipment, then the club is free or pay $35 each week for gear.

For more information on paddleboarding lessons, visit or

Vail Daily staff writer John LaConte contributed reporting to this story.

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