State eyes SUP safety as popularity booms
Stand-up paddleboarding is the fastest growing outdoor sport in recent years.
But along with this popularity boom Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers want new SUPers to treat this activity like any other paddle sport and wear a personal floatation device.
A 2015 study by the Outdoor Foundation found that stand-up paddling was the fastest growing outdoor activity over the last three years.
SUP boarders weren’t on the Outdoor Foundation’s radar prior to 2010. But since then the number of participants has nearly tripled from about 1 million to more than 3 million last year.
Carl Moak, owner of Summit Canyon Mountaineering in Glenwood Springs, got his business into SUP rentals and sales about four years ago. At first he was worried the sport was a fad that would bust in a short time.
But he’s seen its popularity explode.
SUP boarding offers paddle newbies a more accessible option compared to kayaking and rafting, he said.
SUP boards also offer a versatile range of options – in width, length, thickness and degree of rocker.
The design of the boards has greatly evolved over the last few years, said Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Company, which rents SUP boards and takes out some guided SUP trips.
Glenwood Adventure Company has about 20 SUP boards, and they’re all rented out just about every day, said Murphy.
The boards also come as hard boards or inflatables, but many river boaters have found inflatables are the better option for whitewater.
Summit Canyon is moving toward mostly inflatable, which can be deflated and more easily packed, plus they’re more durable, said Moak.
Glenwood Adventure started about six years ago with hard-shell SUP board, but since then has moved to inflatables.
This makes the sport even more accessible for beginners because the inflatable board can be easily stored – much less of a hassle than needing a rack or trailer for a boat, said Murphy.
Ease of access and variety of water have been the key factors drawing so many new paddlers, said Murphy.
Beginners can easily take their boards to flat water in Rifle Gap, Harvey Gap and Ruedi Reservoir, said Murphy and Moak. Then, stepping up to moving water, they can paddle from Two Rivers Park down to the Glenwood Springs wave.
Beyond that, SUP boarders can run relatively easy sections like Grizzly Creek to Two Rivers Park or surf in the Glenwood Springs wave.
Many SUP boarders have been coming to the area for its variety of rivers, said Murphy.
Some advanced SUP boarders have even been running Shoshone, he said.
But even on the seemingly safe flat water of a lake, paddlers need to take safety on the water seriously and always wear a PFD.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife warns that high winds from afternoon storms can push your board away quickly, and cold water can rapidly make it hard to swim.
And in rivers the current can quickly pull your board out of reach.
“If a board gets away from you and you have to make a long swim, especially in Colorado’s cold waters, you can get in trouble very quickly,” said Heath Kehm, deputy regional manager for CPW’s southwest region.
Last month four adult paddleboarders at Ridgway State Park had to be rescued after falling in without PFDs, reports CPW.
You should also make sure your PFD is also properly fitted to you. In this instance two youths on the trip were wearing adult-sized PFDs that did not support them in the water.
Summit Canyon and Glenwood Adventure Company both require SUP boarders to take out PFDs when they rent.
People think they don’t need to wear a PFD because they’ve got a huge inflated board to hold onto, but it’s still a really good idea to wear one any time you’re on a paddleboard, said Moak.
SUP boarding also has a strong presence alongside surfing in coastal areas, where Murphy speculates that PFDs aren’t very common. Perhaps that trend is migrating to mountain waters.
And regardless of the flow levels, Murphy recommends wearing a PFD anytime you’re on the river.
“Anything can happen at any time on the water, so we urge people to be cautious and consider their own and their loved ones’ safety while they’re enjoying the water,” Kehm said.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.