What were you doing last Sunday morning? Perhaps wearing your Snuggie, drinking a hot cup of coffee and watching the wind toss the trees around? That sounds cozy. We know what you weren't doing: paddleboarding on the Deschutes River near the Old Mill in Bend. We know, because we were the only ones doing it.
Setting up a 20/40/60 excursion along the river in June seemed like a safe bet weather-wise, but when the forecast promised 50-degree temps, we resignedly found there was one big upside to continuing with the plan: We'd get the luxury of being relative paddleboard noobs who didn't have to dodge the floaters, kayakers and other paddleboarders who populate that portion of the river on a typical summer's day.
Our instructor, Sheryl Yeager, met us on this less-than-balmy morning at Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, as enthusiastic about paddleboarding as we're guessing she is any other day. Sheryl, who splits her time between teaching paddleboarding and teaching flight classes at Sisters High School, obviously has lots to be enthusiastic about, with those classes on regular rotation in her schedule.
After a brief introduction to the makeup of the SUP boards and paddles, we approached the dock. Were we to have gotten that summery day we'd hoped for, this wouldn't have seemed so fearsome. But as it was, the mantra of the day was "don't—and I really mean don't—go in the drink."
Here's our take.
Wyatt Gaines, 20-something
I've been a long-time hater of paddleboards. The materials involved: giant hunk of foam, plastic everything; it all seemed a bit excessive for what seems to be glorified sunbathing and a "full body workout" that isn't really that strenuous. To this jaded waterman, it all seemed like a way for land-locked sportspeople to get a whiff of surfing culture. In any case, I strapped on my lifejacket and joined my team for a paddle.
First thing I noticed was the new perspective of standing on the water. You're close to the wildlife and you have the advantage of standing up so you can get a better read on the landscape than sitting in a kayak, where most of your senses are involved with the body of water itself. It's true that it's a good opportunity to catch some rays, as the sun is magnified off the water—perfect for sunning that crease in the back of your thigh where your booty meets your leg, which, arguably is a tough spot to catch. Overall paddleboarding is nice if your outdoor recreation tastes lay on the tame side, but for the most part, I'll stick to kayaking and canoeing in which you have the added benefit of dropping a fishing line out the side of your vessel.
Nicole Vulcan, almost 40-something
Back in Central America, where my mailing address involved writing "the bamboo house on the corner by the church," paddleboarding seemed a lot less daunting than this. After all, it was hot there ALL the time, so anytime you felt a little wobbly, into the water you'd go—no big deal. This, however, was a different challenge. Suddenly, I had to actually focus on keeping myself upright—or getting to my knees without falling—using a combo of techniques including bending the knees, looking outward instead of down and putting the paddle in the right direction. Were it not for Sheryl's instruction, I probably would have paddled with my paddle the wrong way the whole time, way overtaxing my shoulders to haul all that water in a backward direction.
And that's my take on this: While it really is a leisurely activity nearly anyone can pick up, it doesn't hurt to have an instructor by your side to help you get better. Thanks to Sheryl's instruction, I am more efficient with my paddling, more stable, and I can bust a pretty good turn in any direction. Oh, and the fact that we found ourselves trying to help a group of animal rescuers corral an injured goose by maneuvering our boards to and fro didn't hurt my efforts to get better, either.
And hey, I never did go into the drink.
Richard Sitts, 60-something
I told myself that if I could get through this without taking a cold dunk in the Deschutes River, I would consider my first paddleboard experience a success. Well, I did get a little wet from the knees down, but I also managed to avoid the full body plunge into the icy drink, a distinct possibility that had been weighing heavily on my mind. I'm a good swimmer; it was just the frigid water that dictated my caution.
So I never quite made it to the "standup" part. I attempted to rise to my feet soon after we launched, but it felt like the board would shimmy side to side until it bucked me off. The farther we paddled upstream, the more I decided that I would remain on my knees. So in our gang of four I would be the token freak. To remain dry, I could live with that. Sheryl understood my apprehension about getting wet on this cold day and appealed to me to return and give it another shot in warmer weather—which I intend to do.
We were the only four people on the river as we paddled all the way to the Bill Healy Bridge and back. Along the way, we were treated to close-up views of river wildlife: gaggles of geese eyeing us suspiciously and a mom and pop duck with their ducklings in the reeds along the shore. We even tried to assist some good Samaritans in corralling an injured goose that needed some medical care, but it slipped away.
Upon reaching the dock and dismounting, I did not kiss the ground—though it was a relief to stand up again.
Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe Basic Skills Standup Paddleboard Class
805 SW Industrial Way, Bend
Check the site for other courses