A warm Sunday morning in July was the perfect time to take a standup paddling board intro class on the Willamette River with Alder Creek Kayak, Canoe, Raft & SUP. I’d only been on a SUP once before, and that was in Canada where people hold your hand less. That time, the SUP rental agent said don’t mess up the fin, and good luck standing up.
But this time was different. Eight of us showed up for SUP tutelage under Brent, our experienced paddling teacher. One guy had been on a SUP a few times and was already proficient, a woman had only gone once on what sounded like a frightening expedition in a Mexican ocean, I had my one previous experience, and the other people were brand new to SUP. Most were kayakers, so they knew their way around a paddle.
Our lesson started on dry land, where Brent explained SUP anatomy, how to hold a paddle and how to adjust our personal flotation devices. Then we dragged our SUPs down a trail (turns out they’re even heavier on the way back) and pushed them into the Willamette. The water is warm this time of year, so we didn’t have to wear wetsuits like they do in non-summer months.
We began paddling on our knees. Brent showed us how to go forward and how to use sweep strokes to turn around. Once everybody got that, he had us stand up. There was a bit of wind, but we were in a cove with a dock that shielded us from the choppiest bits. We spent about an hour paddling around in a fairly small area, trying not to run into each other as Brent explained a couple more strokes and techniques. We all got a bit tired as the wind was coming up, but we learned to steer.
People started falling off as Brent challenged us to try hopping to different spots on our boards. He advised jumping with both feet at once, because that’s easier than walking. The only reason I didn’t fall off was because I jumped about one millimeter. The most daring people fell in as they jumped to the back of the SUPs, where Brent showed us how to execute pivot turns. But nobody got hurt, and nobody fell on the bloated dead fish that kept floating by.
The last challenge of our lesson was paddling into the middle of the Willamette, circling around a bridge piling, then returning. It looked so close from shore! But in the choppy water, it proved a battle. Two or three people made it all the way around. The rest of us just paddled out, experienced the chop, then headed back to shore.
If you’re like me – somebody who loves getting out on the water but can do with a bit of instruction and a guide tasked to pull me back to shore if I get into trouble – a SUP lesson is extremely helpful.