As the thermometer nudged 90 degrees and late afternoon shadows sharpened the scenery of Lakewood’s Bear Creek Lake, Alissa Kendall and her friend Ross Ryan inflated their stand-up paddleboards for a refreshing paddle after work. Even with Bear Creek Lake Park restricting attendance due to the coronavirus, it felt to Kendall like a momentary escape from the pandemic.
“When you’re out on the lake, it doesn’t feel like there’s a virus, we’re not In a pandemic, it’s just a regular summer,” Kendall said Monday before paddling into the 100-acre reservoir that has more than two miles of shoreline. “You get to pretend for a while.”
Like many new paddleboarders in Colorado this summer, Kendall and Ryan joined a sport experiencing explosive growth driven by restrictions on other recreational activities caused by the pandemic. Paddleboarders say it’s a great way to beat the summer heat while also practicing social distancing.
“I’m also a hiker, and the summer is just so hot,” said Kendall, 34. “This is a good alternative. I feel like I’ve been missing out all my life.”
Dakota Kai, 24, paddled that afternoon on the other lake in Bear Creek Lake Park where paddleboarding is allowed, Big Soda Lake, which also has a swim beach and is operating at 20% of maximum capacity.
“It’s great exercise; it’s a good way to stay in shape. It’s nice to be out in the sun, it feels good to get your body tanned, good to get your body lean, good to be in the water, connect with the earth, get your energy right,” said Kai, who wore a Whole Foods mask as he left the lake. “You’re getting your lungs working, you’re getting everything stronger, you’re building your immunities up. It’s all around a good time, great way to stay in shape.”
Local paddleboarding outfitters say it’s been hard to keep up with demand for people wanting to buy boards this year.
“Explosion is a good word for it,” said Willi Taylor, owner of Altitude Paddleboards in Littleton. “In March when everything started closing down, I was pretty worried. I had all my preseason orders in, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sell anything. When we were able to open up, it’s just been gangbusters since. I can’t keep boards in stock, hardly it seems. I’ve been able to hire a bunch of people. It’s been great.”
Paddleboarding proponents say it’s accessible to people of all ages and doesn’t necessarily require a lot of athletic ability or fitness. While adventurous experts paddleboard on whitewater, go wave surfing in river parks or even set out on multi-day river trips, it doesn’t take a lot of technique to paddle around a lake.
“It really has levels for everyone of every athletic ability, whether it is my grandma who is in her 70s and just wants to get out and paddle around and enjoy the sunshine, or someone who is super athletic and wants that adrenaline rush and they want to run down a Class 4 rapids on a paddleboard,” said Victoria Rasnick, chief operating officer for Rocky Mountain Paddleboards, which has exclusive concession rights at Bear Creek Lake Park, Cherry Creek Reservoir, Boulder Reservoir and Union Reservoir in Longmont. Cherry Creek currently is closed due to an algae bloom.
Rocky Mountain Paddleboards conducts 90-minute group lessons for $75 (maximum eight students due to COVID-19). Stand-up paddleboard yoga classes cost $45. Board rentals, which cost $40 for two hours, include life vests, paddles and brief instruction. Masks are required onshore but not on the lake.
“Moms and dads have been kind of trapped inside with their kids for so long that they come out and paddle out in the lake and just lay down because it feels like a little bit of space, a little bit of breathing room,” Rasnick said. “We don’t always have that — especially in the current climate.”
While some are simply seeking relaxation, there are are fitness benefits for those who wish to pursue them.
“You really need to work on holding that paddle perpendicular to the surface of the water, and the proper technique is where you’re hinging forward at the waist,” Taylor explained. “You’re putting that paddle into the water near the tip of the board and you’re using your rear chain — your glutes, your hamstrings and your core — to stabilize the board and bring that paddle back. You’re not using your arms as much as you’re using your core and your rear chain, the strongest muscle groups in the body, to bring that paddle back and get that energy transferred to the board moving forward. It can be a really good core workout when done properly.”
Taylor conducts lessons but says beginners can get started after watching a few YouTube videos to pick up tips.
“You can get really good at paddling and have it be a great full-body workout, or you can go out and paddle lazily and put your paddle down on the board and sit out in the lake and read a book,” Taylor said. “If you want to get a great endurance workout, you can go out to one of these reservoirs and paddle laps. You get a 3- to 5-mile paddle in, you’re going to be cooked.”
Paddleboards fall into two general categories: Inflatables and hard boards, which are made of fiberglass with a core of foam inside. Two advantages of inflatables is that they fit into car trunks and are good for travel. When deflated, they are about as big as a backpack.
Cheap paddleboards run $400-$500, while good all-around boards run $800-$1,200.
Elizabeth Schwarz, who went paddleboarding Monday night at Big Soda Lake with a friend, came to the sport two years ago. When COVID-19 came along, she decided it made sense to buy her own board rather than continuing to rent.
“It’s a cheap inflatable off Amazon,” Schwarz said. “I thought I’d do it a lot more with COVID. And I’ve got a dog. I want to train her how to ride on the front.”
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