Written by Kelly King
Stand-up paddleboarding is one of the fastest growing sports today, and like most things in the high country, paddleboarding on the upper Colorado River brings the challenge to a new level. As completely inexperienced paddle boarders, Maggie and I decided that instead of floating peacefully across glassy pond water, the best way to experience the sport for the first time was to plunge through class I and II rapids, dodging rocks and clinging to our boards for dear life. In the end, we couldn’t have asked for a better day.
KODI Rafting provided us with all the equipment we’d need, including helmets, paddles, paddleboards, pumps to inflate the boards, driving directions and wet suits, the last of which spent the entire day in the backseat of the car. KODI offers the option of traveling with an instructive guide. A guide might help ease anxious minds, but after having made the trip, we feel that something special might be lost in relying on someone else’s expertise. Maybe you could call that “something special” the thrill or real adventure. Going guideless allowed us to paddle at our own pace and to enjoy the incredible landscape of the upper Colorado with surprise. It helped that this particular stretch of the river doesn’t exactly require survival skills of Lewis and Clark-like proportions.
As a consequence, we learned many, many lessons the hard way. For example, in addition to a second car at the end of your trip, you will also need the keys necessary to unlock it. Another important thing to keep in mind is that when getting on your board for the first time, it’s wise to keep track of your paddle so you don’t have to watch with a rare combination of panic and despair as it floats down the river without you. But in the true spirit of beginning a sport in which there are few prodigies, half the enjoyment of the experience came from laughing at ourselves!
We launched from the Pump House after a long, winding, astounding drive down a dirt road through Colorado backcountry canyons. In losing a paddle we were lucky; we avoided the slow trepidation that often comes with wading into the unexpected. In an impressive display of athleticism we chased the paddle down and snatched it back from the rapids.
In those few miles you do more than just paddle; you fall, flop, swim and wobble, and every once in awhile, you stand up just long enough to be truly impressed with yourself. Or at least that’s how it was for us. After our time on the river I have a new appreciation for this exciting sport, but for me, the greatest part of the day was the chance to leave my phone in the car in order to explore just a small fraction of what this state has to offer. We waded into secret caves winding through the rocks, jumped from a cliff into a 30-foot deep swimming hole, stumbled upon magical hot springs, and exchanged waves with a friendly mountainside train conductor. In the end, I was sad to get out of the water.
At the risk of sounding too much like a guide, here are a few tips (SPOILER ALERT): It takes some time to blow up your paddleboard, but fully inflating it is an important factor in the success of your trip. The more inflated it is, the less you wobble. We also wished we’d brought snacks; there are so many great places to stop off for a picnic. Prepare for a few faceplants. And lastly, stop to enjoy the scenery, because the trip will be over before you know it!
Summit Mountain Rentals has two partners for stand-up paddleboarding, KODI Rafting and Charter Sports. For discounts and more information on paddleboarding, please visit Summit Mountain Rentals’ website.