First person by Jennifer K. BauerLEWISTON — From a distance it looked so simple I mistakenly thought it might be boring.
While kayakers are a common sight on the Snake River flowing between Lewiston and Clarkston this was the first summer I noticed stand up paddleboarders amid the roaring jet boats. The warmer it got the more they seemed to multiply. Standing peacefully on their boards, they paddled up and down along the river’s edges.
One of these people turned out to be Brice Barnes, manager at Riverview Marina in Lewiston, which sells the boards. Barnes offered to take me along on one of the free SUP lessons he offers to the curious. He said the lessons are his way of helping “spread the stoke about SUP,” — SUP being the cool abbreviation for the cumbersome description stand up paddleboarding. He’s started a community Facebook page, SUP the Lewis and Clark Valley, to connect area fans of the sport.
On a July evening we meet at the Southway boat ramp in Lewiston where Barnes unloads boards and we are joined by Carie McKenna, who is considering buying one. Barnes has promised we will master paddleboarding after a 5-minute lesson. The boards are bigger and longer than I expect. He explains we must have a life jacket and a whistle on the board, if not on our body. From the dock we mount the boards on our knees and each push off with a long lightweight oar.
Standing on the board is the first lesson. Barnes instructs us to center ourselves in the middle, feet on opposite edges. From a crawling position we push up to standing. I immediately feel my core muscles go to work correcting my balance from left to right and front to back. They will continue to do this the entire hour on the river. We use our oars to help steady our bodies and learn to turn left and right.
A jet boat goes by and as the waves from its wake approach Barnes tells us to turn our boards to face them. The first wave knocks me off, my sunglasses sinking to the bottom of the Snake.
“We sell sunglasses that float,” calls Barnes, ever the salesman.
There are two ways to get onto the SUP in the water. You can pull yourself up onto the center of the board or, more easily, thread it between your legs from the end. I’m quickly back up.
As I paddle along I almost feel like I am walking on water. Aside from the occasional boat or jet ski, it’s tranquil and calm. Swallows skim across the river’s surface around us. It’s almost like there is nothing between me and the river. Although I am on a plank, it follows the water’s ebb and flow.
It’s popular to use SUPs for fishing and yoga. Barnes says his 10-year-old daughter likes to fish from hers, accompanied by their Newfoundland. I attempt some yoga asanas and fall in the river again. It’s challenging because one must find balance in the pose and on the board.
Nearby, McKenna is paddling along like a pro. It’s her second time on a SUP. She works at Ida-Vend as a community outreach and promotions assistant and KVTY broadcaster. As someone “not fond of exercise” she’s always sought out activities that offer more fun than a straight-up workout, she says. At age 48 she thinks paddleboarding is something she can do for a long time.
After our lesson she decides to buy an inflatable SUP, which will be light and easy for her to transport by herself. When I talk to her a few weeks later she is more than happy with her decision. She’s sore “in a good way” after her nightly paddle and has noticed an increase in strength.
“I love it because I love the river so much. You don’t have to depend on anyone with a boat or jet skis. I love the whole independence of it,” McKenna says. “I actually look forward to the end of the day and getting out on the river. I sleep really good at night, too.”
She says she hopes to eventually meet other area paddleboarders and explore some of the region’s many bodies of water.
Bauer may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2263.