Upright paddlers take to area waters
Jerome Gardner is a longtime rafter and kayaker, but when he tried paddle boarding he was hooked on a new high.
The Grand Junction Fire Department fireman even paddled his way from home to work and back on the Colorado River in 2011 when the department was temporarily housed in the city shop building. Gardner bought a dry suit to wear during winter, with the river commute lasting almost two hours upstream and 30 minutes downstream.
“For me, it’s a new method of getting around on the river,” he said of paddling. “I enjoy the challenge of balancing it, and it’s a great aerobic workout. When you stand, you can see a lot more wildlife than when you’re sitting.”
Paddle boarding is booming in popularity, and Rapid Creek Cycles and Paddle Boards in Palisade added lessons and paddle board sales and rentals to its repertoire a couple of years ago. Co-owners Rondo Buecheler and Scott Winans still stock mountain bikes and touring cycles costing up to $7,000, but several colorful paddle boards stand side by side in the back of the shop at West Third and Main streets.
The choice to diversify was a natural, according to Buecheler.
“We have this beautiful river running through our valley,” he said. “You don’t need the same rapids to make paddle boarding exciting.”
While extolling the fun of paddling, Buecheler emphasizes the need to wear a life jacket. They’re mandatory in all of his classes.
Also, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials urge their use and point out that children under the age of 13 are legally required to use life jackets. The agency noted in a press release that nine boating deaths occurred in Colorado in 2012, including one paddle boarder.
Since beginning to offer half-day paddle boarding lessons, Rapid Creek’s students have ranged in age from 15 to 75.
The sport is attractive to older people because it can be done on lakes as well as rivers, Buecheler said. He estimates that a third of the boards rented or sold by Rapid Creek are used on Grand Mesa lakes or on Lake Powell. Rapid Creek now does a fourth of its total business in paddle boarding equipment and lessons, Buecheler said.
Besides getting into paddling, the shop added Colorado River float trips four years ago. Those include special bachelorette parties with a secret attraction.
“I use young, handsome ski patrollers as guides,” Buecheler said with a sly smile, adding he hopes to turn Palisade and the Grand Valley into “the bachelorette party capital of America.”
Non-bachelorettes can choose the shop’s guided afternoon cocktail float trips or the half-day fruit and wine country float trip.
But for Gardner, the Grand Junction fireman, paddle boarding is the name of the game. It’s somewhat like being a ski junkie, he said, with different boards required for different conditions. He owns three — including one just for speed and one for surfing river waves — and purchased boards for each of his three sons.
“Early in the morning I paddle the Colorado River and share it with blue herons,” he said.