I am fortunate to live in a gorgeous part of Virginia. While I travel regularly, I would be remiss not to take advatage of some of the wellness activities that are just outside my door. I met my river guide, James, at Explore Park, mile marker 115 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park is just a fifteen-minute drive from downtown Roanoke, Va. Explore Park is a jumping off point for many outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking, fishing, boating and now stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) thanks to the folks at Roanoke Mountain Adventure. It’s worth taking a look at the calendar of events at Explore Park– there are museum exhibits, live exhibits showcasing historic Virginia themes, and now one of the hottest outdoor activities, stand-up paddleboarding.
I called Roanoke Mountain Adventures, a local SUP outfitter, and booked a private lesson to learn the techniques needed to enjoy this sport. Like all water sports, it is important to enjoy SUP with a friend for safety. James Revercomb, the owner and a guide is my SUP friend today. Group classes fill up quickly, and with the peak heat of the summer, I did not want to postpone my opportunity to get in on this perfect summertime activity. I love being on the water and out in nature, so I thought this sport would be right up my alley.
James and I got to know each other on land, and then he unloaded the equipment we would be using. Since I am familar with canoeing and kayaking, we were able to make quick time going over the fundamentals, and move quickly to the equipment that is new to me, the paddleboard and the oar. The board we are using today is an inflatable 10 foot 8 inch paddleboard with a fairly wide width of 32 inches. The bottom of the board has three hard fins like a surf board. It is very lightweight and can actually be deflated, rolled up, and put in a small car, like the convertible that I drove today. These boards are well made and can hold up to the day-to-day stress of multiple rentals and novice paddlers. He stocks boards in different widths and heights, and most boards can hold up to 250 lbs without a problem. Although the board is inflatable, it is extremely strudy and had no real give once fully inflated. This is also the same board he uses for the very popular Stand-up Paddle Yoga classes that he hosts.
One of the first things I noticed is that the paddle is adjustable to the person’s height. It also has a bend. It is bright yellow on the bottom. The yellow paddle helped me identify how deep my strokes were, which is key for good paddling technique. James went over the techniques needed to get in without falling off, on my knees and steady myself. We also went over several different strokes needed for this wide calm portion of the Roanoke River that we would be paddling on. We focused on paddling straight, which can be done by paddling on one side with the proper technique. Turning and stopping were also on the list.
Once on the water, I steadied myself at first on my knees, but I was standing up within a minute. Now, standing upright on the water, we went through the same strokes that we had done on the land. James made certain I felt safe and comfortable with all the strokes before heading out into the open river. He had given me the option of a fanny pack type of life vest or a traditional one. I was so glad I had chosen to go with the waist-belt life vest, as I had no trouble manuvering my paddle or body as I think I would have with a traditional life vest. I had all the right gear for this activity.
We spent the most of the morning paddling. He set up an inflatable buoy for a practice point, and I worked on my turns. As an experienced guide and lover of nature, he pointed out a gorgeous blue heron to me, and several other birds including a osprey carrying a small fish. We did have a small boat pass by, but the wake was no problem for the wide paddleboard. By that point, I had already mastered one-side paddling. He mentioned that he has gear for fishing off of the paddleboard. He also said some people like to lie down for a nap. Hmmm, maybe I will get my husband out here!
What to know before you go: Call ahead and make appointments for peak times, especially holidays and weekends. He has a few launching places to choose from. I chose the Explore Park for its natural beauty and convenience to downtown. James recommends wearing moisture-wicking clothing, or even a bathing suit. Water shoes are not needed. I wore flip flops and left them on the shore. He will have a dry bag for your phone or anything else you think you might need. He can host groups of up to a dozen people, which would reduce the cost per person. They also rent kayaks, tubes, and bikes. He might have just talked me into a mountain biking lesson.
I loved SUP. I plan on going back for a kayak lesson as well. Check his calendar for SUP yoga classes as well.
What are you waiting for?
I was not given any special treatment other than being a paying guest of Roanoke Mountain Adventures. This is my life.