COCHRANE— Stand-up paddleboarding has seen an explosion of users taking up the sport as more and more people look for safe, outdoor activities to take part in during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The uptake in users has caused delays in shipping and shortages of materials for those looking to find themselves a paddleboard said Dan Miller, an internationally ranked paddler from Cochrane.
“You’ve got a ton of people that are interested and no one can get gear, and anything that’s coming over is being sold pretty quick,” Miller said.
The spike in activity began last summer, Miller said. His typically quiet days on the water grew busier and busier through the summer months, as more and more people tried their hand at paddleboarding.
Last year, Miller hosted the inaugural Queen of the Valley Race, held at the Ghost Lake Reservoir. The event saw roughly 50 to 60 participants. This year, with the event still months away, Miller said he’s had nearly 200 people express interest in participating.
“There were about 50 or 60 participants, I don’t remember the exact number of people. It was about 50 women. Word got out, and there’s probably about triple if not quadruple that amount right now that want to do it. I’m getting emails and text messages all the time from people who want to participate,” he said.
“The thing about paddling is that you’re never within 10 feet of anyone, so it’s a pretty safe sport, even to hold a race, I think."
Miller wants to host multiple races this year, the majority of which will take place close to the end of August or the beginning of September.
Miller said he has applied to the Kananaskis County Office for the necessary permits for the second Queen of the Valley Race, which should take place on Sept. 11, but has not heard any word back from county officials yet.
Miller said he has heard from many paddlers in the area who have also expressed interest in hosting events in the area for the stand-up paddling community.
In addition to the unprecedented activity on the water last year, and likely record highs this year, a first-of-its-kind club has formed in the Cochrane area for paddlers.
A group called North Swell Paddle Club with more than 20 members, comprised of instructors, racers and enthusiasts have formed to network and share their love of the sport.
“It’s kind of all of the instructors, people that love to race, people that love the sport, and we’ve formed this group to get out and we’re doing virtual races with our GPS, we’re training together. We’ve got this network going where we can, you know, ‘how’s the water today out in Banff,’ and somebody is right there,” he said.
It is the first stand-up paddleboarding club Miller said he’s ever heard of. There are other clubs that include the different forms of paddling, like kayaking and outrigger canoeing, but this is the first stand-up-specific club of its kind.
“I’ve never seen it in the states, I’ve never seen it anywhere in my experience, but I’m sure they’re out there,” he said. “We’re exclusively stand-up paddlers.”
Miller said that he is excited to see the group growing and attracting new, motivated members, as it indicates growth for the sport.
“If you don’t have people contributing back to the sport it’s going to die out. All of these people want to teach, and they want to provide equipment and instruction and experiences,” he said.
For now, with the status of paddleboarding races up in the air, Miller said, he is focussed on giving lessons to other paddlers.
“Right now, what I’m doing is mostly training people, teaching them how to race— Getting them ready to train so they can do these events and feel good and feel comfortable. I think the biggest thing holding people back is that they’re scared. They’re scared and they don’t know what to do. If they just showed up, they’d have a fun time, but most people aren’t going to do that. I’m just trying to introduce as many people as possible,” Miller said.
He plans to host three camps throughout the summer, in June, July and August, to help give people a better understanding of the sport.
To find out more about his camps visit bowvalleysup.com/.