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Queen of the Valley finds success in inaugural year

The inaugural Queen of the Valley stand-up paddleboarding race was such a huge success, the organizers plan to host it annually and expand it in size and scope.

COCHRANE— Dan Miller, the Cochranite who recently won first overall in the Easy Rider SUP Cup in Edmonton, hosted an all women’s stand-up paddleboarding race at Ghost Lake called Queen of the Valley on Sept. 12.

The race consisted of two events—A 1,000 metre technical slalom consisting of five heats, and a five-kilometre long sprint across the lake.

There were points awarded to the athletes that placed in each event, and the paddler with the most cumulative points was crowned the Queen of the Valley.

Miller said that the event was the largest of its kind in Alberta, and possibly North America. Miller travels on average about once a month for international competitions and has not seen an event of this kind anywhere else.

“It’s the first women’s only event in Canada that I know of, and it was the biggest women’s event in Canada that I know of,” he said. “I don’t know of any other event that you get 40 women, usually it's men and 10 women.”

Among the competitors were paddlers of all levels of experience, Miller said.

“Thirty out of 40 had never done a SUP race in their life,” he said. “Among the 40 we had a couple of people on the Olympic team that were supposed to be in the kayak events and canoe events that got postponed, so it was pretty exciting.”

Several of the participants were familiar with river surfing and white water events, but had never done a stand-up paddleboarding event before, he said.

After the event he received unanimously good feedback from the participants.

“They were stoked,” he said. “Some of the experienced racers gave us some good feedback afterward, saying it was the most fun race they’ve ever done anywhere.”

Given the warm reception the Queen of the Valley recieved, many of the participants have already expressed interest in future events.

“The amount of support we got was huge. I have 60 people now that have already confirmed spots for next year’s event and I haven’t even advertised it yet,” he said with a chuckle.

Miller said that he plans to expand next year into an Alberta-wide championship with a men and women’s race, with the Queen of the Valley becoming an annual addition to the event.

Miller recently visited Bowness Park in Calgary and saw a group of 10 women with stand up paddleboards. When he asked what they were up to they said they were training for the 2021 Queen of the Valley competition.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said with a laugh. “I’m used to getting 10 people out to a race.”

Miller noted that he’s seen explosive growth in stand up paddleboarding.

Many people have reached out to him for lessons, or to figure out how to get involved with the sport.

“Based on everything I’ve seen this year it’s just going to keep growing,” he said. “This whole COVID shutdown has been really crappy in a lot of ways, a lot of businesses have gone under. But, what’s good about it, for the sport of SUP is that everybody’s got free weekends now to do whatever they want.”

A lot of those people have picked up a stand-up paddleboard to tour some of Alberta’s beautiful scenery or to get involved with competitive races, he said.

“The biggest feedback I got from this, at Ghost, people had never been there before from Banff, from Cochrane, or from Calgary and Edmonton,” he said, “They just found that it was so beautiful, and they didn’t even know that the lake was there. We’ve got some good venues that don’t ever get used.”

Cochrane is in a great position to become a hub for watersports, he said.

It’s proximity to venues like Kananaskis, the Bow River, Ghost Lake, the Glenmore Reservoir, the restaurants and amenities in town and cheaper lodging than places like Canmore or Banff make it ideal for these types of events.

“I think Queen of the Valley is going to be a great gateway event for the sport and for holding more events in the area,” he said. “And Cochrane is the closest city to all of these locations.”

He said that most of the time he often has to travel to the coast, but hopes to see a lot more large-scale events take place in the Rockies.

“We’re so lucky here because we have all of these mountain lakes,” he said. “Cochrane and the surrounding area are just so beautiful.”

The sport in Canada is still largely in its infancy, Miller said, but it has a lot of space to develop.

“Usually when you go to the world championships it’s these coastal countries that do really well, and it seems like in the last couple of years a lot of these middle countries, or for us in Canada, the middle provinces, we’re getting better,” he said. “We’re all late starters, you know? California, Hawaii they all started doing this sport years ago.”

Miller said he is hopeful that by next year he’ll be able to host 100 participants and is confident that registration will fill up.