Stand up paddlers in a 16.5 km race on the Columbia River.

Stand up paddlers in a 16.5 km race on the Columbia River.

West Kootenay stand up paddle board river races are unique in Canada

Last weekend's races on the Slocan and Columbia Rivers show the explosion of interest in SUP in the past few years.

The West Kootenay SUP (Stand up Paddling) race is “putting this area on the map for beautiful paddling, flowing rivers and stoked locals,” says Andrea Ryman, one of the organizers of last weekend’s two races on the Slocan and Columbia Rivers.

The SUP Cross, a race that ran on a section of the Slocan river  is “a 3.5 km technical race where you have to hit certain buoys and tag lines to a finish line,” Ryman says.

The men’s winner, Chris Ryman, finished the race in about 20 minutes. The women’s winner was Jenny Poppitt of Kelowna who had taken her first SUP lesson only two days before.

Andrea Ryman says the SUP races in the West Kootenay are the only river races in western Canada, so they are an attraction, bringing people in from Saskatchewan and the Yukon. Most SUP races are on lakes or the ocean.

The other race, 16.5 km down the Columbia from Robson to Genelle, is the longest SUP river race in Canada, Ryman says. The winner did the race this year in just under an hour, and Ryman came in third in the women’s event.

What was the atmosphere like at the races? “Lots of cheering and huge smiles,” says Ryman. “People really encouraging each other, not as competitive as some of the others. The competition is dissolved because the river adds a new dynamic.”

Ryman says interest in paddling has exploded in the past three years. She says her Crescent Valley business, Endless Adventures, was about 80 per cent whitewater sports nine years ago and now it is 70 per cent SUP.

The reason for the sport’s popularity, she says, is that it is “less intimidating for people to get on a board than in a kayak. Anybody can do it.”

She said the level of the river made a difference to the races this year.

“Last year the river was a lot higher. The river level of the Slocan now is what it would be at the beginning of August.”