Why I Picked Up Paddling In 2020

SUP is the outdoor trend of the year. And Hala Gear's bookkeeper Colleen King jumped on board with it. 


The start of the pandemic was a shock to everyone. Time felt like a void, hollow without organized events to attend, professional sports to root for, or bars and restaurants to gather new and old friends.

Steamboat Resort closed and our town turned into a sleepy little village, restless in a nightmare where shop owners hoped they could open their doors again.

I tried to remind myself of all the privileged problems I was experiencing and to keep my perspective so I didn’t get stuck in a pity party, but heck! - it was hard not to validate those feelings of uncertainty and loss! I struggled to figure out how to spend my time and find new joys.

When did I lose my child-like fascination with the world that I can’t dream up a way to spend an unscheduled afternoon? 

Women Lake SUP

With an ailing father, a recent furlough, and a community shut down, I was left – like many – with the opportunity to choose how to handle my anxiety. My youngest brother was sent home from a study abroad trip in Thailand and was living in Steamboat with my parents, contemplating the same choice.

We discussed frequently, “how and where do we put this energy we were feeling?”

I was working part-time at Hala Gear, and finding more hours with the company that held my heart. Our owner, Peter Hall, was (and is) always extremely generous with lending his employees gear and encouraging us to get out and hit the river.

With limited experience but an abundance of time, I figured what the heck yeah why not?

And with that, we became enthralled with the trend that captured so many people’s attention this year. 

Our obsession began one day at the end of April when we awkwardly climbed into abandoned dry suits left empty in our rental fleet at the corner of the closed retail store.

Brother Sister SUP

We loaded the boards on top of my Subaru and locked up shop. Whoops… forgot paddles. Locked the door, started to drive. Forgot leashes. Locked the door... oh! Helmets!

After about an hour of bumbling and getting all the safety gear we needed, we met our patient friend who was a former river guide and avid kayaker who volunteered to be our safety boat. 

A bit nervous, we climbed aboard, both having limited river experiences on a SUP. Smiles immediately ignited as we paddled less than gracefully through our first bumpy water. The currents forced the anxiety to release and a new flow of energy and joy rushed through.

By the end of the run, my brother and I could not stop laughing, cheering, hooting and hollering. Our souls were free from the heavy weight that the past months had bestowed on us.

Our support boat friend joined us on the shore and shared in our enthusiasm. He commented on how he had been on the river with a lot of paddlers, but that was the most fun he had had in a long time. 

And so it continued. Daily.

We would find our way to the river banks, our preparation getting smoother, our feet staying dry a bit longer, our skills improving, our joy and sense of freedom always peaking.

Whitewater Paddleboarding Upper C

Those smiles never left our faces. They stayed plastered even as we plunged time and time again into the snowmelt water, navigated our footing more fluidly, and continued our ritual of meeting at the river each afternoon. We found different people to paddle with, kayakers, duckies, rafts, and other SUP friends.

COVID forced us to the river every day to remember that child-like spirit of playing. 

River paddleboarding drew a crowd as it emerged a constant in my brother and I’s lives. There were consistent comments from people on the river about our smiles and joy that remained unshaken, even in every attempt to endure a rapid, or our limbs scattering through as we plunged through a hole.

Every time my brother or I poked our head back up through the water, we had an ear-to-ear grin that was contagious to others and inspired something in them to crave that bliss we were experiencing.

The more we paddled, the more we talked about it. The more we talked about it, the more people wanted to jump on board. 

And everyone could. Everyone could find a way to enjoy a SUP.

Boat Float Upper C

My best friend who had never paddled the river joined us on the Yampa town run, paddling from the security of her knees and filled with pride in the adventurous participation. 

I took my brother-in-law and expecting sister on a flatwater section of the river. My sister relaxed on her SUP, leaning back in her attached kayak seat and engaging with the river in a more intimate way than she had on the shores while my brother-in-law stood fly fished from his board.

Another group of friends took part in weekly sunset happy hour floats, exploring new lakes around the area, everyone safe on their own SUP island, and free to enjoy as they saw fit. Some took to sunbathing, others yoga, several trying tricks, laughing as they fell into the water.

We would float all evening with our drinks chilling in the alpine water, watching the sky paint a fire in the the lake. 

When the river levels started to fall, my brother and I took on learning river surfing.

SUP Handstand

A whole new joy and feeling sparked in us as we rapidly improved from trying and failing, to carving across the glass of the wave, floating as if you would on an epic powder day, each turn fresh and clean. 

The past 12 months has proven to be a challenge for many, and often one of the most emotional years that our population has had to endure. From the immense impacts of COVID-19 to the social and political climate, anxiety has understandably risen amongst many.

As the world shifted, many people have been put in difficult positions to survive. Some of us are lucky enough to be left with the luxury to choose how to react.

We can do a few things: sit inside and twiddle our thumbs against our phones as anxiety bores holes in our soul OR we can use the time to find something new that ignites a passion, releases stress, and creates a genuine connection with ourselves and others. Colorado Lake Friends SUPing

I have certainly found solace from the chaos of the world by indulging deeper in a love for SUP.

The opportunity to pursue other portions of the sport, while also opening the door to help others do the same, has created lasting memories that will frame the past 12 months as one of my favorite years. SUP has empowered me with a platform to continue to grow my self-esteem and love of nature. I highly encourage others to jump on board and allow SUP to be their sanity’s savior. 

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