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OIA: Kayaking and SUP – Float Into Summer on the Crest of a Wave

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Photograph by Morgan Mason

If you know anything about mountain folk, you know that when ski season ends, we start thinking about what’s next. The fact is, we get just plain itchy sitting around on our butts during so-called “mud season,” waiting for the high country trails to clear and the rivers to swell from snowmelt.

Enter PaddleFest, an annual event over Memorial Day weekend that Colorado Kayak Supply has been hosting since 2001. It started as a homespun gathering where kayakers could obsess about the upcoming season. Today the event has blossomed into a three-day bonanza of all things paddle, be it kayaking, rafting or stand-up paddling (SUP).

Today PaddleFest attracts 2,000 people from throughout the region who come to Buena Vista, Colorado, to celebrate the start of paddling season, demo the latest and greatest gear, swap used equipment, take clinics, watch competitions, and generally have a good time.

PaddleFest organizer Earl Richmond of Colorado Kayak Supply really just wants to share his love of the water and get more people into paddling. His take? “There are a lot of water events throughout the summer, but usually you just get to watch. We try to make PaddleFest a really experiential event, so people can come and learn and paddle.”

Sound like fun? You bet it is. At least that’s what two OIA staffers—Ingrid and Loraine—reported after checking it out. They’re way into SUP. A highlight of the weekend for them was taking a whitewater SUP class from pro kayaker and SUP pioneer Dan Gavere. They spent half a day on the river, learning how to read the rapids, ride the waves and safely eddy out. Sure, they took a few swims, but that’s part of the fun, right? Now they’re hooked—ready to upgrade their boards and tackle more whitewater. Mission accomplished.

At PaddleFest you can check out pro kayakers charging through gnarly rapids, or you can get all Zen on calm water. There’s plenty of flat water where novice paddlers can get their feet wet—so to speak. At the end of the day, everyone gathers to swap stories, toss back a cold one, and jam out to live tunes. And all the beer, music and movie proceeds benefit a local cause. This year the event raised $4,000 for the Buena Vista River Park. Pretty cool.

PaddleFest is a great example of how the outdoor industry connects with its customers, creates community, and provides experiences that get people excited to go outdoors and try new things.

I think Ingrid summed it up best when she said, “With SUP, and paddling in general, the adventure never ends. With different water conditions and board technology, there’s always the opportunity to take it to the next level.”

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich.