On the River: Water walking
ASPEN I walked on the Roaring Fork River on Saturday, thanks to the up-and-coming sport of stand-up paddling.Stand-up paddling on ocean waves has been around since the ancient Hawaiians used paddles to propel longboards onto low, rolling waves, but Charlie MacArthur, owner of the Aspen Kayak Academy, is bringing the technique to the river.And following MacArthur’s lead Saturday, I hopped on an old windsurfer without the sail and, using a long river rafter’s guide paddle, steered my way into the quirky new sport on the trickling flow of the Roaring Fork, east of Aspen.I love rivers and kayaking, and while my adventures in ocean surfing have been more about severe muscle strain, infected cuts from underwater reefs and paying surly surf shop owners for damaged rental boards, surfing on the river was a whole different animal.I’m hooked.Stand-up paddling follows the same principles as whitewater kayaking, and the moving current still makes all the rules. Peeling out of an eddy means leaning downriver, and navigating the current is more about core strength than burly paddle strokes.And, the best part was that riding the precarious board made the trickling class I flows of Stillwater come alive.Sure, I flopped off the side a few times, but, after just a few minutes, I began to appreciate the subtleties of the board, experimented with a sideways surfer stance versus squaring my feet forward, and developed yogi-like attention to balancing, using the feet and knees as I did recirculating moves from eddies to current to eddies.At points, I felt like a Vietnamese fisherman spooning a tiny dugout down the Mekong, but when paddling onto a small ripple of a standing wave, I felt like a downright “big Kahuna.”MacArthur said he’s taken his surfboard through the class III Shoshone section of the Colorado River and didn’t get too banged up.So, I’m game. Now I just need to find a board, buy a paddle, and I’ll be sitting make that standing on top of the world.
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Don’t freak out if you see helicopters hovering over the Roaring Fork Valley backcountry or fixed-wing aircraft making repeated trips. It is part an annual wildlife study by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.