Paddleboard power: sport catching on

With glassy Emigrant Lake water under her feet and the morning fog hovering around her knees, Jackie Auchard powers herself over the water in a fashion rarely seen in the Rogue Valley.

Her long paddle cuts through the water and propels the 11-foot-long board over the surface with the smallest of wakes and steady enough that Auchard could stop and do a headstand on the board if she desired.

"I have people come up to me all the time asking me if this is a surfboard or a sailboard," Auchard says. "Usually the people who know what it is say they were in Hawaii and tried it."

After introducing paddleboards to the Rogue Valley one curious rubbernecker at a time, Auchard and her husband, Danny, are helping bring the fastest growing watersport to the masses.

In May, they opened Liquid Blue stand-up paddleboard rentals at Emigrant Lake County Park, where visitors can test-drive these finned boards and long paddles widely praised as the newest way to get a fun workout and more on the water.

A similar livery also opened in Grants Pass, where the new Alternative Whitewater Adventures rents paddleboards for plying the Rogue River out of Riverside Park. Morrison's Rogue River Lodge also offers stand-up board rentals for visitors to paddle in the adjacent Taylor Creek Canyon on the Rogue.

These entrepreneurs are making it possible for local outdoors lovers to experience what Standup Journal magazine calls the fastest growing sport in the history of the world, with 41,000 new erect paddlers a day. "Isn't that crazy?" says Pete Newport, owner of Sawyer Paddles and Oars in Talent that manufactures paddles for stand-up paddleboarders.

"It's behind here. We're really behind the curve," says Newport, who stand-up paddles whitewater rapids on the Rogue. "But I think, in the next five years, you'll see people all over the Rogue and all over lakes here on paddleboards."

Paddleboarding traces its genesis to Hawaii, where natives have stood on surfboards and paddled around for years. But professional surfers there started adding paddles to their repertoires, and the watersports public in the mid-2000s quickly took notice.

Sawyer helped field the sport's growth even though locals knew little — if anything — about paddleboarding.

For years, Sawyer has made long paddles for the niche standup canoe genre, so they were a ready source for quality paddles fit for the erect sect.

Single-blade oars are typically 8-10 inches taller than the paddler, who can generate enough speed to travel about as fast as a kayak — standing instead of sitting.

Cross-trainers such as Auchard laud them for the workout they can generate.

"It's just an incredible, full-body workout," says Auchard, a trainer who will be offering Paddlefit classes twice weekly at her Emigrant Lake location.

One of the reasons for its popularity, Newport says, is its relative ease. The boards are stable, and paddlers can pick up the basics for time on still-water lakes fairly quickly, but Newport recommends training from a certified paddleboard instructor before taking on river rapids.

Instead of trailered boats or kayaks fastened to the tops of Subarus, paddleboards also are easy to transport, and paddlers can be on the water quickly.

Boards can run as low as $400 to several thousand dollars, depending upon the design and materials used to make them. Typically, they are broken into regular boards, larger touring boards, and the smaller and lighter racing boards.

Casual paddleboarders can strap a lunch to the front of their board and head off for a day on a lake, much like they have done traditionally with canoes and, more recently, with kayaks.

"I've even seen guys carrying firewood on their boards," Newport says. "I think we'll pretty much see them used for everything."

In recent years, paddlers have created their own niches within the sport, Newport says. Casual paddling, competitive racing, paddling for fitness — even paddleboard yoga — all have their followers, he says.

Even the extreme watersport crew has moved in, running river rapids and waterfalls while standing up, says Newport, a five-year paddler who has negotiated the difficult Lower Rogue Canyon on a paddleboard.

"We fall off a lot," Newport says.

But on lakes, a paddleboard's stability is astounding.

"You really can do headstands on them," Auchard says. "My son and I came out and did headstands last week."

Liquid Blue is situated at the county park thanks to a concessionaire's agreement with the Jackson County Parks Department that nets the county 10 percent of Liquid Blue's gross receipts, county parks Manager Steve Lambert says.

The five-year agreement runs in one-year increments, with either party able to opt out after each year, Lambert says.

He expects the venture to perform well.

"We've had a lot of folks expressing interest in having this," Lambert says. "It's a growing segment of the outdoors."

And it's one Auchard can't wait to share.

Her outfit sports 18 paddleboards for rent now starting at $20 for the first hour and $15 per hour after that, she says. Auchard will add more boards if business is brisk.

Liquid Blue also plans to hold the Rogue Valley's first paddleboard race this summer, a move special to Auchard.

She started paddleboarding with a rental board three years ago and instantly found the sport calling to her fitness-conscious and competitive nature.

"The first time I got on it I thought, 'Ooooooh, this would be great to race,' " she says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email

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