The trip can be fast or slow, a leisurely ride down the Colorado River or the challenge of traversing chaotic whitewater. The journey’s vessel is a stand-up paddleboard, allowing the rider to master their own destiny as the red rocks of Moab tower around them.
Paddleboarding isn’t new — it’s an activity long synonymous with a day at the beach or lake. But whitewater stand-up paddleboarding is relatively new, smashing together elements of surfing, kayaking and rafting into one extreme sport.
If you want to go
Paddle Moab offers trips ranging from a half day to four days, with prices ranging from $65 to $705. Paddleboard rentals are included in the price of each trip and paddleboard equipment can be rented without a trip. ($40 for a board and $5 for a life jacket.) Find out more online. > paddlemoab.com
Josh Surkes, owner of Paddle Moab, highlights the independence of the sport, a test of self-reliance and balance free of outside influence.
"The nice thing about paddleboarding is you’re the commander of your own ship," Surkes said. "There’s no guide, you’re not stuck on a raft with anybody. If you see a rock or a bird or a beaver and you want to go paddle over to it, you can."
Surkes, who founded Paddle Moab two years ago, said stand-up paddleboarding is for everyone, from beginners to seasoned veterans who want the challenge of Colorado River rapids. The company offers half-day, two-day and even four-day trips ranging from calm to whitewater, emphasizing smaller groups for a more immersive learning experience.
"We’re the only true paddleboarding company. There’s a couple of people doing paddleboarding in Moab, but they’re just river companies that added it on," Surkes said. "We are paddlers who started a paddleboard company."
The two-day trip, for more seasoned paddlers, offers more relaxed calm water on day one topped off with camping on a beach, followed by a second-day 10-mile trip with class-two and class-three whitewater rapids.
He jokingly calls the trip "ninja training."
"Paddleboarding, it’s all on you," Surkes said. "You have to read the water a little bit more, you have to have proper footwork."
Wendi Yonchiuk, a Pennsylvania resident who is a frequent visitor to Utah, Arizona and Colorado for hiking trips, decided one day that she and a friend would give stand-up paddleboarding a shot. After paddleboarding in South Carolina on calm water, she elected for a half-day trip of more relaxed water with Paddle Moab in July 2012.
"I just thought it would be an amazing experience to try to paddleboard on the Colorado River through the gorgeous canyons. When I saw pictures, I just thought there was no way that we cannot spend at least part of the day doing that, and we were absolutely thrilled that we did," Yonchiuk said.
She said the experience was "excellent," lauding Surkes’ knowledge and care to take them through the river’s "rapples," a term she coined to describe a combination of ripples and rapids.
"To have this experience, to paddleboard down the Colorado through these gorgeous red rocks on a beautiful sunny day when the sky was blue," she says pausing in reflection. "I told Josh besides the days my three children were born, this was definitely one of the highlights of my life."
The ideal season for calm and whitewater is from April until mid-summer, although Paddle Moab runs river trips April through October. Paddle Moab’s guides are all certified stand-up paddleboard instructors and the company picks up customers directly from their hotel before a river trip.
Surkes, originally from Virginia, taught English in Kazakhstan for the Peace Corps before stumbling across the beauty of Utah. He moved to Utah for good in January 2002 and, with Paddle Moab, made the Colorado River his workplace once and for all.
"Having an office where you’re looking around at the beautiful grandeur that is Moab and being on the river and swimming every day is just heaven," he said.
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