Paddleboarding hits the Rockies

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By Chelsy Woods Klein

John (J.B.) Bridenbaugh thought he was too late. His friends said he was too early, but from the looks of it his timing is just right.
J.B., 54, and his wife Nancy, 50, of Bow Mar, opened Altitude Paddleboards, an unassuming paddleboard shop in downtown Littleton on June 8. Although it’s a relatively new sport to Colorado, the Bridenbaughs knew that they had to do something to help build a paddleboarding community.
J.B. lived in Hawaii, fully-immersed in surf culture, for a number of years before moving to Colorado. And while Colorado, amazing in almost every way for an outdoor adventurer, it was devoid of a culture that resembled surfing, leaving him feeling like he was missing out on one of his greatest passions.
So, J.B. decided to hearken back to his Hawaiian surf heritage from, where 70- and 80-year-old surfers paddled their boards out to a breaking wave, enabling them to catch it, or “drop-in,” before the younger surfers had a chance.
Surfer etiquette says that the first to drop-in gets to ride the wave, but it takes a lot of energy and stamina to claim a killer wave, let alone ride it all the way through. Using a paddle circumvented this conundrum.
Paddling out to a wave saves energy and allows the rider the flexibility to pick their drop-in spot carefully. The wise-old surfer dudes were onto something.
Looking for a surf outlet, J.B. started taking his old surfboard and kayak paddle out to lakes and reservoirs, paddleboarding alone until he learned about Charlie McArthur, owner of the Aspen Kayak Academy and Colorado Standup Paddleboard pioneer.
J.B. credits McArthur with fueling the Standup Paddleboarding (SUP) movement in Colorado. McArthur was building the foundation for a paddleboard community and J.B. was thrilled.
Since then, SUP has become a full-fledged sport in its own right, fusing the fundamentals of surfing (balancing on a board) and kayaking (paddling with a single oar paddle), providing land-locked surfers, or surfer-wannabes, with the chance to master the board.
It’s taken on many forms – still-water (lake) to white-water (river). There are endurance races and obstacle courses, as well as speed and accuracy races.
In all of its forms, SUPing is the new, super cool sport that makes onlookers gawk and ask, “Hey, what is that? And how can I learn to do it, too?” Questions J.B. and Nancy get asked nearly every time they go out on their boards.
“It’s amazing how every time we go out on the boards people stop and ask us what we’re doing,” Nancy said. “We have seen more and more people on boards and it is really great.”
“We just love paddleboarding and want everyone to be able to try it too,” added J.B., who organizes and participates in SUP meet-up groups.
That’s how the pair met 25-year-old Ken Caryl resident Alex Mauer. Mauer grew up in Golden and found his way to paddleboarding when, at about 12-years-old, he took his dad’s old boogie board out to a river and started playing around on it.
“People thought I was crazy,” Mauer said. “But I thought it would be really cool if I could actually stand up on the board in the river. It was scary the first time, but once I got the hang of it I wanted to keep doing it.”
Since then Mauer has become a competitive paddleboarder, racing through obstacle-courses on flat water, and speed racing down rivers in what is called SUP SurfCross.
Mauer has braved the white-waters of Bear Creek and Boulder Reservoir, where he took first place in the Boulder Running Company’s Father Day SUP Sprint.
He has built a reputation as being an elite racer and a daring river conqueror in Colorado. Companies, such as Rogue SUP Paddleboards, based out of California, have started to notice as Mauer is a territory representative for Rogue.
The relationship between Mauer and J.B. is an interesting one. Mauer is half J.B.’s age, and they compete against one another in races. Yet they have the sort of camaraderie and Zen-like happiness that comes from a shared pursuit of passion which they are both elated to share with anyone who is interested.
J.B. is a Level II certified instructor and is often asked to teach paddleboarding. But until he is fully able, J.B. actively participates in and organizes outings for people of all ability levels to come paddleboarding, demo boards and just have fun through Colorado SUP meet-up groups (http://www.meetup.com/Stand-Up-Paddle-SUP-Denver/) , as well as the Colorado River Surfing Association (http://crsasurfco.ning.com/).
Mauer is certified as a Level I instructor. He also is very active in the Colorado SUP community, teaching paddleboarding when he isn’t competing or when he isn’t working as a rock climbing instructor.
When talking about their “other jobs,” both J.B. and Mauer take on a glazed-over look that alludes to the fact that they would both rather be SUPing than anything else.
“Sometimes, I just come out here on my board and paddle around aimlessly,” J.B. said about the private lake that he and Nancy live near. “It is the perfect way to condition the body or just clear your head.”
Paddleboarding can be completely tranquil and fiercely competitive and extreme. It wouldn’t be a great leap to assume it will in the X-Games in the next few years.
Altitude Paddleboards provides rental boards for Evergreen Lakehouse.
For now, J.B. and Nancy hope that people will continue to gawk and ask about paddleboarding. As long as they do, the Bridenbaugh’s passion and business will be sustained.