Paddleboarding takes off in Vancouver
Anyone who has headed out to Deep Cove or English Bay recently has probably seen someone on a standup paddleboard. And if you were at Jericho Beach on July 10, you would have witnessed scores of people trying this growing sport at the fifth annual Paddlefest.
One of the organizers of the event, Mountain Equipment Co-op boating expert Sean Mahar, told the Georgia Straight that standup paddleboarding originated about a decade ago in Hawaii when surfing instructors started standing on larger boards to keep an eye on their students. From there, it spread to the continental United States and up into Canada, where it is now a competitive sport.
“Some big names in surfing, like Laird Hamilton, have taken it up, made it visible, and it’s come over to the mainland here,” Mahar said. “Now you have huge paddle races in California. you have big paddle races in B.C.—and just exploding interest.”
Mark Tew, Jericho manager of the Ecomarine Ocean Kayak Centre, told the Straight at Paddlefest that this sport doesn’t require as much gear as kayaking. “You can do it in high winds, which is nice,” he said.
Mike Darbyshire, director of the Deep Cove Paddling School, echoed that point, saying that participants range from very young kids to seniors. He added that some people take their paddleboards on overnight trips, and that the sport offers a great full-body workout, strengthening arms and the core muscles.
“You’re basically using a surfboard that’s just been made longer, made wider, and made thicker,” Darbyshire told the Straight. “It allows you to stand up on flat water.”
Another benefit is the view you get from on top of the board. Darbyshire mentioned that on a calm day, it’s possible to see fish and even seals underneath the surface. “It’s a pretty neat perspective to be standing up, and basically walking on water. That’s what it feels like.”
But that’s not to say there aren’t risks. Mike Cotter, general manager of the Jericho Centre Sailing Association, told the Straight that the “biggest misconception” is that standup paddleboarding is like surfing—and therefore, you don’t have to wear a personal flotation device. “That’s not true at all,” Cotter said. “Transport Canada sets the regulations for the minimum requirements for vessels on the water. They require that you wear a personal flotation device while you’re operating a standup paddle. They view it as a vessel that’s used to transport people.”
He pointed out that 90 percent of recreational boating fatalities involve people who do not wear personal flotation devices. “There are certain risks inherent with any small craft,” he noted, citing collisions and hypothermia as two examples.
Cotter said that at certain times of the year, cold-water shock is also a possibility, though the risk is far lower between May and September. This condition comes from sudden immersion in cold water. “Your entire body would go numb,” he commented, adding that it’s as if the nervous system gets short-circuited momentarily. “This is how people die. They fall into the water and they get the cold-water shock. They ingest water in the lungs. It goes downhill from there.”
At Jericho Beach, swimmers are not allowed in the area reserved for standup paddleboarders and the operators of other small craft. Cotter said that dangerous situations can arise if swimmers are near standup paddleboarders who do not wear safety leashes attaching their devices to their ankles.
That’s because if you fall off a standup paddleboard, there’s a risk that you will kick it out from underneath you. “One of these boards in the head of a swimmer could be potentially deadly,” Cotter stated.