“I’ve sold more stand up paddle boards in the past two summers than all types of kayaks combined,” says Aaron Pruzan, the owner and founder of Jackson’s Rendezvous River Sports (RRS).
RRS was one of the first mountain watersport shops in the country to carry and rent SUPs. The shop sold its first board in 2007 and began renting them that same year (its rental “fleet” included two boards).
Today, the sport has exploded in the valley. Watch cars heading from town to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park and you will likely see more stand up paddleboards than kayaks strapped to the roof racks.
Although SUPing is being talked about as a “new” sport, it’s not. It’s been around in Hawaii since at least the 1960s; it’s only recently gained widespread notice thanks to surfer Laird Hamilton’s efforts to popularize it.
“Unlike surfing, paddle boarding is very easy to learn.” If Wikipedia so decrees, it must be true. Right?
When you pick up a rental board at Rendezvous River Sports, Pruzan will agree with Wikipedia’s assessment of the sport. “Part of the reason it’s taking off is that it is easy to learn,” Pruzan says. “It’s the fastest growing sport in the world.”
Rendezvous River Sports offers private—half- and full-day—SUP lessons but Pruzan says most people opt to first try it on their own. “You don’t lose any part of the experience doing it that way,” he says. “When you pick up your board, we’ll tell you most everything an instructor will. Although we don’t want to talk people out a lesson if that’s what they want. Some people like to have an experienced paddler right there.”
When wind is coming into the valley from the east, Pruzan often recommends heading for Lower Slide Lake, in the Gros Ventre Mountains about 10 miles northeast from Kelly. “String Lake is boring and the western end of Lower Slide Lake will be protected from the wind,” he says.
Pruzan goes further, recommending a one-way, wind-whipped trip down the lake’s length. This involves a car shuttle: drop one off at the put in/take out off Taylor Ranch Road and then head for the campground/put in/take out at the lake’s eastern end. The idea is to launch your boards from here and let the wind do the majority of the work, blowing you west down the length of the lake.
But for people on SUPs for the first time, boring can be just fine. And String Lake in Grand Teton National Park is beautiful. Also, it’s the warmest body of water in the valley (not counting Kelly Warm Springs, which is a thermal feature). Just in case you do topple in, the lake is never deeper than three feet.
Arriving at String Lake (or Lower Slide Lake), put the board into the water, tail fin out. Step onto it in its middle. Push off. Paddle. You should be able to do five or so paddles on each side before switching to the other side, although beginners can take a little while to get this right, managing a 360 turn instead of a straight line out into the lake. Don’t be afraid to do only 1 or two paddles on each side before switching to the other side.
It’s likely that back at the shop Pruzan or a staff member explained to you that there are instances when a paddler would want one foot in front of the other, but followed that with saying most people are best off by keeping their feet side-by-side, a little more than hip-width apart. Knees should be bent and you should look forward rather than down. “Looking down actually makes you more unbalanced,” Pruzan says.
Before you know it, you’ll be in the middle of String Lake. Don’t forget to look up. Hanging, Laurel, and Paintbush Canyons loom overhead.
A warning to men: You might have a more difficult time picking up the sport then women, because of your higher center of gravity.
RRS now has a couple dozen boards in its rental fleet but it’s still hard to snag one on a weekend day. Pruzan recommends calling (307-733-2471) several days in advance. “Weekdays are easier,” he says. Full-day rentals are $40 or $50 depending on the type of board.
Fun trivia fact: If you want to say stand up paddle boarding in Hawaiian, where the sport originated, it’s Hoe he'e nalu.