The following article is a paid collaboration with Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.
Grab a board and hit the waves—in a land-locked state.
West Virginia’s lakes and rapids are perfect for the nation’s trendiest sport: standup paddleboarding, which has its roots in surfing.
Melanie Seiler Hames, one of West Virginia’s SUP pioneers, wanted to highlight West Virginia’s breathtaking scenery, and believed the state could compete nationally with favorites like California and Colorado.
“SUP re-energized my enthusiasm for whitewater and paddling,” said Melanie. “We have all of the venues here in West Virginia, so I wanted to showcase that we are able to propel the sport like some of the other areas in the nation.”
Six years ago, she started the annual New River Gorge Stand-Up Paddleboard Race to showcase what West Virginia has to offer the SUP community. The first year, they had 12 racers. Last year, they had 45.
There are two events in the race: attainment and downriver. The Attainment Race is for beginner or intermediate paddlers. You have to paddle upstream against the current.
The Downriver Race is for more experienced or advanced boarders, since you have to navigate three rapids, ranging from Class II-III. It starts at Fayette Station Bridge and ends at Teays Landing.
Both races have a mass start, so there are some rules to keep in mind:
- Your board must be 12 feet, 6 inches or shorter
- Wear protective padding for the downriver race
- Helmets and PFDs are required for both races
- No leashes
- Use the same board for both races
Most of the rules are for safety and to accommodate the crowd, but that last one is to help keep the event more beginner-friendly.
“We’ve had this rule every year that you are going to use the same board for both races,” Melanie said. “That’s just to level the playing field so those people who are introductory aren’t left out because they don’t have multiple boards or gear.”
Local businesses and artists have embraced the race, so you’ll be competing for unique handmade trophies. There’s also a raffle for local restaurant gift certificates, apparel and gear.
It’s more than just a race, though. Before the festivities, racers and industry professionals set up demos on the beach, so you can network and check out different gear.
“The main vibe for the event has been grassroots campaigning and camaraderie for people who are into the sport,” Melanie said. “Each year, I always work hard to find 2 or 3 people who are excited about doing it, but very hesitant to get into the race event. Everybody is very welcoming and wants to coach them along. We want it to be that introductory experience.”
There’s an after party too, with dinner and drinks. It’s a great way to meet other boaters from around the world, because the race coincides with Gauley Fest weekend, the kickoff to the internationally-renowned whitewater on the Gauley River. Gauley Fest has long been a top event and who’s-who in the paddling world, so SUP fits into the scene perfectly.
“The event is tied into Gauley Season and specifically Gauley Fest weekend so it’s attracting the boater population in general,” Melanie said. “We are able to get athletes from all over the country. We have had repeat athletes from Colorado, New Mexico, California and our good friends on the East Coast from Pittsburgh, Richmond, Charlotte and Washington, DC.”
For many folks, this is their first introduction to West Virginia. Some boarders stay for Gauley Fest, and some even stay a couple extra days to experience river surfing at favorite Gauley River rapids like Mason’s Branch, Canyon Doors and Diagonal Ledges.
The New River Gorge Stand Up Paddle Board Race is Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. You can only register on race day, starting at noon, and it’s $20 (which includes food and drinks at the after party).
The Attainment Race starts at 2 pm and the Downriver Race starts at 3 pm.
Spectators are welcome (and encouraged!) at Fayette Station Rapid. Browse the gear and be part of the camaraderie.
Learn more about paddleboarding in West Virginia.