While talking this spring about summer tourism draws to Steamboat Springs, local economist Scott Ford settled on the topic of the Yampa River.
There’s a water park built into Walt Disney World’s sprawling complex called Blizzard Beach, and there’s a ride there called “Teamboat Springs,” a big raft ride that sends as many as six people at a time sliding down “the mountain.”
It was considering that ride that led Ford to a conclusion about Steamboat Springs and its second most obvious geographic feature: the Yampa River.
“We’ve got an amusement ride you can get in, relax and you have three hours to just have fun, float down the river and not go anywhere fast,” he said.
Indeed, when the water drops, the Yampa River becomes the town’s very own lazy river attraction with tubers flocking for a day in the sun.
Get out on the Yampa River before the water drops and the river still feels like a ride, but it’s not lazy. The roaring Yampa River is like a roller coaster as it tumbles over boulders through downtown, and there’s nothing that puts users on and in that water quite like stand-up paddleboarding.
Stand-up paddleboarding has swept into Steamboat Springs, proving a highlight of the Yampa River Festival and is the newest, fastest growing thing on the river.
“Last year, it was pretty uncommon to see people out on river or lake with a paddleboard,” said Peter Hall, owner of Hala Gear, a local stand-up paddleboard startup. “This year, I’m seeing more paddleboards out there than kayaks some days.
“I’ve been lucky enough to ride that wave.”
Hall was just starting his business at this time a year ago, preparing to receive the initial shipments of inflatable boards and an innovative paddle and get his first taste of the market.
Now, he’s doubled his line of boards and tweaked the paddle. He has his products in one store in Steamboat Springs — Backdoor Sports in downtown — and 12 other shops around Colorado. He recently shipped his first products internationally to Mexico.
He’s certainly not alone in the local community in riding the paddleboard wave, and those who haven’t already gotten on board are curious.
A small tour with Hall and Danny Tebbenkamp, who owns and operates Steamboat Paddleboard Adventures, repeatedly was interrupted Tuesday by people wondering when they could give the sport a shot. Some were walking their dogs down the bike path, others kayaking down the Yampa.
Tebbenkamp runs one of two guiding services that have taken to local waters this season. He was introduced to the sport in 2010, and as it began to catch on in Steamboat Springs, he sought a way to merge it into his Boardom Bounder operation. That company has offered airboarding, wakeboarding, river boarding and other board-related activities in Steamboat. Tebbenkamp saw paddleboarding as big enough to warrant splitting it off.
“It’s been growing in momentum for years,” he said.
He got certified as an instructor, got permits to guide at Fetcher Pond, through the Yampa River and at Pearl Lake, and said he’s seen a great response.
Some of that comes from those wanting to head down the river and some from customers looking for a relaxing day on the lake.
Other aspects of the business have proven unusual. Both paddleboard touring companies are offering on-board yoga sessions. Tebbenkamp, who also is teaching a paddleboard class for Colorado Mountain College, plans to offer Pilates and, for six weeks in July, CrossFit on the water.
“A lot of people want to take it to the next level. Doing those activities on a paddleboard gets you out of the studio, outside, and it takes balance and core strength.”
Stand-up paddleboarding began as a coastal phenomena and only recently has been adapted to inland lakes and rivers. Hall designed his gear first for those rivers and lakes and has seen Hala grow along with the sport. He said it’s doing six times as much business as it did last year.
The company now offers four different boards ranging from the 12-foot long Hala BT Hoss, a wide stable platform for any activity, to the 9-foot long Hala Atcha with a tapered tail for extra agility.
“The sport is gaining popularity, and people are becoming aware of our brand,” he said. “I’m lucky enough to live in a community that wants to support a local company.”
The Yampa River wasn’t at its most raging Tuesday, but it was fast enough to get the heart pumping. The boards are easy enough to stand on in flat water, though the task becomes more difficult the rougher the river is.
Fortunately, they’re easy to climb back on, even in the rushing water, and when the balance of standing proves too much, they’re just as navigable downriver on knees as they are on feet.
Riding a stand-up paddleboard through the downtown section of the Yampa River is a bumpy, cold and wet experience that packs all the ups, downs and adrenaline-juiced moments of, well, a good roller coaster.
Article published by the Steamboat Pilot.