Living in landlocked Banff surrounded by glacier-fed lakes I don’t know the first thing about stand up paddleboards, or SUPs, but when I see them in magazines they are always on warm turquoise seas with fine white sandy beaches in the background. So when a photo popped up on my Facebook news feed showing a SUP on a river canyon in Banff National Park I had to investigate!
With Jeff Mitchell’s help from Banff Lake Louise Tourism I connected with John Rose and asked him a few questions on SUPing in the mountains.
What is your background with SUPs; did you try them in warm climes first?
I’ve been paddling for about a year and a half. Read about it in a magazine article about paddling in the Great Bear rainforest in British Columbia and thought there were a lot of places around here that would be fun to float on.
SUPs in the mountains, what gives?
Also read an article about paddling from Banff to Canmore and fly-fishing on the way. There weren’t very many people doing it around here, especially fishing off the board, so a couple of us went out and got some boards. There’s some beautiful and calm lakes and then there’s the challenge of running the Bow River, so the mountains have great variety.
Tell me about SUPing in Banff; what equipment do you need, what hazards are there specific to climate and geography and are SUPs stable and maneuverable enough for river use?
In the spring you definitely need a wetsuit and booties. Most of the water around here is glacier fed, so it is far from falling into a hot tub. Other than that, you don’t need much; paddle, waterproof bag for your camera or phone, some weather resistant speakers to put on the front of the board and maybe a six-pack too.
Fishing with a SUP, tell me more about that, what lakes have you been on in the area and any special equipment needed to do this type of fishing?
That’s one of the best parts of paddling in the Canadian Rockies. On the SUP you can get to some places that otherwise would be impossible to fish, especially if you hike it in to spots where boats can’t go and the shoreline is sketchy. These fish haven’t seen too many flies yet, so places like Boom Lake which is a good 5 km (three miles) hike in are ripe with cutthroats that are ready to play.
Do you see a lot of creative uses for SUPs?
Now there are people doing yoga out on the boards – a little extra balance is needed and you can’t beat the view, and riding standing waves on a river-that’s the future.
What is the craziest thing you’ve done on a SUP?
On Canada Day weekend we hiked a few kilometers up Johnston Canyon in Banff to run Stella Falls. A few kayakers had dropped over the falls previously and said the pool was nice and deep. Needless to say, it’s tough to stay on a paddleboard going over the falls and the rocks weren’t so deep. My paddle is somewhere down that river now.
Have you ever taken a dunking in our frigid mountain lakes from your SUP? What was the situation and did it feel life threatening?
You’ll go in from time to time, but usually it’s on purpose to take a quick cooling dip. Paddling is a great core workout, and if it’s hot out a swim feels great.
What are the limitations for SUPs in the mountains?
I have wheels I can attach to the board, you can use them to hike to most places, and also hook the board to a bicycle and wheel it around. I’ve rode with it out to Lake Minnewanka, which is 10 or 11 kilometers (six miles). With an inflatable SUP, you can pretty much take the board anywhere you can hike.
Are you going to be looking into the new snow SUP?
Sounds like it could be difficult to fly-fish on.
Anything else you would like to add about SUPing in the Banff National Park?
One of the reasons I like paddling is that even on the busiest weekend in Banff you are just a few strokes away from being on your own. I’ve gone out on the water just to have a coffee and read a book. Paddling also makes for a way better first date than rock climbing. Go figure…
(This was first published on Snowshoe Magazine.)