As stand-up paddle boarding grows, options for enjoying the sport expand

Published: Thursday, July 31 2014 7:50 p.m. MDT

Wally Chesley, back, and Ryan Kucherak compete in a tandem race during Park City SUP Kids Camp with Park City Standup Paddleboarding, near the base of Deer Valley in Park City on Friday, July 18, 2014.

Kristin Murphy, Kristin Murphy/Deseret News

PARK CITY — Trent Hickman doesn’t exactly know why surfing captivated a kid from Utah.

“Maybe it’s because my mom is from Malibu (California),” he said. “I’ve always had an affinity for surfing; I’ve always wanted to be a surfer. I remember going to visit my grandpa and trying to learn how to surf. It seemed like Mission Impossible for a kid from Utah.”

Hickman may not have had a lot of opportunities to surf as a youngster growing up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, but he made the most of every opportunity he had.

In 2004, he moved to Costa Rica. Six months of the year he lived there and spent much of that time surfing. The other six months, he was in Utah, working and wishing he could find a way to ride the waves in the desert.

About five years ago, he found a way to bring his passion to Utah.

“Someone said, ‘You’ve got to try stand-up paddle boarding,’ ” he said. A Park City couple who were among the first to preach the benefits of the sport, Bob and Betsy Risner, took Hickman out for a little demonstration on Jordanelle Reservoir.

“I stood on the board, and I instantly knew I was going to do something with the sport,” said Hickman, founder and owner of Park City Stand Up Paddle, a company that offers classes, tours and hosts competitions, including the Park City SUP Cup this weekend. “I bought four boards, started taking people out and placed second in my first contest.”

Hickman has seen the sport explode in Utah, especially the last couple of years. What was an oddity at the Outdoor Retailers five years ago now dominates the first day, referred to as Demo Day, of the massive convention that features outdoor products. And the growth isn't just in the number of people enjoying stand-up paddle, it's also in how SUP lovers expand their sport.

“It’s grown a lot,” Hickman said. “Initially there was one shop. I was kind of the only one out there doing tours. Now you walk into REI and it’s mainstream. They carry boards at Scheels and at Outdoor Retailer, it now has a whole tent.”

The growth is not a local phenomenon. In fact, in many ways, Utah grew a bit slower than some other land-locked communities, but that began changing a couple of years ago.

“It took a long time to catch on,” said John Becker, 55, Eden, a retired commercial fisherman and life-long surfer who now designs boards for Lahui Kai and is the uncle of Matt Becker, an accomplished professional in the sport. “Matt and I thought it would grow faster here, but the last couple of years, last year in particular, it’s grown exponentially. Finally it seems to have caught on.”

He said there may be a few reasons why the sport grew a bit slower in Utah than many enthusiasts initially expected.

“I think it’s human nature,” Becker said. “People are afraid of failure. They’re curious, but they think, ‘If I can’t stand up on a surfboard, I can’t stand up on a paddle board.’ And in the beginning, they were super tippy, very difficult. That’s not the case anymore. There are boards for everybody.”

Trisha Worthington, Park City chief development officer for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Foundation, saw the sport as the perfect way to help her new staff gel. She and about 10 colleagues spent a day with Hickman at PCSUP paddling around Deer Valley’s man-made waterway, Pebble Beach.

“I wanted to do something fun, something physical,” said the 45-year-old, who spends her time raising money to support elite skiers. “It’s different. Rather than just have lunch, let’s do something together.”

Most of the staff is pretty active, but only a few had tried stand-up paddle before their adventure with Hickman last week.

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