October 21, 2019


Today I joined my friend Roy Swanson for a circumnavigation of Aurora’s Cherry Creek Reservoir.  Over the course of the summer, I have managed to achieve the goal that formed from my 40th birthday present.  You see, my wife surprised me with a 12.1′ Surftech Laird Hamilton SUP paddleboard (as an FYI, REI offers a great selection of SUP boards).  I embraced the sport and it has challenged me in new ways, both physically and mentally.  The sport has certainly changed how I look at bodies of water in and around the Denver area!  As for the goal, it was to successfully circumnavigate all the major reservoirs within the metro area: 1) Aurora Reservoir, 2) Cherry Creek Reservoir/Lake, and 3) Chatfield Reservoir/Lake.  Although it took some perseverance, I did it.

First, a bit of history.  Growing from Polynesian roots, SUP-ing (as it is commonly known), is a surface water sport that utilizes a paddle to move through the water while standing on a long surfboard.  This human-powered sport offers great training benefits for any athlete (especially balance and upper body strength/endurance).  While SUP-ing has always been a part of the surf culture, in the early years of the last decade the sport has been advanced by big wave surfers/watermen like Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and others as a way to train when the surf was down.  For those of us that don’t have access to the big breaks, this is a great way to travel inland waters and embrace the surf culture.  The sport is low-key but can take a rider from mirror smooth inland waters, to enormous “big waves,” to ocean crossing and beyond (there is even a group of CRAZIES who are SUP-ing white water)!

Roy Swanson, geared up in the early a.m.

As far as today’s outing, Roy and I met along the southwest corner of reservoir … near the marina beach and slipped our SUPs into the water.  The morning was cool and, by the time the sun broke the horizon, we were already making our way past the marina slips and along the dam.   Really, a perfect day for a paddle.  Light wind, smooth water … a quick trip at a little over an hour for the clockwise course.  Enjoy this short clip of Roy moving smoothly across the glass-like water:




Goal Summary/Circumnavigation Report:

The rule for my circumnavigation challenge was pretty simple, clockwise paddle each reservoir keeping no more than 3 board lengths from the shore (where possible).  Looking back, Aurora Reservoir proved to be the longest and most challenging paddle—it took me two attempts and the successful circumnavigation required nearly 4 hours to complete.  On my initial outing to Aurora, heavy winds, as so frequently happens in CO, came out of nowhere and prevented progress beyond the length of the dam.  When SUP-ing an increase in wind velocity can quickly transform an efficient paddle into a matter of near survival.  On the failed attempt at Aurora I ended up dropping to stomach on my board and paddling to make progress back to the launch beach (each time I would attempt to stand my body would become a sail, reducing my forward progress to almost zero).  Aurora is a beautiful reservoir, deep, clear and on its south side it offers a great number of secluded inlets to explore.  Chatfield also did not yield easily and, as the water levels changed over the course of the summer, it offered new and different challenges.  On my first attempt, after making great progress on mirror smooth water the winds once again whipped up stalling my progress (this time, in almost every direction)—I ended up getting a tow from State Park Ranger/Water Patrol back to my launch beach!?  On another occasion, Roy and I launched from Kingfisher parking lot only to be turned back by low water and an inability to access the main body of the reservoir (lest we undertake a mucky trudge across a great shallow, mud flat).  Later in the summer, Roy and I managed to get around Chatfield more than once … it offers some great early morning paddling when the conditions are right!  Also, the gravel ponds, located just to the southwest of the main reservoir and closed to motorized boating, offer “sheltered” paddling and usually a very pleasant experience (great fun to go get in the mix when the triathletes are swimming on Saturday mornings)—better still, get out for a paddle at daybreak and then go for a swim!

Roy getting it done at Cherry Creek Reservoir

Gear Notes:

The sport of SUP-ing should be a minimalist sport.  Beyond the basics of a board and paddle, you need little else.  Pick a board that suits the water where you will do the majority of your paddling, but note that a longer and wider board will offer more stability as you get going; however, you will quickly progress and may soon wish that you had a more nimble, shorter board (I wholly expect to acquire a quiver of boards as I progress with this sport).  Botton line: choose the board you like and that “fits” you.  Note: Check out what is going on at SUP ATX (offering a complete board and paddle setup for $785)—Roy ordered his board from SUP ATX and it is sweet!  As for paddles, I simply want to give a plug for the folks at Quickblade—they make paddles that are works of art (I own a carbon Kanaha and it sleeps inside the house)!  A secure rack to transport your board is a must (these things are big), I use the Inno Car Surf Board and Paddle Board Locking Rack (available from Paddle Surf Warehouse).  Paddle Surf Warehouse is a one-stop shop for a great supply of SUP gear.  Also, in CO you are required to have a life vest available to you on your “vessel” (i.e. your board) … the slickest setup is the “inflatable” variety offered by West Marine (I purchased a Kokatat Orbit Tour and find it a bit bulky on the nose of the board … purchase the smaller inflatable variety, just be sure not to get the “automatic” style).  Finally, a small dry bag for gear (on the cooler mornings) is a great addition and provides a good place to stash food and water.

Me, calm paddling on Chatfield Reservoir



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