Yukon paddlers are being asked to get off their butts. Literally.
Whitehorse’s Ryan Burlingame, of Yukan Canoe, believes he has just the thing to make this happen: stand up paddling.
“I think it could be the next big thing in the Yukon because it’s something you can do anywhere – on a lake, on a river, on the ocean,” said Burlingame. “Not only can you do it here to enjoy the waterways, and experience in a whole new way, you can also get in shape for going down south and not look like a rookie on the waves.
“You can do everything from yoga on one of these boards, to whitewater running, to day-tripping across Marsh Lake.”
Sometimes called stand up paddle surfing, or “SUP,” the sport originated in Hawaii where surfing instructors would give their students outrigger paddles to help them stand up on their boards. It has since become a worldwide phenomenon with competitive tours and world championships.
One of its main selling points is its full-body workout, unlike canoeing and kayaking. In fact, former Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios, who played an astounding 27 seasons in the NHL, would use stand-up paddling as his sole means of staying in shape during the offseason.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Burlingame. “Not only are you using your upper body and your shoulders, but the power, when you are paddling, comes from your core and also your legs. Every muscle in your body is being worked. From the balancing muscles in your lower legs, to your quads in your upper legs, so you can get a powerful stroke.”
I can attest to that. After 20 minutes on the board for the first time – not once falling in the water, I might add – the muscles in my ankles felt as if they were on fire. In fact, contrary to my expectations, my arms were worked the least while my legs and core – even my toes – were feeling the burn the most.
“You’re not just working those big burning muscles, you’re doing the same sort of thing as on a balance ball,” said Burlingame.
Burlingame was introduced to the sport last summer while working for UpNorth Adventures, which rents and sells SUP equipment, and plans to offer lessons through Yukan Canoe, a paddling instruction company that supplies all the necessary equipment.
“We’re hoping to increase exposure to the sport,” said Burlingame. “Not only is it good for your body, we’re promoting Yukon wilderness. We’re saying, ‘Look, you can do anything on these boards, enjoy the Yukon scenery.’”
Best yet, it’s not nearly as difficult as it looks. You Begin in a kneeling position on the surprisingly stable board, push off from the shore, stand-up
and paddle, alternating sides like an outrigger canoe. (No J-stroke is involved.) It’s even like riding a bicycle: forward motion increases stability.
“You almost feel like a gondolier,” he added.
Burlingham knows a thing or two about staying in shape. The 19-year-old has represented the Yukon at the Canada Summer Games for cycling, the Winter Games for cross-country skiing, and is now on Canada’s only varsity biathlon team at the University of Alberta.
“Not only am I keeping my core and torso toned for the season, I’m also improving my balance phenomenally,” said Burlingame. “I also have a slack-line, and ever since I started paddling, my slack-lining has gotten better.
“It improves posture as well. In skiing, that’s quite important.”
It’s even good for fly-fishing, said Burlingame. The higher viewpoint increases one’s ability to see through the water to spot fish.
“You can see everything from a different angle, than sitting in a boat, like a canoe or kayak when you’re only a couple feet off the water. You are your full height off the water, you can look around a lot easier, you can observe nature a lot more easily.
“When I’m out there on the board, especially by myself, it’s a serene feeling,” he added. “You can go anywhere you want on the water.”
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