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Boards down, bodies up


Iowa has plenty of rivers and lakes for standup paddle boarding (SUP) enthusiasts to enjoy the sport.

Iowa has plenty of rivers and lakes for standup paddle boarding (SUP) enthusiasts to enjoy the sport.

One might consider standup paddle boarding (SUP) a little out of its element here in Iowa — but then again we’re used to being pigeonholed. Just because Iowa lacks an ocean view doesn’t mean we’re without water. With 923 miles of designated water trails and an additional 892 miles currently under study, the better question than why it’s here is why aren’t you taking part?

“SUP is perfect for Iowa because Iowa is full of water!” said Katie Gilbert, owner of No Coast Stand Up. “We have many lakes, ponds and rivers to explore. Stand Up Paddling has exploded in the Midwest, and Iowa was at the front of that movement.”

Consider this: Des Moines was settled at the confluence of two rivers — the Raccoon River and the Des Moines River. Each river is fed by numerous smaller rivers and streams, giving countless SUP opportunities.

If the rivers aren’t enticing enough, there are also a couple big lakes surrounding the capital city, as well as a few paddle-friendly lakes right here within the city.


Gray’s Lake is a popular spot for SUP due to its calm waters and beautiful view of the downtown skyline. For the past couple years, Gray’s Lake has made standup paddle boards available for rent.

See for yourself on Father’s Day when the Des Moines Parks and Rec and Scheels put on their Paddle Demo Day.

“The event is on Father’s Day, so if Dad is an outdoorsman, or wants to be, or if anyone from the family has ever wanted to try an SUP or kayak, this is the perfect opportunity,” said Jen Fletcher, marketing supervisor with Des Moines Parks and Recreation.

Gilbert started No Coast Stand Up for a variety of reasons, ranging from providing Iowans the opportunity to test out paddle boards before they bought them — a mistake Gilbert experienced first hand after falling in love with the sport — to introducing a new exercise to families young and old.

“What better way to do that in a place as beautiful as Iowa than to do it outside,” says Gilbert. “SUP is a way to achieve this all while having a blast. It is like getting to play and reaping the benefits. No Coast encourages this with free family events, weekly Ladies and Men’s paddle nights (Tuesdays and Thursdays, respectively) — canoes and kayaks are welcome — and other get-togethers.”

Sure there are always excuses: “I have wanted to, it looks like a great way to be out on the lake and, well, a workout disguised as fun. My utter lack of balance has made me hesitant to try,” said Fletcher.

But what do you really have to lose? If you fall off, you get wet; take a note from Thomas Wayne and pick yourself up. If the water is cold, you have more incentive to keep up on the board. Make this summer about going out of your comfort zone to find a new one. CV 

David Rowley is an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and a master’s in film journalism from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Paddle Demo Days
Sunday, June 15
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Open to all ages.  Everyone will need to sign a waiver and anyone under 18 will need to be accompanied by an adult or legal guardian. The event is co-sponsored by Scheels, which will also be providing free food.

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