Anna and Drew Fischer of Durango have been kayaking for 10 years. They cut their teeth paddling and guiding rivers, learning to read them like a book. On any given day you can find them in Durango’s Santa Rita white water park, but chances are while Drew is in his boat, Anna is catching a different wave.
These days, Anna is stand up paddle boarding– SUP – a kind of Hawaiian cousin of surfing. At a glance it looks like paddling around standing on a surf board. And when you get good, surf’s up.
The couple own Surf the San Juans, an instructional kayaking and SUP school that offers more of a one on one learning experience to students, chilling out the learning curve and cranking up the fun. He rocks the boat, and she hangs ten.
“It’s a little more inviting than kayaking,” Anna said about SUP. “It’s more free. You’re not strapped in, having to learn to (Eskimo) role right off the bat. People are a little more comfortable swimming off of the board than out of the kayak.”
After collecting more than their share of experience and credentials on slopes and rivers from the Carolinas to the Rockies, they ventured out on their own three years ago, Drew said, setting up shop in Durango.
And they got on the boat early, according to a report by OutdoorIndustry.org, in 2013, SUPs had the highest number of new participants of any outdoor recreation.
“It’s taking off,” said competitive SUP racer Bradley Hilton of Grand Lake, Colorado. Hilton jumped right in a few years ago, starting on the rapids of the Upper Colorado River. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. “
Seems like a lot of people were. More than half of today’s stand up paddling participants tried the sport for the first time in 2012. And the Fischers are teaching them.
“We decided we wanted to do out own thing,” Drew said. “We had enough experience and a difference in the way we wanted to present the information to people”
During the spring runoff at Santa Rita, Drew rodeos high class whitewater with the best of them. He dove in with his play boat and went for the park’s Ponderosa and Smelter Rapids, spinning, rolling and surfing. The couple takes turns cheering each other– and others – on. Everyone knows everybody at the river’s edge.
“I love to teach,” Anna said. “It’s such a fun way to introduce people to the love of the river. Paddle boarding does that, you can do it on flat water or you can go into the park and bite off as much as you want. It’s a really easy way to get into river sports.”
During the local annual white water season kick-off, Animas River Days, there were more SUPs and SUP events than ever before, according to event coordinator Stacy Falk, and they were from all over the place. She also said that had much to do with the Fischers.
Spencer Lacy, of Boulder, Colorado said while he’s been kayaking rivers his whole life, SUP makes them new.
“It increases the difficulty without increasing the danger,” he said. “It turns a class two into a really fun, difficult rapid.”
At Ponderosa Rapid, during 3000 cfs flows, Anna swapped her long board for a short board and set out to work the wave.
“This is so much fun,” she said. “And it’s addictive. I’m out here everyday.”