Getting schooled on stand-up paddleboarding with the kids.

There are so many ways to get out on the water with your kids — canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, rowboats, jet boats, good old-fashioned inner tubes — and we’ve tried them all, at lakes and rivers and bays and inlets all around Oregon.

But stand-up paddleboarding (or SUP), not so much. I had always considered it better-suited to the toned, super-fit women in the Title 9 catalog, who were photographed stroking effortlessly through the waves off the Hawaiian coastline, while laughing over their shoulders.

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I hadn’t reckoned with my 10-year-old son, who has always had preternaturally good balance. (No training wheels on the bike for that kid!) We’ve rented stand-up paddleboards for him over the years during day trips to Lost Lake and overnights at Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon, and he always made it look easy.

So easy, in fact, that I figured he shouldn’t have all the fun. So on a recent sunny Saturday, his twin sister and I set out for Hagg Lake Park in Washington County to try it out for ourselves, with Ben in tow to give us some pointers.

Hagg Lake, for the uninitiated, is about 45 minutes from downtown Portland. It’s a huge manmade lake that’s got hiking trails, disc golf, big grassy lawns for spreading out and — most importantly for our purposes — a boat rental concessionaire (though you can also just bring your own). It’s good for swimming as well, though a bit murky.

I had called ahead to reserve our SUPs, and they were waiting when we got there, along with life jackets. I was expecting some kind of instruction or guidance, but none was forthcoming, so we gulped and headed out, rather ungracefully managing to launch ourselves from the boat ramp with the help of a kind passerby. Note that half the lake is a “no-wake zone” but there are motorboats and Jet-Skis zipping around the other half, which periodically sends small waves lapping across the entire body of water.

Now, I’m a confident kayaker/canoer, thanks to years in summer camp as a kid, so I know my way around a paddle. But I hadn’t considered the need for balance, and core strength, both of which are necessary when you’re upright on what’s essentially a sturdier version of a surfboard, trying not to veer wildly to one side or another. Spoiler alert: I did not look like the women of the catalog. 

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Needless to say, Ben was already to the middle of the lake before I could manage to get more than 10 feet from shore, though to be fair, I had Elly kneeling on the board in front of me, panicking that we might tip over.

Pro tip: So if you’re trying stand-up paddleboarding for the first time, it may be best not to have a slightly nervous child crouched at the foot of your board. Just a thought. 

If you have some paddling experience, it’s not difficult to figure out how to control the board, and you have to work hard to fall off, though Ben accomplished that. (It may have been on purpose.) It’s definitely a good workout, too, and it can even be peaceful — Ben told me after our hour was up that his favorite thing about being out on a paddleboard is “getting out to the middle of the lake, then lying down and looking up,” which sounds good to me. 

I never got quite that far, though. I think if we were to try this again, I’d put Elly on her own board, and get us both lessons. (See Stand and Deliver below.) In the meantime, when our hour was up, I rented a canoe, and we paddled happily across the lake and back, not quite as catalog-ready, perhaps, but much more serene, and no balance needed!

If You Go

Robinson Family Lake House is at Boat Ramp “C” at Henry Hagg Lake Park, 50250 SW Scoggins Valley Rd., Gaston. Open Wednesdays-Sundays, 10 am-7 pm. Stand-up paddleboards and canoes are $20/hour; there are also one-person kayaks available for $15/hour.

Stand and Deliver: More Places to Try SUP

Lost Lake Resort is a gorgeous lake in the Mount Hood foothills that is well worth the hour-and-45-minute drive from Portland. (Stop in Hood River to break up the trip.) The lake is smaller than Hagg Lake, and there are no motorized boats to navigate around, though paddleboarders will have to watch out for swimmers on crowded summer days. SUPs are $22/hour. 

Next Adventure, the trusty gear shop in Portland, offers quick-start SUP lessons at Sellwood Waterfront Park. They’ll help with all the things I couldn’t figure out, like how to go from kneeling to standing and back again, and the right way to launch and land your SUP. Lessons are $50 for 2 hours.

Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe offers SUP lessons for beginners as well, at George Rogers Park in Lake Oswego. They promise to teach you all the basic strokes you’ll need to know, plus students even practice deepwater rescue. $59 per class.

Julia Silverman is PDX Parent’s former editor. She plans to stick to canoes and kayaks from now on. 

Julia Silverman
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