Just when we had grown accustomed to stand-up paddlers crowding the Deschutes River along Bend’s Old Mill District on summer days, the land version of the sport has infiltrated the quirky outdoor sports scene in Central Oregon.
Bend’s Steve Bangsund and Taki Kaonohi “land paddled” down the paved trails in the Old Mill District earlier this week, carving along the pavement on “Norgeboards” as joggers and walkers cast curious looks — the same sort of looks that stand-up paddlers would get on the river not so many years ago.
Designed and built by Bangsund, Norgeboards are billed as land training for stand-up paddling, and the company’s slogan is, “Paddle the streets.” But Bangsund, 47, is hoping his creation can catch on as a sport in its own right.
And perhaps that could happen here in Central Oregon, where the offbeat often finds its way into the mainstream. Only three months, maybe four, out of the year are warm enough for stand-up paddlers to really want to venture onto the rivers and lakes of Central Oregon. Norgeboards — named in celebration of Bangsund’s Norwegian heritage — offer a more year-round alternative for a similar ride and workout.
But Bangsund does not want to limit his pursuits to Bend. He said he has sold boards in Florida and California, even Ohio.
The bamboo boards are longer and wider than typical longboard skateboards, and riders can employ either a straight-ahead stand-up paddle stance or a skateboard stance. A bamboo pole with a hollowed-out lacrosse ball fitted to one end acts as the “paddle” to help with balance and momentum.
“There’s guys that will ride these boards who only want them for stand-up paddle training,” Bangsund said. “They want something on land where they can train and really stroke and get that core workout on days where they can’t get in the water. But it also appeals to other people who just want a low-impact workout.”
The boards are designed to be ridden on flat land or rolling hills, and riders use the same muscles as stand-up paddlers: core, calves, arms and shoulders. The trucks, to which the wheels are attached, can be stiffer for beginners, or looser for advanced riders who like to carve sharper, more difficult turns.
Kaonohi, 39, who grew up surfing and skating in his native Hawaii, displayed some quick turns as he cruised along the paved river trail.
“They’re really, really strong with the bamboo,” Kaonohi said of the Norgeboards. “From my surfing background, I’ve taken these boards to the limit. These boards handle very well, just as if you were on water.”
Unlike his friend Kaonohi, Bangsund does not come from a surfing and skating background. The 6-foot-9-inch former small-college basketball player admitted he was a “little wobbly” when he first tried his invention.
“But with that pole and the extra balance point, you really catch on quickly,” he said. “I’m doing stuff now that I never thought I’d do on a board. People who have never even skateboarded can get on and ride pretty easily.”
Bangsund, who moved to Bend two years ago from Wilsonville, got the idea for the Norgeboards last summer during a family vacation to Huntington Beach, Calif. A surf contest was being staged, and Bangsund realized the surfers had a need from some sort of on-land training board.
Employing his background in woodworking, he began designing a board and coming up with different ideas. Bangsund has since quit his career in sales and marketing to turn his full attention to Norgeboards. He designs and builds them at a shop in Bend, and he handles most aspects of the small business himself.
His wife, 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son have picked up the sport.
“Stand-up paddle is just at the tip of the iceberg as far as explosion of the sport,” Bangsund predicted. “It’s just growing huge every year all around the world. And there’s no one who’s making any training boards for that. I wanted to come up with a board that could serve surfers, stand-up paddlers, snowboarders and skiers.”
Bangsund consulted Kaonohi about the trucks and the feel of the boards, and he got feedback from other skaters and surfers.
“I wanted that flowing feel to where it feels like they’re on the water riding a wave,” Bangsund explained.
Norgeboards are not designed for aerial tricks or stunts, though some riders, like Kaonohi, can rip 180-degree rotations on the ground. A helmet, knee pads and elbow pads are recommended.
Bangsund said he hopes to “ride the wave” of stand-up paddling’s popularity.
“As that continues to grow worldwide, there will be more and more of a need for training boards,” he said. “We’re trying to hit that forefront before anyone else jumps on board.”