ELK LAKE — The course was not at all clear for the young stand-up paddleboarders as they jumped into the water, paddles in hand, and swam awkwardly to their boards, the paddles impeding their strokes.

Between the dock where the relay race started and the turn-around point at the distant buoy were dozens of kayaks, canoes and swimmers the paddleboarders would have to navigate. And if the Saturday afternoon crowd at Elk Lake was not enough of a challenge, coaches from the Bend Youth Brigade paddle team were armed with heavy-duty water guns, ready to spray the young paddlers as they raced back to the dock.

“There were a lot of people, it’s like an obstacle course,” Faith Rightmire, 15 and of Bend, said afterward.

Her friend and teammate Emily Toman, also 15 and of Bend, suggested that learning to avoid obstacles in the water is an important part of paddleboarding, especially in the busy waterways around Central Oregon.

“They teach you how to do buoy turns and how to do different turns to avoid things and other floaters,” Toman said. “In Bend and on the Deschutes River, there are a lot of floaters there, so you have to avoid them.”

Rightmire and Toman are two of the 14 members of the Bend Youth Brigade paddle team, which was started last summer by Jen Kjellesvik, a longtime water sport coach and river guide. Kjellesvik said she and the Bend Paddleboard Union, a local group dedicated to promoted stand-up paddleboarding, were concerned that kids did not seem interested in the “old person sport.”

“Kids were not really drawn to go paddle 5-miles in flat water, which I get,” Kjellesvik said.

So she put together a summer program that included instruction in water safety and rescue, whitewater paddling and operating a variety of different boats in addition to paddleboarding fundamentals.

“Last week, we have a new paddler, 9 years old, who did not want to try the one-man outrigger canoe,” Kjellesvik said. “He’s like, no, no, no. And I said, just try it. And he jumped in and loved it. He wouldn’t get off of it. And at the end of practice he thanked me, and was like, ‘Jen, thanks for making me get on because now I want to get one!’ The goal is to expose them to all these things, because you never know what you’re going to take to.”

And some of the kids have taken to long-distance paddleboarding after all.

“It’s a good workout in the summer when you don’t want to do other hard workouts, but it’s enough to get you tired and in shape,” said Toman, who is a cheerleader and rugby player during the school year. “It’s good to work on my arm strength for lifting people up in the air for cheerleading, and then my leg strength for running for rugby.”

Trew Farnworth, 16, is not a member of the Youth Brigade, but she entered her first 5-mile race earlier Saturday morning and covered the distance in about an hour.

“The first two laps were OK, and then the third … it’s really hard,” Farnworth said. “(Afterward), I kind of just sat on my board for a little bit, because you’re whole body’s done.”

While stand-up paddleboarding can provide a good workout, Kjellesvik said it can also be a fun and relaxing activity.

“We liken it to a bike on water, you can just explore and see so many things, and it’s super easy,” Kjellesvik said. “The learning curve is short. All ages, from literally toddlers to my dad, who’s in his 70s, can paddle. It’s one of those sports that you can go and cruise on the lakes or you can go really hard in whitewater, but it reaches everywhere.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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