From Ocean to Inland: How Surf found its Way to the High Desert



“Standup paddling is all about the water. With the Deschutes and all the high lakes, Central Oregon has plenty of water. A standup paddleboard offers an easy way to enjoy a ‘surfing’ experience, besides being an efficient and simple means to be tremendously mobile on any body of water. Whether for exercise or just the thrill, it was a given that this new sport, another offshoot from surfing, was going to gain instant traction in a beautiful location like Bend, regardless that it’s 200 miles inland.” -Gerry Lopez

Pin pointing origin is difficult, especially in athletics. Perhaps components of a sport will independently rise and fall over various regions and cultures before coalescing and melding into a widely performed practice. This is the lesser told story of how standup paddleboarding has evolved and become a practice apart from surf in a desert logging town many miles from the coast.

In the forward for Stand Up Paddling; Flatwater to Surf and Rivers, surf legend and inaugural standup paddler, Dave Kalama, noting the earliest forms from Peru and the Middle East. Kalama says, “While it might seem like a new sport in your home waters, standup paddling has been around for quite sometime… I firmly believe that the Hawaiians were the ones to develop the sport that most closely relates to today’s standup paddling.”

Like a cell replicating, beach boy surfers’ ingenuity of using a paddle while on a board in the waves initiated standups gradual split from surf.

What came first, the paddle or the board?

According to Native Hawaiians and founders of Kialoa, Dave and Meg Chun, the paddle came first.

Exclusively producing outrigger paddles since moving to Bend in 1991, the Chuns first witnessed paddleboarding circa 2002 through photos of standup veteran Blane Chambers. Images depicted Chambers styling Oahu barrels on a traditional surf board with Kialoa’s short-shafted signature paddle.

“Standup boards weren’t being built for racing or flat water yet, they were custom built or converted from surf or windsurf boards,” Meg remembers competing in her first race in Hood River on the Columbia River Gorge in 2003 and then bringing, “standup paddles to market at Outdoor Retailer in 2004. We had paddles but there were not yet boards at any of the shows we attended.”

Malibu surfer turned Bendite and owner of Stand Up Paddle Bend (SUPB), Chip Booth, first encountered standup circa 2004 when Laird Hamilton crashed his territory in the Florida waves. Contemporary to Kalama and Chambers, Hamilton maneuvered a converted tandem surf board with a long shafted paddle.

Even in its infancy Booth recalls the sport causing disturbance amongst established surfers in the form of crashes and upsetting the ‘pecking order.’ Initially, Booth says he was less than impressed with standup and his were some of the more vocal encounters Hamilton was confronted with.

Once manufacturers began releasing standup paddle specific boards in 2006, infamous local standup pioneer Randall Barna, started supplying out of his orthopedic clinic. Jen Kjellesvik, first certified standup instructor in Bend and Mike Mudd, founder of Stand on Liquid, both remember buying their first boards from Barna.

After moving to Bend in 2007, having experience shaping and selling custom boards, Booth eventually acquired Barna’s business and parlayed it into a brick and mortar, SUPB, which opened in 2010.

“There were maybe six people paddleboarding in town when I first got to Bend, you just didn’t see it, it didn’t exist here,” reflects Booth. A year later numbers doubled. By 2009 there were tens of people engaged in the sport. Paddleboarders at Elk Lake were beginning to attract attention and there was a Friday night meet-up in The Old Mill.

In 2008, Mudd, one of the original six standup paddlers Booth references, ran the wet leg of Pull Peddle Paddle (PPP) on what he calls a surf, or an all around standup board. Mudd remembers, “Down river I was passing a few kayaks. I thought I was doing great. What I failed to realize, until I turned the lower river buoy, was a 20 mph wind had been pushing my body like a sail but now I was attempting to travel into the current with a sustained 20 mph wind and higher gusts.”

Though the revolutionary move of bringing standup to PPP didn’t earn Mudd a win, it did get the sport tons of style points. From the bridge in the Old Mill he could hear people asking what is that guy on?  And that’s cool! “I told people it was standup paddleboarding between gasps of breath. Now paddleboarding is quite popular… even in the PPP.”

Eventually manufacturers started making boards to be fast not to ride waves recalls Booth. The drive for speedy boards with long, narrow and responsive design, crossed over into leisure.

“I myself was a reluctant standup enthusiast at first,” admits Booth, “How quickly I changed my tune when I arrived in Central Oregon. Being on a board is so much more fun than sitting in a boat. That story, played out over dozens of times by surfers who have ventured away from the beach, is how the sport got brought inland.”

Sue Fox, one such venturing surfer says she lived in Maui when the scene was starting in Bend, circa 2009. Now group sales, programs and head standup instructor for Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe she remembers, “being one of very few in Kaanapali doing standup surf and one of the only girls on the waves regularly.”

“By the time I left Maui for Bend in 2012, standup was everywhere, and everyone was doing it. I was actually surprised to see so many boards on the top of cars when I moved back. It felt like standup became ubiquitous in Bend about three seasons ago.”

By the close of 2009 Central Oregon had successfully brought a version of surf to freshwater and laid a fertile plain for carving new frontiers.

Branching from a Shared Channel  

With guidance from the Chuns close in toe and to cater to a bourgeoning standup race scene, Booth created the annual Bend Paddleboard Challenge (BPC).

A center piece of local standup, Subaru of Bend Outside Games has sponsored four of the six consecutive seasons the event has run. It attracts core locals and novices alike. Geared toward the main event, a five mile race, a less intimidating two and a half miler immediately follows.

As a tradition, the race is opened with a welcome ceremony including Hokule’A Polynesian Dancers and Drums and commences with a plate lunch from Big Island Kona Mixed Plate. “Sharing food in Hawaii is woven into the culture. It only seems right to share food with the racers after an event; something we are very used to doing after Hawaiian outrigger races,” say the Chuns of Kialoa’s meal contribution.

Racing aside, Dave Chun credits the most re-nown and beloved local surfer when asked why standup became popular in Bend. “Two words… Gerry Lopez. Let’s face it. If it involves a surfboard and Gerry is standing on it, it’s a legit sport.”

On the Hawaii/Bend connection he reflects, “At this point, most residents of Bend are transplants, and living here by choice. Generally speaking, we Bendites are a happy bunch. When you get down to it, this is what the Spirit of Aloha is all about. Being happy with your choices and passing it on.” In this way he sees the connection between the Sandwhich Islands and Oregon Territory a natural fit.

Although surf is often the obvious predecessor to standup, Kjellesvik unites with Kialoa and acknowledges the link to outrigger. Kjellesvik, who competed in this years BPC says standup paddles are just long outrigger paddles and feels the best standup paddlers are often connected to outrigger.

She recalls, “I first saw standup when I was at outrigger practice with our team. I instantly noticed similarities in the paddles. I saw the long surf board on the river and wondered how it would do in rapids and knew standup would be my next sport!”

Presently, the most commonly encountered standup in Central Oregon is seen in droves on the Deschutes River. Through The Old Mill, from River Bend Park, to the passage formally known as safe and downriver into Drake Park, where paddleboarders trace the hydrologic path that once transported logs.

While this form remains the foundation of Bend’s brand of the sport, less mainstream micro cosmos like yoga, touring and downwinder are thriving sects. And the local collective paddle consciousness clearly shares in Kjellesvik wonder about how standup would be in rapids because inflatable, whitewater and free-style are ushering the next generation.

Scouting around the Bend

“Inflatables,” explains the owner of Bend Kayak School and Rentals (BKSR) on Century, “The demand for them shows the market has grown tremendously in a short amount of time. They are now as sturdy and rigid as fiberglass, super light, have fins that are unbreakable and easy to remove for transport and they deflate and they roll up small enough to easily carry.”

With lava rock terrain lining lakes in our region, fiberglass collisions can yield expensive consequences. This seems to be a non-issue with patchable inflatables. BKSR says with the high volume of rentals they provide, inflatables were the only choice.

Inflatables are the technologic break through to fuel whitewater and free-style divisions of standup. Brands like Kialoa and Hala are leading the way in manufacturing and design and Stand on Liquid provides a huge selection and also manufacture an inflatable board.

Local and whitewater standup frontiersman Paul Clark explains, “The better boards for running whitewater are going to look a bit more like kayaks than surf boards.” He says the design tendencies are short and wide. These characteristics allow the board to punch through wave trains, ferry well, and peel in and out of eddy lines. He is a fan of retractable fin boxes.

Springing from half-hearted efforts to run rapids on glass surfboards, whitewater standup now encompasses downwinding, river surf and multi-day trips. Current industry advances include Imperial Lodge in Maupin working with Clark to introduce commercial white and swiftwater standup trips and lessons.

On the competition front, owner of K9 Kings, ex-pro snowboarder and trail or rather, paddle-blazer, J.D. Platt, is introducing Bend and the world to free-style paddle board competition. Late this June he teamed up with Elk Lake and the Subaru of Bend Outside Games to host the second annual non-race series affiliated Freestyle Paddleboard competition.

The format, somewhat inspired by action sports like snowboarding, skateboarding and BMX, is best two out of three in three minute routines. Contestants are judged on execution, difficulty, originality and style.

Sure to attract paddleboarders seeking to hone whitewater and freestyle standup skills, the Bend Parks and Recreation Whitewater Park could encourage a standup surf revival. Fox, expresses, “I think the Whitewater Park in general, will get people psyched about standup paddle surfing. It might be a little slow to take, but eventually people will experience the joy for themselves and that will get them into other forms of paddle boarding.”

She wisely recommends looking to cities with similar parks around the country to see where standup trends for Bend will be over the next several years.

Though standup will always maintain cross over with surf, assessing the latest industry innovations and seeing that some are manifesting in the high desert, evolution of a distinctly different entity is clear and continuing.

Kjellesvik feels, “The possibilities are endless with standup and it’s truly a life long sport for all ages to be enjoyed any where in the world. Standup has been and is a gift.” See The Bend Youth Brigade Paddle Team on Facebook for Kjellesvik’s efforts to unite youth, paddle education and water conservation.

“It feels like the sport has matured,” beams Booth. “Some sports die like roller blading and wind surfing (at least in the mainstream). At this point, standup has claimed its surf market share and is here to stay. It’s just too accessible. Participants can enjoy it right away, gear is readily available, and a core of pros and semi-pros surround and enjoy it. Even Dick’s and Walmart want a piece of the pie.”

Tumalo Creek Standup Paddleboarding Classes
Basic Skills, Thursdays & Sundays, 9-11am

For brand new paddle boarders. Covers basic board design, how to carry and load a board, how to hold a paddle correctly, what to do if you fall in and where to stand on your board for the best balance. This is a great first step for those who might be slightly intimidated to try standup paddleboarding.

Intermediate Skills, by appointment 11:30am-1:30pm

This class is designed for the paddler who has tried standup paddleboarding with success. It covers proper paddling technique to improve your performance, efficiency and power on the water and refining basic paddle strokes including the forward, draw and turn strokes. This is a great option for those with an eye towards maximizing their workouts or trying whitewater standup paddle boarding in the future.

Sundowner, Mondays, 6-8pm

Paddleboard, PFD and paddle provided for a 90 minute tour on the beautiful Deschutes River with Tumalo Creek’s adventurous standup guides. Tour followed by a complimentary beverage and sunset on our back lawn. Standup nights are designed to introduce new paddlers, ages 16 and up, to the sport and provide an engaging and affordable way to enjoy the river. It is not a class, but they’re happy to give you a few pointers during the tour.

Yoga, Tuesdays, 6-8pm

This class is for those with some standup experience. Host will lead an all-levels Vinyasa flow yoga session on the back lawn behind the shop and then take the group upstream to practice various yoga positions on a very slow moving section of the Deschutes. Connect to your breath, open the body, practice postures and meet like minded people.


Youth Brigade Paddle Team (ages 8-18)

Growing paddlers who are well rounded, proficient in the water and work to protect our waterways


  • Standup Paddle Racing
  • White Water
  • Outrigger Canoeing
  • Learn how to be proactive in protecting water ways

See Facebook page for more information.

Late season Oregon race schedule

August 20/21   Naish George Paddle Challenge   Hood River

September 10   Elk Lake Race and Roundup Finale   Elk Lake

September 17   Maupin Downriver/SUP cross race Maupin

One thought on “From Ocean to Inland: How Surf found its Way to the High Desert

  1. The experience did not feel like ocean surfing, but it made me even more excited to get back into the Pacific with the belief that I’ll be a little better when I do. If you find yourself in Austin, catching endless party waves is a great way to spend an afternoon with friends — especially once the brewery opens.

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