Nick Murto was reading Laird Hamilton’s book, Force of Nature when he learned about a new water sport. The author raved about a sport called paddle surfing and claimed it was an incredible workout. Murto was interested, but couldn’t find any local retailers. Neither did he know where or how to rent a board, and the thought of spending $1,000 on something that “might be fun” seemed crazy. But as with most athletes, the thought of a new sport was too tempting to pass up.
“I do a lot of water sports in general but wakeboarding is my main thing,” he says. “Now that I’ve finally gotten into paddle surfing I can’t get enough of it. Spokane is a great place to board.”
Stand up paddle surfing (SUP) is an emerging global sport. The sport’s heritage traces back to Hawaii, where it was an ancient form of surfing. In the 1960s, surfing instructors from Hawaii began teaching beginner surfers with a one-bladed paddled, and extra long stand-up surfboard. Standing on the board gave riders a higher viewpoint, which increased their visibility of reefs and incoming swells.
After a great deal of research, Murto caved in and bought a board without ever trying it. He chose a spot along the Spokane River just by Gonzaga for his first attempt. “I’m pretty sure it was March and it may have been snowing,” he says. “I’ll do anything I can to extend the seasons with my dry suit. It’s cold but fun.”
Murto said the attempt was successful (he didn’t even fall) and fun. Here’s how he got on the board. First, start out in approximately one foot of water. Lay the paddle perpendicular to the middle of the board and climb up on your hands and knees. Paddle a little bit before standing up to your feet. Once standing, place both feet on the board, front facing, and bend slightly at the knees. Perform an alternate stroke with the paddle and the rest is up to balance.
You can make it as hard as you want to, Murto says. “The workout isn’t really strenuous unless you’re going upstream, but it’s really good for your balance and your core,” he says. “At the end your legs will feel like you just got a deep tissue massage. They’ll tingle from all the micro movements.”
To date, his longest ride was about 45 minutes from Minnehaha to C.I. Shenanigans. Murto says the river is perfect because it’s pretty and the weather is generally peaceful. “My favorite thing is get up early and go out and experience the river. It’s interesting to see the depth changes in water and fish under the Hamilton Bridge. The river is very clear and it’s amazing the crazy stuff you’ll find. It’s like a ghost town under the water with old structures and shopping carts.”
Although Murto hasn’t ventured from the river, this summer he plans to explore local lakes. As a beginner you can pretty much board anywhere as the long as the water is calm and there’s a body of water, he adds. One day, he hopes to be good enough to ride the waves in Hawaii. Until then, he’ll continue to explore a part of the river that no one seems to see.
“I’d love to see more people using them and being more active on the river,” he says. [If you use a S.U.P., or anything similar on the river we strongly urge you to wear a personal flotation device. – ed.] “Spokane is such a great place for water sports with all its nearby rivers and lakes. Paddle surfing takes no time to learn and it seems like it could be such a social sport. It’d be great to see people doing it.”
To spread the word about paddle surfing, Murto has created a Facebook page called SUP Spokane. Here’s the gear you catch him riding:
PADDLE BOARD: Murto rides a 12-foot long, SUP-ATX Stand Up Paddled Board
PADDLE: A seven-foot tall, carbon fiber handle paddle from SUP-ATX. The paddle length is supposed to be slightly taller than you are, he says.
DRYSUIT: Throughout the fall and winter Murto wears an O’Neill drysuit.
WATER SHOES: NRS booties really keep my feet warm, he says.
WATER GLOVES: NRS gloves.
SHORTS: Murto wears Ten-80 wakeboarding shorts throughout the summer season.
SUNGLASSES: Super Smith Methods sunglasses.
CAR RACK: Murto uses the Thule Food Surf Rack System to transport his board. “The board’s big, anywhere from 10-12 feet, but they did a good job designing it,” he says. “It’s not very heavy.