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OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

How to Feel Like You’re Walking on Water

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by Matt Crane

Photo by Ben Moore

It’s been more than a year since I ventured out on a stand-up paddleboard, and I’m struck by temporary amnesia. Do I step on it like a skateboard? Or lie on it like a boogie board?

Luckily, my friend Melanie takes over.

Kneeling on her board, she launches away from the shallow water we’ve been standing in. I follow, and soon we’re both standing, with only a few wobbles, on the James River.

The railroad bridge above us gives way to opulent blue sky while we start our first paddle strokes, aiming to travel upriver and against the current.

The Richmond skyline winks with the late afternoon sun to our right, and the breeze skimming over the water feels luxurious against the humidity.

All more than enough reasons to play hooky from work.

There are lots of options for enjoying the James River through downtown -- kayaks, tubing, sunning on the rocks. But the feeling on a stand-up paddleboard is unlike any other.

A variety of Richmond operations rent board for reasonable rates along the river between downtown and Chesterfield County. We opt for the Riverside Outfitters kiosk on Brown’s Island, for convenience and the novelty of staying within sight of the downtown skyline.

Expecting to be grilled about our experience level, we’re pleasantly surprised that only a waiver is required to get started. But we suggest asking for advice and pointers, too.

We pay $15 each for an hour’s rental, and soon are heading for the water with life preservers and paddles.

The burnt orange boards are sturdy and wide, more dinner table than surf board. This is perfect, because we’re novices, and the river has enough current to require constant attention.

We’re able to enjoy a conversation while we skim between rocks and small islands. Soon, the bounding spans of the pedestrian bridge to Belle Isle seem to be flying above us. I’m amazed at how much higher the bridge looks from this perspective, and the joggers and cyclists seem incredibly small.

Eventually, we reach a set of serious rapids, and are unable to paddle any further upstream. As we turn back for home, the skyline rewards us with glittering reflections of the fading sun, and the river’s now-helpful current makes for a nimble return to our launching spot.

Even 45 minutes works up a generous sweat, though we also gain a serious dose of the river’s relaxing properties. We’re definitely going to return, and bring a bigger group of people!

Getting started? Here’s where to dip your paddle:

Riverside Outfitters

Two locations, including a kiosk on Brown's Island. Guided tours, SUP Yoga, rafting, and more.

Black Dog Paddle

Offers lessons and a wide variety of paddle-board tours out of Robious Landing in Midlothian.

RVA Paddle Sports

For those looking to get closer to the water than SUP. A wide variety of kayak and whitewater options.

More to see:

The T. Potterfield Bridge

Scenic and romantic, this pedestrian-only bridge is an extra special treat at night

James River Park System Entrances

Skip the crowds at Belle Isle by parking off Riverside Drive. The 43rd Street entrance is particularly quiet, with a rocky river access perfect for finding that ideal spot to catch sun on. (Or if you want to run, try these favorite routes from Chad Williams.)

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