Only a few short years ago, stand-up paddleboarding was still raising eyebrows on Missoula's lakes and rivers. Strongwater's Luke Rieker remembers he could hardly hit the water without getting asked questions.
"About three years ago, people would be like, 'What are those?' They wouldn't know what they were," Rieker says. "But now, everybody, even the tubers, are like, 'Those are stand-up paddleboarders.'"
Now that stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, has officially taken off, the questions have subsided and the sport has exploded. Casual paddleboarders are a common sight on the Clark Fork. Hot House Yoga recently began offering water-bound yoga classes on paddleboards. And within the next few weeks, Missoula will host not one but two competitive paddleboarding events: This Sunday's SUP Cup, organized by Windermere Real Estate, and Strongwater's Lake Missoula SUP Classic on Aug. 3.
"More and more people are getting into stand-up paddleboarding, and I think they're looking for the next thing," Rieker says. "Racing is that."
Windermere had initially hoped to hold a rowing event in Missoula this year similar to the company's annual competition in Seattle, but SUP Cup coordinator Leslie Weatherby says they felt paddleboarding was "something that was really taking off."
"We wanted to do something different, help promote the sport and get in on the ground floor," Weatherby says. Windermere is donating the proceeds to the nonprofit Watershed Education Network and to Brennan's Wave, which has struggled for funding to repair a crack. The race will start at the Sha-Ron Fishing Access Site in East Missoula and finish at Caras Park.
Weatherby estimates 40 people have signed up so farentry fees range between $50 and $100though Windermere had capped the event at 200. She expects to hit 50 participants by race day. "We knew it wasn't going to be big this year," she says, "but we kind of wanted to keep it small because we're testing the waters ourselves."
While the SUP Cup is taking place within two weeks of Strongwater's race, Rieker doesn't see the events clashing. The Lake Missoula Classic has an entry fee of just $10, and the route will be a simple half-mile loop between the Higgins Avenue bridge and the Doubletree. If anything, Rieker says, the combination is creating some serious buzz around one of Montana's newest sports.
"It's definitely not taking any wind out of our sails," Rieker says of the SUP Cup. "It's going to be awesome. It'll get people warmed up."