Shop Talk: Rendezvous River Sports
When most people think of standup paddling, they think of a peaceful paddle on a lake or riding a wave down the line. But, the folks at Rendezvous River Sports have a different image in mind when it comes to SUP: running whitewater and eddy turns. Here, owner Aaron Pruzan tells us about running a SUP and kayak shop in picturesque Jackson Hole, Wyo., and the joy he gets from sharing his love of the river with experienced paddlers and beginners alike. —Rebecca Parsons
SUP mag: Tell us about your background.
Pruzan: I grew up paddling canoes from when I was about eight [years old] and have been involved with paddle sports from the whitewater side of things for the last 25 years. I did a lot of expedition traveling and some racing. When I was in Maui in the fall of 2006, I saw some people standup paddling while I was surfing. One of my friends there turned me onto it. He said, ‘you got to try this out.’ So, I got on a board and it felt really good. It was really fun and I was catching waves right away—it felt natural.
SUP mag: Tell us about the history of the shop.
Pruzan: The kayak school started in 1992 and the shop opened in 1995. We started with a heavy whitewater focus. We were pushing boundaries, as far as doing exploratory stuff in the Wind River Mountains, hiking into steep creeks, and getting on one of the early New Zealand helicopter boating trips.
The mid-90s were kind of big whitewater years. We were running a lot of runs at levels higher than they’d been experiencing and finding lots of new, great whitewater. It was a really fun time and whitewater kayaking was booming. We realized that we needed to broaden our focus, so we started doing things like selling touring and recreational kayaks and offering multi-day sea kayaking tours up in Yellowstone. In the summer of 2007, we stocked one SUP board in the shop and sold it right away. Things kind of snowballed from there. We were quick to embrace SUP as a new, fun thing on the water.
SUP mag: What does Jackson Hole have to offer as far as SUP is concerned?
Pruzan: Jackson Hole could be the best paddling in the mountain west. We’ve got 60 miles of amazing class II moving water with incredible views of the Teton and Snake River mountain ranges everywhere you look. It’s got fast enough water to be interesting and require skills, but there are sections that are wide open and nice. The Snake River is kind of a unique mountain river because there aren’t many mountain rivers that are consistently deep like the Snake is. It’s great for standup, especially for learning because you don’t have to worry if you fall. We’ve also got an amazing string of mountain lakes.
SUP mag: What’s it like teaching SUP lessons on the river?
Pruzan: People paddle standups on lakes in a lot of places, but to be able to learn to paddle one on the river is a pretty unique thing for people coming to visit Jackson Hole. We teach people how to work with the currents, the basics of river safety, and to carve on the turns. It’s really fun for clients.
SUP mag: Do you have to be experienced to take a river lesson?
Pruzan: We take straight up beginners on the river. There are varying degrees of success; some people figure things out right away. Once you’re up to speed with the currents, it’s easy to balance and paddle. It’s the changing speeds and directions that give people a hard time. We’re often able to get people without very much experience surfing small waves, which is really fun.
Pruzan: Mainly beginners, but we’ve actually had a number of people that are fairly experienced ocean surfers on regular boards and standup boards. They have a challenging time with the eddy lines because it’s just a different concept to understand. A really strong eddy turn is just as fun as a bottom turn on a wave. You have all that downstream energy and you’re taking it into the eddy. If you hit it just right, it’ll rocket you up into the eddy and with one stroke you’re right back out into the current. Those lessons have been some of the most fun that I’ve gotten to teach.
SUP mag: Tell us about your SUP instructor certification courses.
Pruzan: We offered one of the first ACA level 3 SUP instructor certification courses. It teaches all the basic paddle skills, as far as basic strokes that you’d use on a paddleboard. It also applies stuff like river safety involving a standup paddleboard and using leashes properly. It’s a five-day course and it’s really fun.
SUP mag: What are the perks of taking beginners on the river on paddleboards as opposed to kayaks?
Pruzan: A kayak is always going to be a superior tool for running challenging whitewater, but a lot of people worry about having their legs in a kayak and flipping over. On a standup you just fall off and climb back on. We can take people to sections on a standup board that you’d have to work your way up to in a kayak. If you flip over in a kayak and you don’t know how to roll, then you have to bail and swim, whereas on a standup board, you go, ‘oh I fell off,’ and you climb back on and keep going. It’s been cool because I’ve gotten people into river running who were intimidated by the idea of being on a river before.
SUP mag: Why do you think SUP has been growing in popularity?
Pruzan: People just like the simple things I guess. A lot of the mountain sports are really gear intensive, but for paddling you just need a board and a paddle, and a life jacket I guess, and you’re off. I think that’s what’s really going to help as far as being a sport that’s here to stay—just the simplicity and the fact that anyone can do it.