Paddling Across Lake Powell

This is what happens when flash floods hit Lake Powell. Zack Hughes and Michael Tavares soak it in. Photo: Mike Tavares
This is what happens when flash floods hit Lake Powell. Zack Hughes and Michael Tavares soak it in. Photo: Mike Tavares

Paddling Across Lake Powell

This fall, Mike Tavares and Zack Hughes paddled 150 miles across Lake Powell—the gigantic man-made reservoir of soaring red sandstone cliffs, green water and endless summer boat parties. Hughes, co-owner and shaper for Badfish SUP, had been mulling over paddling the desert lake for years and designed a custom board just for the trip. When Tavares saw the board, the scheming began. Soon the compadres were fighting the desert sun, paddling among flash floods and dodging cigarette boats. We called Tavares to hear about the week-long adventure first-hand.

How was the juxtaposition of paddling self powered v. all the powerboats on the lake?
It was funny because the first day we put in at the far end of the lake and it’s kind of wilderness. There’s an old marina way up on the shore with all these boats sitting up out of the water and dry. For 15 miles we didn’t see a single person or boat. For the first two or three days we saw like 10 boats. It was kind of cool, it’s not what people think of Lake Powell.

The boats got kind of sketchy at times. Sometime there are 40-50 boats flying at full speed around the lake. There was a cigarette boat race one day and someone at the marina told us later that they were going between 80-100 miles per hour. There’s no speed limit on the lake. We were like, “We better get to shore.” I didn’t know if they could see us. The coolest was when people would stop. Not that many stopped, they mostly just sped by and stared. It really shocked people.

Tell me about the flash floods.
That was unreal. That storm went through California so we knew it was coming. Rangers and boaters told us it was going to be a big storm. We hunkered down on a beach for the night and when we woke up we could litereally see five, 10, 15 flash floods pouring into the lake. Forty-five minutes after the rain stopped a waterfall just exploded out of a V-slot canyon. It sounded like a train. That day we probably saw 100 waterfalls. No one was on the lake. I don’t think many people get to see that. It was pretty magical. That was one of the things that made the trip special.

I know you guys are good friends but how did you and Zack get along?
We got along really great. We sat down before the trip and decided what our goals were basically that it was not a speed mission, we wanted to see as much as we could. If one person got tired we took a break. There were days where I was super tired in the morning and he was really amped and vice versa. It was a good dynamic for sure. That’s a hard thing to accomplish but with two people pretty it’s easy to do.

When camp looks like this, who would want to get up and start paddling?
When camp looks like this, who would want to get up and start paddling?

It sounds like you got started slow each morning. What do you think are the advantages to the anti-dawn patrol?
The campsites we had were so amazing we didn’t want to leave. We wanted to enjoy it. But we did get wind because of that. Camping in remote places is one of the reasons you go out there. We paddled until late at night, waiting for the wind to die in the evening and would do 10-15 miles. It was not ideal for a speed mission. We took ten days of supplies but we ended up doing six full (paddling) days, five full, two half.

If you were to redo the trip what would you change?
I would probably go lighter. Both of our boards weighed 120 pounds with gear and all of our supplies. Pushing that much weight across the lake was a beast, as soon as I stopped paddling I’d stop in like five seconds. I’d take a bivy sack, less clothes, less food. Other than that I wouldn’t change anything.

What was your most important piece of gear?
A nice paddle. I don’t know how many paddle strokes we took but it was probably tens of thousands. Having a quality carbon race paddle really made a difference.

Hughes' custom "Busito."
Hughes’ custom “Busito.”

Tell me about Zack’s Busito design.
Zack’s a mad scientist when it comes to board design. The Busito had tons of room for gear in front and back and got the gear down low to get it away from the water and wind. He was really happy with it. It had a pretty fast, almost full displacement hull. It’s 35 inches wide and it was really, really fast. It was designed to paddle best when loaded.

Mike T’s Gear List
Group Gear
Food – besides snacks and power bars
Tent and Tarp
Stove
Water filters
Break down paddle
My Personal List
Boardshorts, a few tees, hoodie, rain jacket, beanie
Sleeping pad & Bag
Small folding camp chair
Small first aid and med kit
Lots of electrolyte drink mixes, Shot Blox, Energy Goo and protein bars
Sunscreen & extra sunglasses
Trucker hat
Three Go Pro’s
IPhone – for photos and emergency calls and music
2- Goal Zero solar panels for charging our camera
Watershed Drybags for everything
Vest Pack – Hydration and front pouch for camera
Extra Fin – FCS Slater Trout
PFD – Type 5, not the waist pack inflatable
Rail tape & gorilla tape
Small kitchens supplies & Lighter
Boardworks Great Bear 14, FCS Weed Fin, 2 extra sets of deck bungies
Extras
Zack had full fishing set up – for slaying striper’s
Small grill top

More Field Notes here.