Iowa was a part of the French colony of New France that was acquired through the Louisiana Purchase, and it became the 29th state in 1846. Bordered by the Mississippi River on the east and the Missouri River to the west, and crisscrossed by 18,000 miles of navigable creeks, streams, rivers and lakes, the state has 923 miles of state-designated "Water Trails" with another 588 miles planned. The state capital, Des Moines, lies at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. Who needs a coastline when you've got all that?
Four years ago, Katie Gilbert, owner of No Coast Standup, "decided Iowa needed paddleboarding." Here's her story. —Tom Fucigna
SUP mag: What is your background?
Gilbert: I have always been a water person. I spent my teen years teaching swimming lessons and getting way too much sun. I love kayaking and canoeing and put in a lot of paddling miles before breaking my tailbone snowboarding and losing the ability to sit in a boat for hours at a time.
SUP mag: How did you first get into standup paddling?
Gilbert: My first experience with SUP was at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado five years ago. C4 Waterman was holding a free demo and I jumped at the chance. The mountain lake had been snow just days before and I was shaking like a leaf, not wanting to fall in that ice cold water. It was months later that I realized I had taken a free lesson from some of the greatest Hawaiian Watermen in the sport. Pretty cool for an Iowa country girl!
SUP mag: Why did you decide to get into the SUP market?
Gilbert: After falling in love with SUP in Colorado I came home stoked to get a board and get started. I found myself very discouraged after having multiple local paddle shops laugh at me when I asked about the possibility of buying a board. I ended up ordering online and hating the board that came. I am five feet tall and my new board was a tank. Not having the opportunity to paddle it first, or have a knowledgeable salesperson help me choose a board, left me with a terrible fit. That experience got me thinking about getting some training and bringing SUP to Iowa so others could have the option to try this sport I was crazy about.
Being a stay-at-home mom and working every day at my other passion – self sustainability, and running our mini-farm, made me hesitant to jump into a business venture. I raise my own veggies, fruit, eggs and meat, and heat our home with wood and solar. Just trying my hardest to be Little House on the Prairie.
Then, one day, I was told by my son’s first grade teacher that my child was the only kid in his class that went outside on the weekends. I was dumbfounded by that, and it soon became the driving force for my starting No Coast four seasons ago. Our goal is to help get kids off the couch and outside. We hold monthly free events to give families an opportunity to play together and see what a great resource our local waterways are. If it is free, they will come.
We don’t have a brick and mortar store. Our season is just too short, and we've got to get our time in before the snow hits. We keep everything updated online and run our business off the trailer with our fleet of SUP boards.
We provide introductory demos and classes at Grays Lake Park in Des Moines, taught by an instructor WPA-certified in water safety and stand up, plus SUP Yoga taught by RYT-200 Yoga Instructor Ann York, as well as Fitness SUP and private lessons and parties.
SUP mag: What features of your location make it appealing for standup paddling?
Gilbert: Iowa is incredibly beautiful and waiting for us all to explore. Des Moines was settled at the confluence of two rivers, which are fed by many smaller rivers and streams that give locals endless paddle possibilities. The Des Moines River provides us with two beautiful big lakes north and south of the city. If that is not enough, we are also blessed to have many smaller paddle-friendly lakes within the city. It is so amazing to watch our SUP Yoga class float across the lake with the skyline in the background. The city is also great about allowing us access and encouraging outdoor activities.
SUP mag: What brands of boards and paddles do you carry?
Gilbert: Iowa has some pretty rough conditions, so I am very picky about what I carry. I am dedicated to bringing quality SUP equipment to Iowa and I am a freak for “try before you buy.” We carry boards from C4 Waterman, Tahoe SUP, Odyssey SUP, Starboard, and Badfish SUP, and we special order from Boardworks, Naish, and Bic. We carry paddles by C4 Waterman-Pohaku, Whiskeyjack, Starboard and Boardworks. We also carry helmets, river fins and leashes.
SUP mag: What size, or types, of boards have been popular?
Gilbert: With all the local rivers we have always sold a ton of inflatables, not to mention that inflatables are awesome for snow SUPing during our long winters. Des Moines also has a pretty fast growing SUP Yoga community so the wider planing hull boards have also sold very well for us. 2013 has been the first year that we are seeing a nice interest in 12’6″ displacement hull rec/race/tour boards. Locals are starting to have more of an interest in long distance paddles and local races.
SUP mag: Have any particular products been trending?
Gilbert: Our customers are loving the re-leashes that Badfish SUP has put out this season. Having a leash while river surfing is so nice when you need to swim for that eddy and you don’t want to lose your board down the river. Having the quick release option that the Badfish leash offers gives you a safe way to release yourself from the board if you get caught up on something in the river. It is genius.
SUP mag: Have you organized any events?
Gilbert: One of our main goals with No Coast was to create a community. We were noticing so much strife in many of the other local sports and did not want that for the Iowa SUP scene. We host the Des Moines Standup Paddle Group, a 175+ group of locals that love to paddle. Everyone is welcome no matter who you are, what you paddle or what you believe. Respect comes first with the group and everyone loves helping each other and sharing knowledge. The group holds events all year long. We do Ladies Night and Men’s Night Paddles, Race Training, SUP Yoga, Family BBQ paddles, and the list goes on. In the winter, when the ice steals our joy, we hold monthly film fests to try and keep the stoke going. Iowa has such an amazing SUP family.
We also sponsor a team that includes Iowa native Hannah Childs, who especially enjoys SUP surfing the waves of the Charles City Whitewater Park; Ty Graham, who is a Fire Fighter, Paramedic, and River Rescue Squad member, as well as a Boardworks SUP/Badfish SUP Midwest Ambassador; and Bic SUP ambassador Kip Hoffmann. Kip jumped into the SUP race scene in 2012 and took first in the Downriver and Attainment races at the inaugural Charles City Whitewater Challenge SUP races. Team Rider Jake Soll has been on the podium six times this season in local races in both flatwater and river and he took first place in a six-mile downriver event in Illinois last week.
SUP mag: Have you seen anybody doing any new unexpected SUP activities lately?
Gilbert: Kip Hoffmann is the owner of Big River SUP Tours and one of our team riders. We work with him to bring SUP to the northeast corner of Iowa. Kip is a surfer at heart and keeps his surf legs strong by daily SUP surfing his Bic Wing on the wave created behind the Spirit of Dubuque sternwheeler boat as it carries tourists down the Mississippi River. It’s so amazing seeing a boardshorts-wearing, long haired, landlocked surfer get his stoke surfing eight-minute waves on America’s River while the grey-haired tourists snap pics with their Polaroids.
The new rage in the Iowa SUP scene is river surfing. We have some amazing small towns with the foresight to build whitewater parks right in the center of town. The towns welcome paddlers with open arms and paddlers give back by spending money in the local businesses. Charles City, Iowa was the first with a three-wave park, with the first wave being designed for SUP surfing. Charles City is a slice of SUP river heaven. Even Des Moines has a handful of natural waves. We all watch the river levels for just the right amount of water and then run for the wave. It’s classic when people downstream in canoes gawking at you, faces filled with confusion, while you are facing upstream surfing the river waves. River surfing is, hands down, my favorite aspect of this sport.
SUP mag: Where do you think the SUP market is headed?
Gilbert: In our four seasons as a shop the SUP market has changed 100%. In the beginning we had just a few companies making a handful of boards. Now, I couldn’t even guess how many start-ups are out there. I feel that the growth of SUP is endless, but I do believe that the start-ups will start leveling out. The good shapes and construction will stand up in the end. I also feel that the Midwest will emerge as a hot spot in the sport. We have a lot of very strong paddlers that will soon be rocking the SUP race world.
SUP mag: What else would you like our readers to know about your shop or location?
Gilbert: If you are ever find yourself smack in the middle of the country, come paddle with us. We would love to take you out and show you how much fun you can have, even when there is “no coast”!