Photos courtesy of Lance Ostrom
Notching a first SUP circumnavigation of a remote island in Palau is a far cry from the typical snowboarding sessions that father-and-son Terry and Lance Ostrom usually find themselves doing back home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. But swapping snowboards for SUPs is exactly what they found themselves doing during an eight-day paddle in February through a remote archipelago between Guam and the Philippines.
"I'd seen photos and a story about an island complex down there that you could camp through via kayak," says Lance, whose schooling in the sport came from following the likes of Spencer Lacy down the Grand Canyon and to a river foray in Chile. "My dad had some time off and wanted to do some snorkeling, so I pitched him this idea of paddling the Rock Islands in Palau."
While the story touted sea kayaking the islands, Lance convinced the outfitter to let them bring standup paddleboards. "The sport hadn’t hit the islands yet," Lance says. "So we worked a deal to trade SUPs for an all-expense paid trip through the islands. No one had ever done that before."
With that, they set off, flying two 12'6" Hala boards down for the circumnavigation. Accompanied by local sea kayak guide Kabray Fraser, for eight days they snorkeled, spearfished and paddled by day, and pulled up on remote, jungle-lined beaches to camp, grill fish and eat coconuts by night. With a boat bringing in resupplies on days three and six, in all they paddled 22 miles as the seagull flies, but far more exploring the archipelago's network of bays and lagoons en route.
"We pretty much lucked out on most everything," Lance says. "The paddling was mellow, the rain events were more blessing than curse, and we had a tail wind the whole time."
According to Lance, one of the hardest parts was dealing with the seven-foot tides. "Having a guide definitely helped with the tide charts," he said. "It was nice to have that local knowledge. You have to time them correctly— surrounded by super sharp reefs, many of the campsites are only accessible at certain times."
While a few rainstorms kept them on their toes paddling and at camp—where a freak windstorm broke their tents and blew their boards into the trees in the middle of the night—for the most part it was smooth sailing. "There was one night that was pretty epic with the wind," Lance said. "We ended up moving into a makeshift shelter we found, where we felt like the three pigs in their straw house, battling a hurricane. We decided the probability of it collapsing on us was less likely than being clocked by a flying coconut outside."
But the scenery made it all worth it. "It was some of the best tropical scenery I've ever seen—the water was a million different shades of blue," Lance said, adding from their boards they could see reefs as well as sharks, rays, turtles and fish 50 feet down. "And at low tide, the islands were surrounded in golden rings of sand, which combined with the green vegetation and blues of the sea made an incredible contrast in colors."
As for others attempting the journey, best to combine forces with someone like Fraser. "It's very doable for most people, but go in blind and you could get into serious trouble."