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Charlie MacArthur Brings Stand-Up Paddling Comes to Aspen's Riverways

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Paddling around the WhitewaterPaddling around the WhitewaterASPEN, CO - Charlie MacArthur, Aspen’s all-around accomplished mountain man, has a new fascination. He’s taught kayaking for decades, and paddled first ascents through river waterways throughout both the Rocky Mountains and Hawaii; he’s taught telemarking, alpine skiing and snowboarding in Aspen and Snowmass for 27 years, and raced his surf ski through 36 miles of open ocean in the prestigious Hawaiian Moloka’i Channel Race. These days, he’s combining key elements of Nordic skiing, surfing and kayaking across Aspen whitewater, bringing the latest craze of stand-up paddling to local rivers, inviting locals and visitors to jump aboard.

Originally conceived in Polynesia, the modern sport of stand-up paddling (SUP) took hold in the Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaiian term for SUP is Ku Hoe He’e Nalu: to stand, to paddle, to surf a wave. In the early 60’s, surfers in Waikiki stood on their long boards and paddled back to shore with outrigger paddles; they were able to take better pictures of tourists learning to surf and take a breather, along the way. These early handymen were called the Beach Boys of Waikiki and their new way of navigating the waves, Beach Boy Surfing. Around the millennium, in the early 2000s, icons such as Laird Hamilton and Brian Kealana embraced the new realm of SUP; they used it to train when the surf was down, take pictures of their surf students for the scrapbook and maybe even enjoy a smoke or two.

MacArthur discovered SUP on his honeymoon to Fiji, in 1993. “It was a combination of my two favorite water sports, surfing and paddling,” he shares. “The following year, I added standup paddling to my own river ventures. I used a standard 12 foot long board and an old windsurfer for the first few seasons, as there weren’t any SUP river- specific boards at the time,” he explains.

“In 2000, my friend Phil Wegener encouraged me to post a YouTube video of me stand-up paddling on the Toothache section of the Roaring Fork River.” Almost immediately Todd Bradley, of C4waterman Board Manufacturers in Hawaii, tracked him down and the two powwowed about the equipment needed for taking the sport from ocean salt water to the fresh water rivers. With input from MacArthur and three renowned Hawaiian watermen, Bradley produced the C-MAC ATB River Board (short for Charlie Mac's All Terrain Board), a 10-foot, 6-inch epoxy board, the first specifically designed to paddle whitewater rivers.

“Freshwater rivers require more flotation than the ocean’s salt water,” explains MacArthur. “Ocean waves are more buoyant and actually move through the water, while river water actually flows through standing waves. River waves maintain their intensity and last indefinitely, with the constant water flow. As one progresses in river SUP, to harder and bigger water, a wider and thicker board is needed, to handle the more violent cross currents and erratic waves.”
Westwater and SandstoneWestwater and Sandstone
Yet there’s plenty of room for learning and getting to know the sport, with gentle waves, expert instruction and an amazing workout, smiles guaranteed. From Aspen's local waters, to warmer, more desert-like stretches, such as Westwater near the Utah border, there are plenty of places to sample the fun, and fitness benefits, of Stand-Up Paddling. MacArthur offers group lessons, single lessons and even a little bit of yoga, the sturdy, stable board doubling as a roomy yoga mat.

Anyone who knows how to swim and walk can SUP,” says MacArthur. And strengthen the core, in the process. “Core strength is definitely enhanced with time and proper technique; and not just the abdominals, but the entire torso,” he continues. “Beginners can expect a really fun time on the water! You can rest really easily by lying down, sitting, or kneeling and you’ll acquire the skills to paddle forward, backwards and to stop. Beginners can expect to paddle, the first time, on flat-water.”

For more information and to book your stand-up paddling adventure, contact, 970-925-4433. Photos courtesy of Todd Patrick Photography,