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Stand-up paddle boarding grows in popularity

A relatively new water-based sport is on the scene
Allen Kurtz is watching stand-up paddle boarding take off.

Sometimes opportunity just presents itself, and Allen Krutz just happens to be in the right place and at the right time.

West Coast Outdoor sits on the edge of Sooke Harbour -- a perfect location for adventure enthusiasts looking to try stand-up paddle boards.

Decked out in a brown leather outback hat, owner and operator, Allen Krutz, looks every bit the intrepid adventurer he is.

In 2008, after travelling through the wilds of Canada Krutz, his wife, two daughters and Elf the cat, settled in Sooke. Their plan to open up a backpacker’s hostel in the Rockies fell through when the recession occurred pushing them in a different direction. “We were going to include an adventure centre as part of the hostel but then the world collapsed,” Crutz said.

“The northern hemisphere of Canada is New Zealand. It’s its twin,” he said. At the same time the country can be daunting to a newcomer explained Crutz. “When you’re an immigrant, Canada is a gigantic place,” he said.

A UK career fire-fighter for 10 years, a sponsored competitive mountain biker and a long time short boarder originally from New Zealand, Krutz is a self-proclaimed “adrenaline junky” at heart.

Krutz acts as vice president of the Sooke mountain bike club and who practices surfing, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking and now surf stand-up paddle boarding in his free time. In his office on the water’s edge, Krutz looks quite at home with surf and paddle gear mounted on the walls; surf boards and stand-up boards and kayaks racked above and around him.

Krutz comes from a long lineage of surfing. “My second cousin started the first New Zealand surfer magazine,” Krutz said. One of the best breaks in town called Back Beach was only accessible through the farm Krutz grew up on. At the age of 17 he caught his first wave riding a five foot seven board in ‘giant surf’--blue green rollers easily three times overhead but as he said, “we had time to learn up.”

In January 2011 Crutz attempted stand-up paddle-boarding for the first time and found it to be an easy and enjoyable activity for all ages.

“When you’re cruising around and there’s not a soul in sight and you can look straight down and see the salmon moving past you, it’s pretty awesome,” he said.

Stand-up paddle boarding is a great core work out aimed at the ‘kayaker’ type of individual Crutz explains. “Flat water paddle boarding is like mountain biking. The biggest demographic is the recreational user. Surfers have that second option.”

Krutz found his new business opportunity in a round about way. “What finally turned it for me was the Prestige had this conference next door and they wanted an activity.”  Four middle-aged women arrived at West Coast Outdoor requesting to go stand-up paddle boarding. At the time, Krutz possessed only one wetsuit, some stand-up paddle boards belonging to the rep and a few pairs of neoprene booties but he decided to go with the flow. The women had no stand-up paddle boarding experience but Krutz made sure they all wore PFD’s, signed waivers and attended a dock demonstration on how to paddle, how to stand on the board and general water safety.

“Customers have to be proficient on the board before they take it in the ocean. The harbour here is perfect for learning,” he said.

Krutz then sent the women out on their own to practice their skills. Although it’s considered an easy and safe sport, certain precautions have to be taken with stand-up paddle boarding he tells me. “Wind can be an issue and you have to know when to turn back,” said Krutz who fosters a real safety first mentality from having fought fires.

There have not been any problems to date and Krutz doesn’t expect any.

“The ladies came back an hour-and-a-half later with huge grins. No one fell in and got wet. I thought if people with no experience could do this, than anyone could,” Krutz said realizing he’d discovered his next business opportunity. “You can go three kilometres up the Sooke River if you wanted on these stand-up boards, they’re very versatile. You can even dance on them,” he said.

When people began making inquiries about renting stand-up paddle boards Krutz said he ordered eight new boards for this March.

On the island paddle boarding is two-years old, he tells me.

“Stand-up paddle boarding is still in its infancy here,” he said.  “It’s a transition. Most surf stand-up paddlers out here are traditional surfers as well.” The reasons traditional surfers choose to switch to stand-up paddle boarding can be numerous but Krutz breaks it down to one. “Time quality is why people switch. You can surf for three hours and get back to your family instead of waiting for waves and you can ride a full range of breaks.”

Not everyone accepts stand-up paddle boarding though and confrontations between traditional surfers and those learning on stand-up boards are not unusual in areas like Jordan River on a busy day. Krutz believes this will change over time. “Paddle board surfing is becoming more accepted. It is a different sport much like the difference of snowboarding and skiing,” he said.

When a customer comes into the shop asking about stand-up paddle boards, he first asks them, “do you have surfing experience?”  They must be knowledgeable about the etiquette of surfing. For experienced stand-up surfers, Whiffin Spit is a great place for individuals to try their skills he tells me. “It’s good to try a little wave when it’s working on the spit as it’s safe and close to shore,” Krutz said.

A worldly traveller Krutz has explored Siberia, China, Australia and many other countries not to mention voyaging from New Zealand to England — without flying, with his wife.

“My hopes for this year is awareness in the local market. I want people to realize what we have here. Sometimes it’s easier to get customers from Holland than Langford,” Krutz said with a laugh.