Spring is here, and for the paddler this is usually cause for celebration, but things are different this year... It may be sunny outside, but there's a cloud of uncertainty in many of our minds. In an era of parks closures, physical distancing, shelter-in-place, and economic shut down, can we even go out for a paddle? If we can go, is it selfish?
I don't have all the answers or a degree in pathology, but I can share my views and my plans for Chad Has a Paddle:
Can we go out for a paddle?
Absolutely! But there are factors we must consider:
1. Is access to the lake/river open?
As of May 2, vehicle access to national parks is closed. Vehicle access to provincial parks is now open, and some boat launches are open, but access to facilities (i.e. bathrooms) remains closed. I recommend checking the Parks Canada and Alberta Parks websites for the latest information.
City of Edmonton parks are open, with the exception of some off-leash dog parks. This means that access to the North Saskatchewan River and Hermitage Pond is available. The Sturgeon River in St. Albert is accessible through Riel Recreation Park and is an excellent springtime paddling spot.
2. Can you manage Covid-19 transmission vectors before, during, and after your paddle?
Practicing physical distancing on a SUP is pretty easy, but what about in the parking lot? A key to flattening the curve and preventing future spikes is to ensure that infected individuals (who may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) infect less than 1 other person on average. This essentially means that ideally no one outside our own household should become sick if we become carriers of the virus. Community spread is something to be avoided and will require extreme diligence, even as the economy re-opens.
Everyone must evaluate the risks for themselves, but this is what I consider before choosing to paddle:
3. Is the water safe to paddle?
Covid-19 doesn't make other safety concerns any less relevant. Spring means cold water, higher than usual flows with more debris in the water. Sweepers and ice jams may be present and careful planning is required. Always dress for the water temperature (not just the air temperature), bring spare clothes, check the weather and check the river flow information if headed out onto a river. Avoid larger lakes in cold water and stay close to shore. Wear a lifejacket and use a leash (quick-release in whitewater). Always leave a detailed float plan, and paddle with a buddy whenever possible.
We absolutely can paddle during these difficult times, and I believe it helps both our mental and physical well being. But we also must be responsible citizens, and consider the impacts of our actions. I don't expect that everyone will agree with me on every point, but I think the consideration itself is important. A responsible paddler considers their impact on others and the environment (that other looming crisis), a selfish paddler does not.
How is Covid-19 Impacting Chad Has A Paddle?
My goal with this business is to enable people to learn and enjoy stand up paddle boarding safely. Covid-19 doesn't change this, but it will change this season's operations a little:
Firstly, the business must be permitted to operate. Secondly, the services offered must change for this new normal. Chad Has A Paddle currently offers 3 different services, and each of these are impacted differently:
Used SUP Sales
Used SUP sales are not impacted by the current restrictions. I do not operate a storefront and instead deliver the boards within the Edmonton area for free. This can be done while respecting physical distancing and with contactless payment. The prices for our oldest models have been significantly reduced, if you're looking for a quality board and want to support local, this is a great time. Paddles are available (with board purchase only) for an additional $100. Any board purchase includes basic SUP training for free, as soon as that training can safely be provided.
While SUP rentals are delivered in the same manner as Used SUPs, and could arguably be delivered under the current restrictions, I believe it is most appropriate to wait for Stage 1 of the Alberta's Re-launch Strategy. Stage 1 has a focus on outdoor activities and is tentatively scheduled for May 14. SUP rentals will be available once Alberta enters Stage 1.
Prior to Stage 1, I will be evaluating and enhancing sanitation practices for rental equipment in a Covid-19 world. Based on the available information on how long the virus remains on surfaces, its susceptibility to UV light, and the fact that most rental equipment is only used on weekends, I understand the risk to be extremely low. However, you can rest assured that boards, paddles, life jackets and leashes will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between rentals.
SUP Instruction requires the same diligence with respect to equipment that rentals need and adds a few new challenges. Instruction involves bringing a group of up to 7 people (including the instructor) together in the same space. In addition to waiting for Stage 1 of Alberta's Re-launch Strategy, Instruction must also wait for the go-ahead from Paddle Canada. The earliest this could occur is June 1.
After receiving the go-ahead from Paddle Canada, Chad Has A Paddle will offer lessons with a few changes until the Covid-19 threat has passed:
These measures are being taken out of an abundance of caution, as there is messaging from some health authorities that the risk of transmission outdoors appears to be minimal, but there are still a lot of unknowns and disagreements. Safety is always my #1 priority. Paddle season is short enough already; I want everyone to stay healthy so we can enjoy all of it.
My business was born out of a desire to introduce people to not only SUP, but our local waterways as well. When I first paddled the North Saskatchewan River, I was absolutely floored. I was blown away by how beautiful the river valley in Edmonton was of course, but also by how few people were actually experiencing it. Why wasn't this better promoted? Why did I live in Edmonton for a decade before venturing onto the river? How many others were similarly missing out, and what could I do to help change this? This remains a primary goal, and I had planned to add tours the services Chad Has A Paddle provides this year, but they may need to wait.
Operating tours on the river requires a shuttle between start and finish, which makes physical distancing much more challenging. Also, like with lessons, having open tour dates would bring people from different households and social circles together. In normal times this is a great outcome, as you can never have enough paddling friends, but it is something to be avoided during a pandemic.
The pandemic is not without its personal challenges as well. This past winter I left my job to travel New Zealand and planned to get a new job in Edmonton this spring. Covid-19 has made this much more challenging. While I'd love for my SUP business to be successful enough to support me, the reality is that it can't do that in its current form. I'm continuing my job search, and if that pulls me away from Edmonton, the nature of services I can provide in Edmonton will have to change as well. Rest assured that I am dedicated to Edmonton, and growing the sport here. No matter where I end up, my heart is here and will services will continue here, even if they do change in form.
I hope to see everyone out on the water (from 2m away) soon!
Chad writes about Edmonton, SUP, travel and his van. We participate in affiliate programs, and can earn a commission on qualifying products linked in the blog.