By Jessica Federkeil, Point Park News Service:
Jackie Rodgers, a Pittsburgh Olympian and professional athlete, has recently added another sport to her résumé — stand up paddleboarding.
“There is really nothing to stand up paddleboarding,” Rodgers, 32, of Baldwin said. “You can make something to it — sit, swim, try different tricks. Its just fun, and it gets you outside.”
Rodgers has competed professionally in track and field and bobsledding so athletics is her area of expertise.
She recently teamed up with the one of the city’s paddleboard companies, the Northeast Paddleboard Company, Downtown, in order to raise money for Rodgers to travel and compete in the CrossFit games in Miami, Fla., this January.
“It was just a laid back weekend, I asked for people to come out and try (stand up paddleboarding), and just hang out with me,” Rodgers said. “Half of the money that was raised went to me, and half went to the Northeast Paddleboard Company. I will donate half of whatever I got to local animal shelters.”
The Northeast Paddleboard Co. was founded by Sandy Steffan, 32, of Elizabeth, who is a lifelong water sport enthusiast.
“Within 30 seconds of being on the board for the first time, I fell in love with it,” Steffan said. “I was supposed to be out for two hours, and I ended up staying out there for like four or five.”
When stand up paddleboarding first came on the scene in Pittsburgh, it was impossible to find the equipment in the area.
“After I got back to Pittsburgh I thought, ‘I really want to buy a paddleboard,’” Steffan said. “I couldn’t find one here, so I had to drive to Virginia Beach.”
Today, Steffan has turned her newfound love for paddleboarding into a successful business.
“Owning a business was always a huge goal of mine,” Steffan said. “I feel I have a lot of great ideas. It just all kind of clicked with this. I cashed in everything I had and figured out a way to make it work.”
As the stand up paddleboard trend has grown, many people find themselves wondering what it takes to perfect the paddleboard form.
“Stand up paddleboarding is almost a hybrid of kayaking and surfing,” Steffan said. “You are not confined like the way you are in a kayak. It’s a really open, free experience. It’s really easy. I know it looks hard, but we tell people all the time it’s so much easier than you would ever think. It’s a really easy approachable sport that anyone can do.”
Rodgers echoed Steffan’s opinions that anybody has the ability to succeed at stand up paddleboarding.
“I love that all shapes and sizes can do it,” Rodgers said. “I think a lot of people don’t think they can do it. It’s one of those things once you get on the board and stand up you realize you can do it.”
With a Downtown location, the Northeast Paddleboard Co. is able to launch from the Mon Wharf.
“We have the launch point on the Mon Wharf, which I love,” Steffan said. “It allows people to get 30 minutes of experience before they make it to the Point and they have an audience.”
However, it seems some people are still skeptical of the city’s rivers.
“These rivers had a bad rap for so long,” Steffan said. “I have customers come in and say they aren’t getting in the river. Usually within an hour they are fine and jumping into the water.”
The trend of stand up paddleboarding in the city demonstrates peoples’ difference in opinion of the rivers, Stephan Bontrager, director of communications with River Life Pittsburgh said.
“During Pittsburgh’s industrial heyday many people viewed the rivers as dirty and unsafe, and it was difficult to even get down to the water because of limited access,” he said. “Over the past generation we’ve seen Pittsburgh’s riverfronts go from unwelcoming industrial areas to cleaner, green parks that are accessible to everyone, and more people are embracing the rivers as assets for recreation.”
Steffan said she feels compulsive about safety consciousness, which follows all the local safety guidelines and laws.
“I’m really strict on water conditions and safety,” Steffan said. “I have a crazy list of certifications when it comes to water safety.”
The outdoor season for paddleboarding is left in the hands of Mother Nature. However, Steffan is doing her best to make it a year-round sport here in Pittsburgh.
“We teach at local schools,” Steffan said. “We start with the bare bones about water safety then board safety and the board mechanics. We work our way up to see the board and do demos in the pool. I love to do stuff like that and share with the community.”
The Northeast Paddle Board Co. also offers indoor yoga stand up paddleboard classes throughout the fall and winter months.
Other packages offered during the regular outdoor season range from fun first time beginner classes to doggie paddle, where you bring your four legged friends along for the ride.
As a fast growing trend, many people think they will try stand up paddleboarding to see what it’s like, and end up finding a new passion.
“We see a lot of people who come just to cross it off their bucket list turn into regular costumers,” Steffan said.