Pedal or paddle? Inland360 reporters give leg-powered paddle board a whirl

by Michelle Schmidt and Jennifer K. Bauer

In the interest of expanding our reader's summer horizons, Inland 360 reporters Michelle Schmidt and Jennifer Bauer took the plunge (literally, more than once) and tested out one of the newest additions to the world of water sport, the stand-up pedal drive powered paddleboard.

Tri-State Outfitters in Lewiston rents paddleboards and on a recent summer afternoon we took one of their regular paddleboards and one of their leg-powered paddleboards, the Hobie Mirage Eclipse, out for a spin on the Snake River.

Jennifer: When we decided to do this I wondered why anyone would want a pedalboard. It seems like you're complicating a relaxing outdoor pursuit with the addition of pedals and handles. I was even more suspect when you arrived with the boards in the back of your truck and I saw we had to attach the pedals and handles to the board.

?????Michelle: Right? I was a bit worried at the store when they showed me how it went together. But I faked it and hoped I could retain what they showed me for the 15 minutes it took to drive down to the river. This is a far cry from putting together an IKEA table, though. For one, there are just three pieces – the board, the pedal drive and the handles. And it’s pretty intuitive. Things just click into place.

Jennifer: Yes, or so it seemed. I got on the pedalboard first, grabbed the handles and started pushing my feet up and down. It felt like I was on a stair climber at the gym. I was stair climbing up the river. I felt like a dork but you assured me I did not look like one, because I was wearing a cowboy hat.

Michelle: And a life jacket with a whistle -- that helped with the image too. What didn’t help, however, was that you weren’t really going anywhere.

Jennifer: No, I was weaving back and forth erratically. I could not go in a straight line. I looked like a drunk stair climber in a cowboy hat. You steer the pedalboard with hand brakes and my hands were aching trying to correct my course. I thought, why would anyone spend more than $2,000 on this? Thankfully, you called Google to the rescue.

Michelle: Watching you may have been the funniest thing I saw all summer. Turns out it’s harder to stay balanced on a paddleboard when you’re laughing that hard. But after we traded vessels – hey, we had to rule out operator error – I began to suspect it was the fin on the bottom. Fortunately we hadn’t gotten very far, so I went to shore to retrieve my phone from the truck. Sure enough, there was an easy-to-find demo video on how to put the fin in, which was quite different from what we’d been trying.

Jennifer: Once the rudder fin was installed correctly you were speeding around the river on the pedalboard. I was surprised by how fast it was. We had a race and there was no contest.

Michelle: And it wasn’t just fast – it was fun. Regular paddleboarding is fine – I mean, it’s relaxing, it’s nice for getting out on the water – but for me, it’s a bit unexciting. With this thing, though, you can zip around and cut sharp corners. I could even get some semblance of a wake behind me.

Jennifer: You totally did. It did feel like more of a work out and you could easily cover long distances with it but you have to be wary of shallow depths and rocks with the pedals. It also seemed like it might be easier to stay balanced on because of the handles. The only times I fell off were when I cut corners too sharp.

Michelle: Yeah, those turns can get exciting. I ended up in the water ‘cause I tried to climb directly from it onto the to the regular paddleboard. I have more balance in my imagination than I do in real life. But on a 100-degree day, ending up in the water isn’t so bad. Plus, I had my whistle, so I was safe.

Jennifer: Yes, in Idaho you don't have to wear a helmet riding a motorcycle but you must carry a whistle whilst piloting your paddleboard.

Michelle: For entertainment purposes, I assume. I’m not sure you’d hear it above any motor out there on the river. But law enforcement takes it seriously. I have a friend who forgot hers and got a warning. You also need an annual invasive species sticker in Idaho – which costs $7 for a paddleboard. Funds from these stickers help programs that minimize introduction of invasive species to our water.

Jennifer: So what's your final opinion? Who would you recommend a pedalboard to?

Michelle: If you’re looking for a more active experience, or if you’ve got a lot to explore on the water, the Hobie Mirage Eclipse is your vessel. But if you’re looking for something peaceful and relaxing, stick with a regular paddleboard. And if you can’t decide, try renting. An Eclipse is at least twice as expensive as a regular paddleboard to buy, but it’s not that much more to rent. What about you?

Jennifer: When I go to the river to paddleboard I’m usually not looking to cover a lot of distance or get a big work out, so I’m sticking with the old stand-up paddleboard and the serenity it offers.

Required (by law) for paddleboarding: Life jacket Whistle Invasive species sticker

Looking to try before you buy?

You can rent both paddleboards ($40/day) and Hobie Eclipses ($50/day) at Tri-State Outfitters in Lewiston and Moscow. Rental is for a 24-hour period and includes a life jacket and whistle, if needed, along with basic instructions. You’ll have to bring your own vehicle for transportation. Kayaks and canoes are also available for rental.

Paddleboards are also available to rent through Lewis-Clark State College Float and Tote Rental Center ($25/day for students, $30/day for community), Washington State University Outdoor Rental Center ($20/day members, $27/day non-members) and University of Idaho Rental Center ($34/day, with discount for students).

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