By Tom Rohrer
An experience that provides a terrific workout in an intimate marine setting free of motors and other distractions, paddleboarding has seen a rise in popularity in the Thurston County area in recent years.
This increase is fueled by the greater Olympia area’s access to Puget Sound, numerous lakes, and the Pacific Ocean. Routes and trips for both beginner and seasoned paddleboarders are close by. With the summer weather starting to come on hot, now is the perfect time to go exploring and strengthen your body.
Paddleboarding certainly is a workout, using nearly every muscle in your body for balance and power. However, it’s also a relaxing and rewarding experience that connects you to nature in a peaceful way. Standing on top of the water while producing very little noise allows one to explore shorelines and view wildlife quietly and peacefully.
As with all marine activities, paddleboaridng requires diligent water safety, being prepared for any situation you may encounter.
Chris Fry, the owner and operator of West Bay Paddleboards in Olympia, has several safety tips for those heading out on a paddle board.
“Everyone should use a leash, wear a personal flotation device and carry a phone in a dry bag in case you do get stuck,” said Fry. “The buddy system is huge and is something really important for longer trips with trickier winds and currents. When you start dealing with currents or winds, the water can get (bumpy) so there is a higher possibility of falling in. It’s nice to have someone there to pull you out in case you fall in.”
“In the summer, with hot weather, you have to bring a hydration pack and some kind of snack, even on shorter distances,” Fry said. “You have to stay hydrated. The Harbor Patrol says with no wind on the water that it can be like a desert.
As an experienced paddleboarder and outdoor enthusiast, Fry has taken many journeys across the area’s seawater passages. For those who are looking to explore a new area after becoming acclimated and comfortable on a paddleboard, Fry has an ideal trip.
“I recommend going to a place called St. Claire Lake (off Rehklau Road, Yelm Highway),” said Fry. The trip is perfect for people that have been on the water at least a half-dozen times. “The lake is end to end about 3 miles so it’s a six mile round trip. It’s quiet, there are lots on inlets, and it’s very close to the shore so there are plenty of people around. There is a comfort factor there and it’s a great place to start out.”
Fry suggested the downtown Olympia waterways near Swantown Marina as a perfect place for beginners in a saltwater setting.
“You can go out Percival Landing, near Swantown Marina and also head to Butler Cove where the seals are,” Frye noted. “You can go to Priest Point Park to Ellis Cove, and then head back. That’s a great route for beginners as well.”
Once you’ve mastered the beginning areas, there are plenty of options for advanced paddleboarders as well.
“For the more adventurous, start at Boston Harbor and travel around Hope Island,” said Fry. “You have to watch the winds and tides, so it’s good to go out with a buddy or a group.”
“Also, Boston Harbor out to Fish Trap Cove, that’s a great route and a fun inlet to explore,” Fry continued.
A trip to Hope Island allows individuals to hop off the board and take a small hike as well. Fry noted Hartstine Island in Mason County as another area with public access that is fun to explore.
If you are an extremely experienced paddleboarder and are able to handle long distance journeys, Fry’s next two suggestions may be for you.
“Hammersley Inlet in Shelton to Olympia is a great trip and it’s about 19 miles,” said Fry, who said it took him around five hours to complete the route. “If you start at Hammersley, go when the tide is going out, ride that tide out and then hope you have a tail wind towards Olympia.”
“Another good route is starting out at Luhr Beach near Nisqually on a high or incoming tide,” said Fry. “Ride the tide in through the Nisqually River then through McAllister Creek and when the tide turns, ride it back out. It took us about six hours round trip but we were at a leisurely pace and were checking all the sights on the way. I would say that’s a mid-level route because it can get windy and you have to plan it out.”
For those looking to travel by car for a bit, there are some spectacular paddleboarding opportunities only a few hours away.
“A really fun trip is out to Ocean Shores. It has 31 miles of protected canals, and if you put in at Duck Lake boat launch you can paddle those canals for the whole day and have a blast,” Fry said. “Lake Cushman is a great alpine lake to explore but you have to watch out for wind in the late afternoon and early morning.”
For more information on West Bay Paddleboards or to schedule a guided tour to one of these locations, click here.