Paddling on the river

Napa’s waterways provide a distinct setting for exploration, and paddleboarding is becoming a popular mode of travel along those channels.

Napa’s waterways provide a distinct setting for exploration, and paddleboarding is becoming a popular mode of travel along those channels.

A growing business called Napa Valley Paddle has opened up what used to be a treat for the owner’s winery’s wine club members to anyone looking to try out the sport.

Napa is a premier place to paddleboard, with several spots that make for stunning settings, said Drew Dickson, the business’s owner. In addition to beautiful views, paddleboarders can go out almost any time of day in Napa. Most of the Napa River is sheltered from the winds that much of the Bay Area experiences, Dickson said.

“When the rest of the area is blown out, the Napa River is available to explore,” he said.

Napa Valley Paddle started three years ago, a spin off of the family’s wine label.

Dickson is son of the late Dave Dickson, a prominent Napa government official and winemaker. Dave Dickson was a recreational surfer who grew up in southern California before moving to Napa to start making wine in 1971. He also worked for the county for 30 years, and was a champion of the Napa River Flood Control and Restoration Project known as the “Living River Concept.” He went on to help other cities across the nation with similar projects, Dickson said.

Dave Dickson, who passed away in June 2011, had passion for water sports that he brought into his family. Drew Dickson grew up paddleboarding and surfing.

The Dickson family’s winery began offering paddleboarding tours to its wine club members. After a ride up the river to Trancas Crossing Park, guides would provide wine and oyster pairings.

“People would tell us it was the best day of their summer,” Drew Dickson said. “We figured this is something we should brand.”

Napa Valley Paddle began as stand-alone business three years ago, fueled with Living Social and Groupon Deals. Since that time, it has hosted 1,200 people on Napa area waterways, Dickson said. In July, it opened a storefront on Water Street near the Oxbow Market and has expanded its tour offerings. It has found clients in tourists and locals off all ages and walks of life.

“The beauty of the paddle board is its simplicity,” Dickson said.

Though many would claim its invention, Dickson said it has been around for a long time, likely having its origins in Botswana, Africa.

“It’s such a caveman thing,” he said. “Cut down a tree, hollow it out and grab a stick and that’s a paddleboard.”

He likened it to the rise of snowboarding in the midst of skiing’s established monopoly in winter downhill sports. In its beginnings, snowboarding, a more natural motion, challenged the status quo and drew people to cross over to the alternative sport, he said.

Paddleboard’s popularity arch was similar. While kayaking has long been a popular mode of water recreation, paddleboarding rose into ubiquity due to its ease and efficiency, Dickson said.

A paddle-boarder uses core strength to propel the board forward, instead of arm strength, like what is required for kayaking. A paddler-boarder bends over his or her long paddle, paddling twice on one side, and twice on the other to keep the wide surf-board like platform moving straight. The board stays steady despite the high center of gravity the paddler has while standing up.

Napa Valley Paddle’s offers several variations in packages. Traditional tours go from downtown or Kennedy Park to Trancas Crossing. Oyster and wine parings are still available as well. Premium packages include a Bento box from Morimoto, which Napa Paddle guides lower from the Third Street bridge as customers float by.

In addition to the Napa River, Napa Paddle also takes people out to the Carneros Water Preserve.

“It’s a world-class setting,” Dickson said. “You have views of both Mount Diablo and Tomales Bay, and 180 degree views of rolling Champagne vineyards.”

The sloughs in the preserve contain a matrix of canals with twists and turns, whose unique geography propel paddle broads up to 14 miles per hour.

Napa Valley Paddle offers what it refers to as “air drops,” the paddleboarding version of helicopter skiing, Dickson said. The guides drop people off by boat in areas of the Carneros Preserve, from which customers can paddle back downwind for miles.

“There is nothing else like that,” Dickson said. “It’s unbelievable to have this in your back yard. It really is.”

Tours include instruction by the guides, as well as dropoff and pickup. Those looking for a little more freedom can do their own self-guided tours. Local residents receive 15 percent off tours and free pickup on self-guided tours. The business is usually booked up a month in advance, however, it will fit in locals on a walk-in basis, Dickson said.

“We will always find a way for locals to get out on the tours,” he said.

Tags: Stand Up Paddle Boarding Napa Valley Napa River