Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boarding is exploding in popularity on lakes, oceans and rivers nationwide. The sport is big in Idaho, too.

By Steve Stuebner

People are less concerned about the economy when making decisions about their summer vacations, and overall, there appears to be an increasing trend of people selecting shorter, and more relaxing and easy-going outdoor adventures vs. high octane adrenaline-filled trips, experts say.

David Brown, executive director of America Outdoors Association, said he expects adventure travel to increase in 2014 over last year at the annual meeting of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association.

Idaho Tourism Division officials are expecting the same thing. Outfitted and guiding activities contribute to a $3.4 billion tourism economy in Idaho, which generates more than 26,000 jobs and more than $500 million in local, state and federal taxes.

“We’re on the cusp of recovery,” Brown says, echoing national economic trends.

Lodging stays picked up at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch near Sandpoint in 2013 as well, tracking national trends.

Janice Schoonover, co-owner of the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch in Sandpoint, agrees that with the improved economy, business is picking up. “2007 was our last, best year before the crash, and 2013 was our best year ever,” Schoonover says. “So I would agree that we’re coming back alive.”

On a national level, the leading outdoor recreation activities showing the most demand and growth in 2013 were:

  • Stand Up Paddle (SUP) surfing and flatwater paddling trips, with 83 percent of outfitters reporting an increase in activity.
  • Guided trips with interpretation and education showed 76 percent growth.
  • Guided fishing trips went up 40 percent.
  • Trips that involved lodging and cabin rentals increased by 45 percent.
  • Hunting and whitewater river trips both went up over 20 percent.

“Softer” trips, family trips and 3-4 day trips are all gaining in popularity, Brown said. “But there’s still a lot of interest in week-long family vacations, especially as the economy improves, he said.

Family trips are increasing as well … Photo courtesy ROW Adventures and Chad Case Photography

Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures in Coeur d’Alene, agreed that interest in family trips is still “pretty strong” and it’s an important component to outdoor trips in general. “You’re introducing the next generation to the outdoors.”

Grubb also has seen an increase in interest in flat-water trips with SUPs on his lake kayaking business on Lake Coeur d’Alene. SUPs are being seen more and more on lakes and rivers in Idaho. Some Salmon River outfitters are offering SUP experiences on the Salmon River, as well as other day-trip rivers such as the Payette.

Trips with education and interpretation are popular, too. Courtesy ROW Adventures

Trips with a strong interpretation component are seen as being valuable by outfitted guests, Grubb said, but they’re hard to market in the brochure and the web site.

“We made interpretation a stronger focus 15-20 years ago, and we teach our guides the material and the techniques on how to share this information,” he said. “Once our guests experience that, they really like it. It’s something that becomes a real highlight of their trip.”

Many of Idaho’s outfitted trips lend themselves to natural interpretive information because of the abundance of wildlife that people see, not to mention Indian pictographs, petroglyphs, plants, trees, geology and more.

“It’s a big added value,” Grubb says. “We do our best to make sure that our guides bring that added value to the trip.”

Interest in fishing trips is on the rise as well. Photo courtesy Shepp Ranch

Idaho outfitters are seeing an increase in trips that involve lodging, too. Western Pleasure Guest Ranch saw increases in lodging last year, and so did Shepp Ranch on the Salmon River. Some outfitters partner with Shepp so their guests can stay one night at a dude ranch as part of their Salmon River experience. That led to more lodging with summer guests, Lynn Demerse said.

As the American population ages, more people may prefer to sleep in a bed at night versus sleeping in a tent, Schoonover said. “The grandparents enjoy doing trips with their children and grandchildren, but they probably don’t want to sleep on the ground at night,” she said.

For more information about Idaho’s guided adventures, see www.ioga.org.