Stand-up paddleboarding in Iowa: What to know & where to go

Stand-up paddleboarding in Iowa: What to know & where to go

Photo courtesy of Ivan Rohovchenko via Unsplash.

By Jay Simms

July 8, 2024

Stand-up paddleboarding recently took the world by storm, and landlocked Iowans don’t have to miss out on the fun. Here’s what to know and where to go.

Iowa may be landlocked, but there are plenty of lakes and rivers around the state that make for great outdoor fun destinations during the warm weather months. And if you have not yet tried stand-up paddleboarding (or SUP) this summer offers a great opportunity to take to the water. SUP is one of the fastest-growing sports in the paddling community, so we put together a little guide to help take out some of the intimidation factor. 

Stand-up paddleboarding guidelines

Before you get started, be sure to check with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for rules and regulations, as well as to check out guides to Iowa waterways. For example, in Iowa, your SUP does not need to be registered with the state if it is under 13 feet long. Thirteen feet and over does need to be registered. Additionally, adults must either wear a life jacket or at least have it on board with them. Kids (12 and under) must wear a life jacket at all times when on a SUP.

Besides offering a great online paddle safety course, the Iowa DNR also shares these tips for paddling: 

  • Don’t paddle alone; use a buddy system.
  • Always wear a life jacket.
  • Dress for the water temperature, not the air. When water temperatures drop below 60 degrees, the risk of hypothermia rises fast. 
  • Wear a dry suit or wet suit, along with layers, to help avoid hypothermia or cold water shock.
  • Know your river or lake conditions before you go paddling.
  • Bring along a dry bag with a set of extra clothes, a first-aid kit, and a protected cell phone or weather radio. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible.
  • Check your watercraft for any needed repairs or maintenance after being stored for several months.
  • Let a friend or loved one know where you are going and when you are expected to return. It will be easier to find you if you need help.
  • Pack plenty of water to stay hydrated and fuel your body with snacks.

SUP benefits, tips, and tricks

SUP is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors while on the water. Plus, it’s a full-body workout. There are lots of options while on your SUP—you could just sit back and relax, try some yoga, do a little fishing, or even brave some waves or rapids. Adults and kids alike really enjoy the experience. 

If you are just getting started, keep in mind that you’ll want to start on some calm water with little to no current. It takes some time to adjust to balancing the board while paddling and calm water will give you less of a challenge while you are learning. 

Make sure you are holding your paddle correctly with the blade angled forward from the shaft. Then for your hands, keep a light grip with one hand on the top (or T-grip) and the other on the shaft, making sure they aren’t too close together. You can do simple forward strokes (If you’re paddling on the right, your right hand is on the paddle shaft and your left hand is on the top of the grip), a reverse stroke (moving your paddle from the back of the SUP toward the front), or a sweeping stroke (doing this on the right side of your board will turn the board to the left). This may seem difficult at first by patience and practice will help you feel more and more confident on your SUP. 

You can start by kneeling on the board. If you feel ready to stand up, you can do so with your feet parallel and hip-width apart. But you might also try staggering your feet. Still keep them hip-width apart, but put one foot slightly in front of the other to help you maintain your stability. If you fall, you know the drill … try, try again. 

And we don’t mean to sound like your mother, but don’t forget your sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, and any other protective sun gear. Being on the water enhances the sun’s impact on you, even on overcast days so be prepared so you can have an enjoyable time and won’t feel like a lobster for days afterward.

Our favorite paddleboarding spot: Terry Trueblood

One spot that is great for beginners, or SUP at any skill level, is the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area in Iowa City. The 152-acre site is just a short drive from downtown Iowa City.

Because it is smaller in size, a big selling point is that the lake has limited access for motorized vehicles so the water is typically much calmer than some other spots around Eastern Iowa and the state. There is also a spot to rent paddleboards (and pedal boats which can also be lots of fun!) if you don’t yet own your own.  

SOKO Outfitters in Cedar Rapids is a great resource for SUP enthusiasts and beginners. They have SUPs (and kayaks) available for rent and purchase along with personal flotation devices (PFDs) and any straps or pads that you’ll need to secure the board while in transit to your paddling destination. They also host a number of events to try out stand-up paddleboarding on various waterways around Eastern Iowa in particular. 

Other places to paddleboard in Iowa

If you really get into this new outdoor activity, you might check out a few other spots across Iowa that are great for paddleboarding.

West Lake Okoboji

Lake Okoboji is a summertime hotspot! It’s also one of the most popular paddleboarding destinations in Iowa. There are more than 3,800 acres to explore with lots of inlets and bays. Motorized vehicles are allowed on this lake so do keep that in mind, but there are plenty of spots to find some calm water, too. Paddleboard rentals are available at various outfitters in the area. 

Clear Lake

Another popular spot in northern Iowa is Clear Lake. Just a bit smaller than Lake Okoboji, at just 3,000 acres, its inlets can be a great spot for beginners or for more of a challenge you can paddle out farther into the lake. Paddleboards can be rented here if needed. 

Gray’s Lake

This spot offers the opportunity for an urban stand-up paddleboarding experience. This small lake—it’s just 96 acres—is a very calm spot to SUP. Paddleboard rentals are available. Another bonus is that the City of Des Moines occasionally partners with other organizations to offer introductory SUP experiences here. 

Upper Iowa River

If you feel like exploring the river by paddleboard, the Upper Iowa River is one of the most scenic spots in the state with towering bluffs and lush vegetation. Here you’ll find both calm water and some mild rapids to navigate which can be a bit of fun. 

Lake Manawa

Check out this favorite spot in Council Bluffs for some paddle boarding. At just 784 acres, it’s a great spot for stand-up paddleboarding. It has several canals that are fun to check out. And there’s even a spot called “Party Cove,” which is a large shallow area that can offer a spot to stretch your legs. 

Coralville Reservoir

This is a prime spot to be out on the water in Eastern Iowa. The reservoir covers more than 5,000 acres and has relatively calm waters for those starting out with SUP. There are many bays and inlets to explore, but keep in mind the popularity of this spot might not make it the most serene and relaxing paddle. 

Lake Red Rock

If you’ve really gotten comfortable on the water, head to Lake Red Rock with your stand-up paddleboard. This is the largest lake in the state of Iowa covering more than 15,000 acres. This will allow you to spend more time on the water exploring if you wish. There is a concession that rents SUPs as well. 

Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area

Located just outside of Cedar Rapids, this Linn County park features a 410-acre lake that makes for a quaint paddleboarding spot. Motorized vehicles are allowed on the water but can only operate at no-wake speed so it keeps the Pleasant Creek, well, pleasant, and calm.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.Stand-up paddleboarding in Iowa: What to know & where to goStand-up paddleboarding in Iowa: What to know & where to go

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