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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

SUP pioneer applies Pacific Ocean skills to paddling Priest Lake

That wasn’t just anyone on a stand-up paddleboard soloing 20 miles from end to end on Priest Lake a couple of weeks ago.

That was Jason Hershey, one of the pioneers of the sport 20 years ago in Hawaii.

“About 15 or 20 of us on Oahu were doing it on surfboards before anyone had heard of SUP,” he said.

“One of my friends was the first to rent actual boards made for SUP on the island. If only I would have had his business sense! SUP is one of the fastest growing sports.”

Living on family property north of Spokane, Hershey, 42, has fallen in love with the mountains in North Idaho, logging splitboard descents off snowy slopes of the range’s remote peaks.

In the first week of June, he skinned into Parker Peak, the highest named peak in the American Selkirks, completing the biggest possible climb in the range, from 1,900 feet up to 7,600 feet. Then he and partners – Jason Keen, also a boarder, and Andy Fuzak on skis – descended via the northeast bowl before logging a rugged 20 miles in two days.

This month, he did 20.2 flatwater miles on Priest Lake in 4 hours of paddling, plus three 15-minute breaks to rest and eat.

“I didn’t get the tailwind I wanted, but it’s a good paddle,” he said. “I’ve done it three other times.”

Hershey was born in Spokane and raised in New Guinea before moving to Hawaii and becoming a beach boy on Waikiki, eventually teaching sailing and steering big outrigger canoes for groups. He’s also a reggae musician focused on Pacific Island Music under the name O-SHEN. Some of his songs are sung in the native dialects of Papua New Guinea, an island nation where he’s been a celebrity.

Hershey first paddled the length of Priest Lake when he moved back to Spokane County seven years ago. “The sport came with me to this area with so many great bodies of water,” he said.

“At that time, I didn’t see many SUPs on the lake. I have lots of regrets for not getting on board with some sort of commercial venture, because I see SUPs almost everywhere now.”

Except in the middle of Priest Lake.

“They weren’t out there,” he said. “I come from a background of paddling in surf. We paddled 40 miles in ocean waves from Molokai to Oahau. The sport is still evolving here.”

Stand-up paddleboarding, known as SUP, is a totally different sport than “paddleboarding,” in which people lay prone and paddle with their hands.

“Paddleboarding has been around much longer,” Hershey said. “It’s a favorite sport of ocean lifeguards. The name paddleboarding has recently kinda been stolen and misused by the newer sport of SUP.”

While camping at Beaver Creek near the north end of the lake last week, Hershey had his wife drive him to the south end to start his trip. “We had a sandwich at the Leonard Paul store and I said I’d meet her back at the campground.”

He logged about 4 hours of paddling to make just over 20 miles not including 15-minute rest stops for food and water at the north end of Bartoo Island, near Grandview at the narrows and at east Twin Island. “I wasn’t racing, just cruising,” he said.

“It was nice to stop and have a sandwich and soak in the beauty of the lake rather than having my head down and bending into the paddle all the way.

“Power boats avoided me like the plague while I was on Priest and I think it was out out of consideration and being ultra respectful. They didn’t want to knock me over with their wakes, although I enjoyed catching the waves from a couple of boaters who came closer.

“When I got to the north end of the lake, I recognized some of the boats that saw me setting off at the south end. They gave me thumbs up.”

State laws regarding SUP are missing a couple of key points that are well-known to surfers and surf paddlers, Hershey said.

“In North Idaho, SUPs are regulated as watercraft,” he noted. “Every board needs an invasive species sticker, fine, and every person needs a whistle, fine.

“A personal flotation device (PFD) also is supposed to be worn or on the craft. The problem is that people usually comply with that rule by strapping the life jacket to the board. But if you fall and the board squirts away in the wind, that PFD strapped aboard is 100 percent useless.

“In the world of surfing, your board is your flotation device. What the state needs to require is an ankle leash.

“Anyone doing this sport in open or moving water should be wearing an ankle leash for safety, especially if they’re alone. You’re at risk if you have to swim for your board.”

To comply with the life jacket requirement, Hershey wears a small belt pack around his waist with a built-in PFD that’s inflated by a CO2 cartridge with a pull of a cord.

“It’s out of the way of paddling, but if I need the PFD it pops up in front of me and I put my head through it,” he said.

Strong SUP paddlers considering long-distance trips should work up incrementally, he said. “Just like running, gradually build up our mileage so you know what your body can deliver.”

Get the weather report, he says. For an out-and-back trip, always start upwind so you have the wind at your back on the return when you’re tired.

“SUP has a great disadvantage going upwind,” he said. “It’s a trudge with your body acting as a sail. I’ve occasionally had to lie down and paddle.”

Efficient paddling technique incorporates power from the body core. “Both arms remain kind of straight, not bent at the elbow,” he said.

Leg strength is important for long-distance SUP, as you’re standing and continuously flexing knees to maintain balance, especially in rough water.

“If I see a boat coming, I adjust my stance more sideways like a surfer and then as the wake goes by, I go back to a more parallel stance with one foot just 6 inches ahead of the other.”

Hershey carried a small drybag with a flat bottom on the bow of his SUP for food, water and a shirt as he paddled up Priest. “It washed off a couple times and I had to grab it,” he said.

“There was an absolute lack of human powered craft out there in open water. Most paddlers here still stay pretty close to shore and it feels lonely out there.

“But gosh, there’s no better way to see Priest Lake that to go right down the middle without the sound of a motor.”

In addition to Priest Lake, Hershey is exploring other waterways on his SUP. He’s currently doing the 100 miles of the Pend Oreille River from Sandpoint to Boundary Dam in short segments.

“Only 27 miles to go,” he said this week.

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