Ingrid Foutz, left and Francesca Shaw paddle upstream from 32nd Street on the Animas River on Tuesday. Last year, after their successful “Paddle for a Pint” event, the two formed SUP Girls Durango as a way to connect fellow paddlers and give back to the community./Photo by Steve Eginoire

All aboard

SUP Girls Durango brings purpose to paddling pastime

by Page Buono

According to SUP magazine, the vast majority of stand up paddleboarders reside on either the West or East Coast. But don’t tell that to Durango, where the sport has boomed in recent years, rivaling even kayaking for preferred mode of river recreation.

However, a group of local women are using the popular boards for more than a vehicle for fun. They are using it as a vehicle for change.

The nonprofit group, SUP Girls Durango, was founded last year by Ingrid Foutz. The San Diego transplant is bringing her love of SUPing to Durango with the goal of educating, empowering and inspiring women. Two women – “Operations Diva” Francesca Shaw and “Chief Inspiration Officer” Foutz –run the organization.

As a surfer on the West Coast, Foutz has a long history with the water. She’d often see SUPs on the ocean, but she didn’t have an interest in the strange new sport until a friend began teaching fitness on the board with a focus on Pilates, yoga and strength training.

Before long, Foutz – a fitness instructor for more than 20 years – also began teaching SUP classes. When she and her family moved to Durango 14 years ago, she began interacting with river SUP-ers and grew curious about heading downstream.

JusttheFacts

What: SUP Girls Durango weekly group paddles
When: Thursday evenings, June - August
Where: Up and down the Animas River
For info: www.supgirlsdurango.com

But, even for an experienced surfer, SUPing presented its share of challenges.

“I had a lot of friends paddling downriver, and I thought that because of my surfing and raft guiding experience, I had it,” Foutz said. “But it wasn’t that simple – it’s not just, ‘OK, there’s Smelter, now hold on.’”

Foutz said learning to ride the board through the river’s turbulent waves and eddies was a challenge, one that has had an impact on her surfing skills, particularly improving her switch stance.

With a growing love and appreciation for the pastime, Foutz began teaching SUP fitness classes in Durango as well. Humorously, she found a number of women would show up to the class, brand new board in hand. She’d invite them out onto the water to begin, and they’d freeze. Many had not only never been on a paddle board, but had never been on the water.

“We start the instruction, and some of them are afraid of water,” Foutz said.

But, once the basics were covered, she found the women grew to love all things SUP.

After about a year of classes and group paddles, she found the women had bonded through the experience and were eager to share.

“Whatever that magic thing is about SUP – bringing people together, making them feel good, challenging them in ways they have never been before, learning new skills – there’s something really special about it,” Foutz said. “It inspires a spirit of giving back.”

The result was “Paddle for a Pint,” the precursor to SUP Girls. The event gathered women for a paddle and a pint at BREW Pub and Kitchen. The effort raised funds for the Women’s Health Coalition, a local nonprofit that gives financial assistance to women undergoing cancer treatment.

After last year’s successful Paddle for a Pint, which raised $1,200, Foutz held a meeting to gauge interest in turning the event into something more official. The turnout impressed Foutz, and the organization SUP Girls Durango was born.

“The thing with SUP is that it’s new, and we haven’t really found each other yet, and we’re all still figuring out our niche and what we like to do,” Foutz said, hoping the organization serves as a platform for paddling enthusiasts to connect.

The event also helped spawn the idea of SUP Survivors. Still in the toddler stages, SUP Survivors is meant to serve as an outlet for cancer survivors and their families. The idea is to host a myriad of events – from paddling, hiking and biking – aimed at enhancing the road to recovery and facilitating connections between survivors. In coordination with SUP Survivors, SUP Girls will focus on group paddles, lessons and fundraising events. A free ladies paddle will take place every Thursday night, June – August. 

The spirit of giving is central to Foutz’s vision for the organization, and she is looking for ambassadors of the program who will represent SUP Girls out on the river. SUP ambassadors must first undergo a training session – one takes place this spring – and are required to volunteer 10 hours per year with local organizations.

In addition, ambassadors as well as instructors must learn about river safety and etiquette, focusing on respect for the river as well as the residents who live on its banks. For Foutz, potential instructors must show humility and a passion for learning that equals her passion for teaching.

Foutz is hosting the next ACA (American Canoe Association) certified SUP instructor course April 21-23 and recruitment for new instructors and ambassadors is ongoing.

For now, there is no fee for membership to SUP Girls, though that may change in the future to help fund and staff events.

While the organization is called SUP Girls, men are definitely allowed and encouraged to join in events. Foutz said certain classes and paddle outings will be all female, but the organization as a whole does not strive to be gender exclusive.

A mother herself, Foutz also wants the club to create a place where moms can join together for paddles and support each other in getting out and taking care of themselves. Foutz envisions a group of moms getting together at Santa Rita Park. While half of them run a 32nd to Smelter lap, the others watch the kids, and then they switch.

“I don’t want moms to quit paddling or doing the things they love because they’re a mom,” Foutz said.

She also sees an opportunity to get youth involved. Reflecting on the outlet surfing provided her in high school, she hopes to inspire kids to explore SUPing as their own outlet or passion.

Her coastal connections running deep, Foutz also sees the opportunity to encourage a river and ocean exchange using her connections in San Diego. While these plans are still in the early phases, Foutz is dreaming big.

A final piece of SUP Girls is a store, both online and with a location in Durango, that will carry SUP equipment and “SUP Girls” apparel. There are plans for a SUP Survivors line of clothing as well, with a portion of proceeds going to local women’s health organizations.

If Foutz has it her way, Durango won’t be the only place hosting a SUP Girls organization, and the paddling mecca of Salida is next on her radar.

But for now, she’s gearing up for summer, recruiting ambassadors, planning events, and waking up at 5 a.m. to enjoy her time paddling the river before the day begins.

For more information about SUP Girls Durango or the ACA Instructor course, visit www.supgirlsdurango.com.

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