ELK LAKE — Standing atop his board, Rick Guenther paddled slowly and quietly as the sun reflected brightly off the crystal-clear water. His young children laughed and splashed behind in their inflatable raft as their father towed them along.
"Nothing like getting on the paddleboard at night or early morning, and going for a long paddle," said Guenther, of Corvallis, taking a short break from stand-up paddling at Elk Lake. "The solitude of it "… it's very surreal."
Ranging from 10 to 14 feet long, paddleboards can be made for surfing in the ocean, flatwater racing or long touring adventures. The sport, with its origins in the Hawaiian Islands, is extremely easy to learn.
Darin Parr, of Hood River, came to shore next, fishing rod in hand. He had hoped to find some fishing spots on his stand-up paddleboard that maybe other anglers could not reach.
"The ability to explore this lake is fantastic," Parr said. "Just a common recreationist can come here and throw the board on the water. They can go fast or slow, and just explore."
Elk Lake was nearly vacant, save for the few paddleboarders. Conversely, the Deschutes River through Bend's Old Mill District is clogged with stand-up paddleboarders this time of year.
"We've been slammed, as you've probably noticed, this summer," said Chip Booth, owner of StandUp Paddle Bend.
Evening stand-up paddle outings on the Deschutes through Bend are extremely popular.
But what about taking a paddleboard on a longer trip, such as across one of the many high Cascade lakes?
Elk Lake is probably the most popular in Central Oregon for stand-up paddleboarding, and the resort at the lake rents boards and paddles.
But paddleboarders can also be found on Sparks, Hosmer, Lava, Cultus, Davis and Odell lakes, as well as on Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs.
Sometimes lakes can be more appealing than rivers to stand-up paddleboarders, especially beginners.
"It makes it really accessible to a lot of people, rather than fighting a current," said Kelly Guenther, Rick's wife, after finishing her paddle at Elk Lake. "The first time I tried it I was eight months pregnant, but I was able to go across the lake.
"When the wind is blowing here and you're going against it, you definitely feel it. That can add some challenge."
Thunderhead clouds would roll in later Thursday, but luckily for me, Elk Lake was calm as could be in the morning. I mentioned to the boat rental guy that I had tried stand-up paddling a few years ago in Bend.
"Lakes are easier," he assured me.
I got up on the 10-foot-long board without any problem and began to paddle. South Sister, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor were all visible from the northwest part of the lake.
Bend's Randall Barna, the regional director for the World Paddle Association, told me earlier in the week that flat-water paddleboarding is performed basically in two styles: adventure, for which a paddleboarder sets a goal, and racing, for the element of competition.
Stand-up paddleboarding is commonly noted for the core (abdominal) workout it provides.
"Every muscle in the body gets used," Barna said. "The human body was made to exercise standing up, not sitting down. A lot of people look at it as fitness training for a winter sport, like cross-country skiing. You've got to do distance to get a good workout."
If stand-up paddleboarders get tired or have trouble balancing in rough water, they can simply sit on the board or paddle on their knees.
"Paddling in smooth water is pretty safe," Barna said. "But if you get out on big lakes over open water, it gets a lot bumpier. You get out in big open water, and you need a bunch of safety plans in case the wind picks up or something breaks."
Barna suggested carrying a cellphone in a watertight pouch, a personal flotation device, and a leash that attaches from the board to a paddler's ankle.
Some stand-up paddleboarders seek out "down-winders," during which they ride over waves on big lakes with high winds at their backs.
Barna said Odell Lake off state Highway 58 southwest of Bend is one of the best for down-winders.
"Once the wind picks up on a big lake, waves you can count on," Barna explained. "And there's some big (boat) wakes. That's part of the challenge. That's what makes it fun."
Most rivers get less wind action, but paddleboarders can still find some challenging long-distance tours on the Deschutes, such as the 35-mile stretch southwest of Bend from Pringle Falls to Benham Falls.
Barna rode that stretch with a group of about a dozen paddlers a few years ago.
"That was kind of a first try, to see how far we can go," he said.
"There's so many adventures around Central Oregon, you could do a different one every weekend and still not hit them all."
Mark Morical is a reporter for The Bend Bulletin. He can be reached at 541-383-0318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.