ASHLAND — With glassy Emigrant Lake beneath her feet and the morning fog hovering around her knees, Jackie Auchard powers herself over the water in a fashion rarely seen in the Rogue Valley.
She's standing on an 11-foot-long board, propelling herself over the surface with a paddle that's taller than she is, creating the smallest of wakes. The board is steady enough that Auchard could stop and do a headstand on it if she desired.
Liquid Blue stand-up paddleboard rentals opens today at Emigrant Lake County Park and will operate from noon to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays.
Standard boards will rent for $20 for the first hour, with larger touring boards or smaller racing boards renting for $25 for the first hour. Additional hours will cost $15 apiece.
Liquid Blue will offer one-hour Paddlefit classes Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m. for $25, which includes the rental costs.
For details, call 541-292-3343 or see www.liquidbluesup.com
"I have people come up to me all the time asking me if this is a surfboard or a sailboard," says Auchard. "Usually the people who know what it is say they were in Hawaii and tried it."
After introducing paddleboards to the Rogue Valley one curious rubbernecker at a time, Auchard and her husband, Danny, are now helping to bring one of the world's fastest-growing watersports to the masses.
Today, on the eve of the traditional summer boating season, the Auchards are opening Liquid Blue, a standup paddleboard rental facility at Emigrant Lake County Park, where visitors can test-drive the finned boards and long paddles that are widely being praised as the newest way to get a fun workout and more on the water.
A similar livery also opens today in Grants Pass, where the new Alternative Whitewater Adventures will rent standup paddleboards on the Rogue River out of Riverside Park.
Morrison's Rogue River Lodge also is offering standup board rentals to visitors to Taylor Creek Canyon on the Rogue.
These entrepreneurs are making it possible for local outdoors lovers to experience what Standup Journal magazine calls the fastest-growing sport in the history of the world, with 41,000 new erect paddlers a day trying the sport.
"Isn't that crazy?" says Pete Newport, owner of Sawyer Paddles and Oars in Talent, which manufactures paddles for standup paddleboarders.
"It's behind here. We're really behind the curve," says Newport, who has ridden standup paddleboards through whitewater rapids on the Rogue. "I think, in the next five years, you'll see people all over the Rogue and all over lakes here on paddleboards."
Paddleboarding traces its genesis to Hawaii, where natives have stood on surfboards and paddled around for years. The watersports public took notice in the mid-2000s, and the sport has spread around the world.
It's ironic that Sawyer is one of the companies that helped fuel the sport's worldwide growth, even though locals knew little if anything about paddleboarding.
For years, Sawyer has made long paddles for the niche genre of standup canoeing, so paddles for standup boards were a natural for the company.
Single-blade oars are typically 8 to 10 inches taller than the standup paddler, who can generate enough speed to travel about as fast as a kayak.
Cross-trainers like Auchard laud the boards for the workout they can generate.
"It's just an incredible, full-body workout," says Auchard, who will offer Paddlefit classes twice a week at her Emigrant Lake location.
One of the reasons for its popularity, Newport says, is its relative ease. The boards are stable, and paddlers can pick up the basics on still-water lakes fairly quickly. Newport recommends training from a certified paddleboard instructor before taking on river rapids.
Unlike trailered boats or kayaks fastened to the tops of Subarus, paddleboards are easy to transport, and paddlers can be on the water quickly.
Boards can run from $400 to several thousand dollars, depending upon the design and materials used to make them. They are typically broken into regular boards, larger touring boards and the smaller and lighter racing boards.
Casual paddleboarders can strap a lunch to the front of their board and head off for a day on a lake, much like they have done with canoes and kayaks.
"I've even seen guys carrying firewood on their boards," Newport says. "I think we'll pretty much see them used for everything."
In recent years, paddlers have created their own niches within the sport, Newport says. Casual paddling, competitive racing, paddling for fitness — even paddleboard yoga — all have their followers, he says.
Even the extreme water-sports crew has moved in, running whitewater and waterfalls while standing up, says Newport, a five-year paddler who has negotiated the difficult Lower Rogue Canyon on a paddleboard.
"We fall off a lot," Newport admits.
But on lakes, a paddleboard's stability is astounding.
"You really can do headstands on them," Auchard says. "My son and I came out and did headstands last week."
Liquid Blue operates through a concessionaire's agreement with the Jackson County Parks Department that pays the county 10 percent of Liquid Blue's gross receipts, county parks Manager Steve Lambert says.
The five-year agreement runs in one-year increments, with either party able to opt out after each year, Lambert says.
He expects the venture to perform well.
"We've had a lot of folks expressing interest in having this," Lambert says. "It's a growing segment of the outdoors."
And it's one Auchard can't wait to share.
Her outfit sports 18 paddleboards for rent starting at $20 for the first hour and $15 per hour after that, she says. Auchard will add more boards if business is brisk.
Liquid Blue will sponsor the Rogue Valley's first paddleboard race this summer, a move that's special to Auchard.
She started paddleboarding with a rental board three years ago and instantly found it meshed with her fitness and competitive aspects.
"The first time I got on it I thought, oooh, this would be great to race," she says.