SUPing around icebergs. How much colder and wilder SUP can you get? Alaskan Amber Walker is about to turn that passion into a SUP tour business and she knows her stuff! Here is her story.
Hi Amber! Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and how you ended up SUPing in the frozen waters of Alaska?
The easiest answer is “everyday routine”… but you could also say it’s a personal “challenge” of sorts…
I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I’ve always had a passion for all water-related sports and was a competitive swimmer for about 16 years. I left home for college and graduate school and became a physical therapist. About a year ago I moved back home and realized how much I hadn’t explored despite growing up in Alaska. I feel so blessed to call Alaska home and spend most of my free time in the outdoors – hiking, trail-running, biking, surfing, camping, etc. I also coach swimming and do some portrait photography on the side of my outpatient orthopedics physical therapist position at United Physical Therapy in Anchorage.
About a year ago I tried SUPing for the first time, and immediately fell in love with it and bought my own board! I decided to make a list of bodies of water within a 50-mile radius of my hometown that were feasible for a SUP, and try each one out. Well, it turns out Alaska has over three million lakes larger than 20 acres. My “SUP bucket list” just keeps growing and I’m now focusing on the most ideal spots to debut in the opening of an Alaska wilderness SUP touring company.
Could you give us more details about this project?
My business partner Jennah Jones and I are set to launch Alaska Wilderness SUP, LLC in May of 2016*.
We are thrilled to begin guiding groups and individuals in unique Alaska stand-up-paddling experiences including backcountry day and overnight trips, a summer racing series, and plan to offer seasonal fitness classes and lessons on local Anchorage lakes. We are in the process of awaiting our permitting, so I cannot yet disclose whether or not we will be taking clients to Spencer Lake. We will likely offer a combination of in-town lake experiences and more remote day trips.
I guess one needs specific clothing in order to paddle in Alaska… What would you recommend?
We are planning to set up clients in top of the line gore-tex dry suits for paddling in glacial water. (Of course, dry suits are only as warm as the layers of clothing underneath them, so we’ll encourage warm layers). We’ll also supply neoprene hats and gloves, shoewear, PFD’s (life jackets) and dry bags for camera gear/personal belongings. We are planning on a fleet of inflatable SUP’s for our more remote sites.
What safety equipment and procedures are needed to SUP near icebergs and in such cold waters?
We have a fairly stringent participation criteria form in order to ensure the safety of the entire group. The sites we hope to offer day trips to are “off the grid” and some don’t have road access or cell phone reception. We’ll have an FRS radio, satellite phone, on-water first aid kit, throw bag, tow line, safety knife, on-land first aid/hypothermia kit, and bear spray on each guide out there. Guides are trained professionals with CPR Certifications, and are Wilderness First Responders who also have PSUPA (Professional Stand Up Paddle Association) Instructor Certifications.
As always in Alaska, we plan to be ready to react to a dynamically changing environment each day. We expect regular bear and moose encounters and will prepare our clients accordingly! Wind, rain, lightning, and even snowy conditions are also anticipated in our summer months. Glacial lakes require many safety precautions, as there are often hidden icebergs on the bottom of the lakes that will literally pop up out of nowhere as the temperatures warm up over the summer. Icebergs are extremely unpredictable and can easily roll or even “toss chunks” without warning! With glacier calving, small tsunamis may also rip across the lakes. Thus, we will educate our clients on iceberg and glacier safety before launching each trip. For example, we won’t approach within half a mile of the face of a glacier, and we will maintain a safe distance of at least twice the largest height or width of an iceberg with all clients.
We hope to foster a fun, quality experience on the water while sharing part of Alaska’s unique land and heritage, while promoting proper stand-up-paddling techniques and skills in a unique backcountry environment.
Can you name some of the spots that you have visited?
On a personal level, I’ve explored:
– Spencer Glacier and the Placer River
– Bear Glacier (great surfing and SUPing!) – about a one hour boat ride from Seward, Alaska
– Skilak Lake and the Kenai River
– Halibut Cove
– Kachemak Bay near Homer
– Portage Lake/Portage Glacier
– lots of lakes near Anchorage, Eagle River, and north of Anchorage
Find out more about Amber and the Alaska Wilderness SUP project:
– Amber’s Instagram