One of the best ways to experience Lake Tahoe is to paddle along its shore. When paddling you are close to the water and traveling at a pace at which you can truly capture the essence of the lake. It’s also a great workout. You need to decide whether you want to use a standup paddleboard, kayak or canoe. My advice: go for all three, since they each have their advantages and disadvantages.
“My advice: go for all three, since they each
have their advantages and disadvantages.”
Kayakers enjoy the sights in Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe. | Tim Hauserman
Standup paddleboarding is fun and a great core workout. | Tim Hauserman
The newest and, perhaps, most popular of the three, SUPs have several distinct advantages. Since you are standing up, you get to look straight down at what is in front of you, which gives you a feeling as if you are flying above the water.
The boards are lighter and less bulky than kayaks or canoes, which makes them easier to maneuver onto the roof of a car — and carry from said car down to the beach. The equipment is simple. All you need is a life jacket and a lightweight paddle. It is the perfect sport to do alone.
The paddling motion used on a SUP is comfortable and less taxing on the upper body than the paddling motion used in kayaking. Also, SUP paddling offers a nice workout to the core. To me, paddling straight down, instead of pulling across my chest, is more enjoyable.
You are standing on what is really a glorified, large surfboard. Thus, you are much more vulnerable to falling into the lake and much more susceptible to the power of waves, either from wind or from motor boats. I feel much shakier on a paddleboard than on a kayak or canoe, especially if the boat wakes get pretty large. I’ve also found that my feet get sore fairly quickly on a SUP, so I go out for a shorter period of time.
Another con is that you have less ideal times to paddleboard. For instance, the best is when the water is glassy smooth without many boat waves. Early morning or late evening in the summer. And, preferably midweek. On the weekends, the motorboats are out in droves. In the fall, when the crowds have left, is an awesome time to paddle.
When the wind comes up or the lake is full of boats creating wakes, the kayak can still gently roll over the waves. I feel more comfortable and secure that I will not capsize in my kayak, than on a paddleboard. There is also room to carry things on the kayak that I don’t have on a paddleboard. The kayak makes a good vehicle for an overnight jaunt or a long day so you can bring along food and drink.
The kayak is heavier and more bulky than a paddleboard, making it a challenge to carry. Kayaks also require more gear: a seat that has to be installed every time you use the boat. I find this workout to be more challenging than the paddle motion used with a SUP or canoe.
Sarah Hauserman, the author’s daughter, in his wooden canoe in Hurricane Bay. | Tim Hauserman
I have an old wood canoe with two wicker seats, which makes for a cool experience. Two people can ride together, creating the possibility for a romantic getaway on the lake. You can carry a lot of stuff in a canoe, making it an awesome vehicle for an overnight trip. The paddling motion is similar to a SUP, is quite comfortable and can be sustained for a long period of time. You can have a conversation while paddling. Finally, it is possible to get in and out of a canoe without getting wet. All you need are paddles and a life jacket.
Its advantage is also its disadvantage: you really need two people because canoes are too heavy for one person to carry. Even with two people, it’s a struggle getting those behemoths on a car and down to the beach. They also tend to get blown around more than a kayak in windy conditions. While canoes are stable and very unlikely to tip over, they are a challenge to get flipped back over if you do flip it.