River Runner

For Luke Hopkins, neccessity is the mother of aquatic invention.

In 2008, three-time world freestyle kayaking medalist Luke Hopkins found himself fascinated by two paddleboards strapped to the roof of a truck in a shopping mall parking lot. Hopkins struck up a conversation with the truck owner, then proceeded to follow the stranger out to the Potomac River below Great Falls for his first paddleboarding experience. “I knew then and there I loved paddleboarding,” says 30-year-old Hopkins. “It rang a bell with me—I was totally hooked.”

At the time, paddleboards were mainly for ocean use—too fragile to survive a river environment and too large to transport easily. So Hopkins, still involved in the pro kayaking industry at the time, spent the next eight months inventing the first inflatable paddleboard: light and portable enough to carry in a backpack or on a bike, yet durable enough to stand up to river rapids. By the end of the year, the Arlington native had founded Stride Stand Up Paddlesports, selling paddleboards and equipment out of a storefront in Blacksburg. “Initially, other people thought I was crazy,” says Hopkins. But today, more inflatable paddleboards are sold than any other style.

Stride teaches beginners’ classes as well as more advanced adventure courses in Roanoke and Charlotte, North Carolina. Classes cost $99 per person. Hopkins emphasizes the versatility of the paddleboard, which can be used for adventure sports, fishing, racing, even yoga.

Hopkins believes he recently became the first person to successfully paddleboard all the rapids in the Grand Canyon. Not yet satisfied, he adds, “I’m working on performing the first successful backflip on a moving paddleboard … I call it the hero flip.” RideStride.com

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