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Saga of Jen Cram, a La Conner paddle boarder


April 12, 2022

PADDDLEBOARDING NEAR AND FAR – Jen Cram with paddle boarding friends on the east side of Deception Pass. – Photo courtesy of Jen Cram

History is all around La Conner but is not always recognized.

Take, for example, the paddle boarders spotted in growing numbers each summer on Swinomish Channel and nearby Skagit Bay.

While an outdoor sporting activity with one of today’s highest percentages of first-time participants, standup paddle boarding (SUP) dates to 3,000 BCE.

Few are as enthusiastic about the sport as La Conner resident Jen Cram, who took up paddle boarding nearly a decade ago.

In 2013, Cram took a yoga class in which members practiced on a board at Little Cranberry Lake.

“I had practiced yoga for years, but nothing like this!” she said.

Cram fell in love with being on the board and decided only a few months later that she needed to buy her own.

“Paddle boarding is my favorite activity to do,” she said. “I choose this over hiking, camping, biking and running. I love that my family and friends are up for the adventure.”

She and her husband, Chris Cram, regularly paddle boarded while on a recent Hawaiian vacation.

“My heart is so happy that Chris has gotten increasingly more interested in boarding the last few years,” she said. “He paddled many days in Hawaii. He took on some wild waves.”

Handling those waves and other conditions such as tides, wind, sunlight and changing temperatures are far more challenging than experienced boarders make them appear, she cautioned.

“You must learn how to read the tide charts, wind and how to map your route,” she said. “Plan ahead and then when you get to the water, re-evaluate and modify the plan. Many times, the apps we use are off, so you have to be aware and know what you are doing.”

Of all variables impacting paddle boarders, weather tops the list, she said.

“I’ve definitely been in some scary situations because the wind shifted. I recommend you have an escape route or Plan B factored in before you launch.”

While no stranger to extreme weather, salt water isn’t exactly in her DNA. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and studied at Southern Illinois University.

Her post-graduate study of Puget Sound tidal conditions has helped make Cram a first-class paddle boarder. She counsels novices to do their homework before getting on the water.

“Research or reach out to people who do it a lot,” she advises. “Paddleboarding is fun, but it can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared.”

Proper gear like non-bulky paddling life jackets, the right height paddle and a leash that connects you to the board are all a must. Cram also suggests that paddle boarders tell others where they are going and what route they will follow.

There are many reasons why Cram now paddles year-round.

“Certainly, there are physical benefits to paddle boarding,” she said. “However, the biggest benefit for me is it’s an adventure. Every time I’m on the water is a new experience and sometimes the time on the water puts things into perspective for me.”

There’s a major camaraderie factor as well.

“I am very fortunate,” said Cram, “to have a group of adventure friends who I can text on a sunny day in January to see if they want to get out on the water and they’re quick to respond: ‘Yes, let’s go.’”

Summer, though, is the best, she said.

“It’s so nice to shed the neoprene from the winter, enjoy the longer days and feel the warmth of the sun.”

There has been a rise in SUP camping in the La Conner area and around Puget Sound.

“This,” said Cram, “is when you pick up your camp items and waterproof bags and paddle to an island, stay a few nights, paddle all day long and enjoy campfires with your friends in the evening. Not a bad way to spend a summer weekend!”


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