● By Jim Dyar
Photo by Brett Faulknor
Wassup Board Sports In Redding
Phil Keester feels like a pioneer of sorts. that’s because in addition to the sport of stand up paddleboarding being fairly new, the idea of standing on a board while navigating the Sacramento River is definitely uncharted territory for most.
Keester, who began his WASSUP Board Sports business last summer, believes there’s a whole segment of recreation that’s yet to be fully explored in the North State.
“I think there’s a lot more fun to be had out here,” says Keester. “I love paddling on flat water, but for me it’s more fun being on a river. It’s got something for everyone.”
Although stand up paddleboarders are already tackling class 4 and 5 whitewater rapids (aggressive water), Keester sees a big market for easier trips like the Sacramento River through Redding, Anderson and beyond. He took about 200 people on guided trips last year and expects an even more robust season for stand up paddleboarding this summer.
Expect to see people standing and gliding down the river near the Sundial Bridge as the community celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the iconic footbridge in June and July.
“One thing I really like about operating on the river is we’re in front of everybody,” Keester says. “This summer is exciting with the Sundial Bridge anniversary. We’ll have a presence out there every day.”
When people see Keester and his friends on the river, the common refrain has been, “That looks like fun.” The boards are stable enough for most anyone to balance on and not go plunging into the river (unless they choose to), he says. The company also does trips and instruction on Whiskeytown and Shasta lakes.
Although the water temperature of the Sacramento is indeed brisk, Keester doesn’t consider it unbearable. He did several trips this winter in board shorts and light clothing. In the blazing summer heat, a dip in the river can be a refreshing way to stay comfortable.
“People have a healthy respect for this river and that’s good,” he says. “I respect any body of water.”
Growing up around the surf culture of Southern California, Keester loved being in the water but never fully mastered the difficult sport of surfing. Stand up paddleboarding is different, however. About 70 percent of the people he took out last year were first-timers.
“The first time I was on a board was 15 months ago,” Keester says. “I’ve always liked the surf culture and this is similar to that, although it’s actually a lot easier.”
Keester’s company is operating within Redding’s Boardmart, where paddleboards will be sold and rental trips coordinated. Teaming up with Boardmart, which has been in business in Redding since 1995, forms a bond that should help both businesses. The store sells and rents skateboard, wakeboard and snowboard gear as well as selling swimwear and casual clothing.
“It’s a whole different demographic for us and hopefully it will help expand our store,” says Denise Craig, co-owner of Boardmart. “We’re not just for teens.”
Keester says people have responded well to the company’s name (“wassup” was a popular catch phrase from a Budweiser commercial) and its colorful graphics. Rental trips range from $20 to $150. The hope is that some people get hooked by the sport and consider buying boards and other equipment through WASSUP.
The company is a dealer for Glide paddleboards of Salt Lake City and NRS paddling outfitters from Moscow, Idaho. Boards range from 9 to 14 feet and prices go from $800 to $1,900.
Although paddleboards are new for Keester, the business of being on the water is something he’s done for much of his life. He began sailing in the Caribbean in the late 1970s, and has worked as a commercial captain and in boat yards and sailing venues for the better part of 25 years, including sailing in the Mediterranean.
From 1992 to 2003, he has participated in four America’s Cup events (the World Series of yacht racing) as a member of the U.S. teams America3, AmericaOne and Oracle/BMW Racing. Keester worked as procurement and logistics manager for most of those teams.
“To participate at the highest level of any sport is a thrill,” he said. “I grew up reading and dreaming about sailing. Those years were definitely a highlight of my life. But I’ve found my passion again (with stand up paddleboarding). I’m on moving water again, although this time it’s on fresh water.”