Riverboarding in Deep Creek Lake Maryland

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One of my favorite trips of 2016 was a last minute getaway to Virginia and Western MD that we took over Memorial Day Weekend.  While hiking Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park was pretty spectacular, the highlight for me, just because of the absurd uniqueness of it, was the riverboarding session we did in Deep Creek Lake Maryland the next day.

I read about the sport of riverboarding  right when I started this blog, and had been wanting to try it out ever since. The easiest way to think of Riverboarding, is boogie boarding down a river, usually through whitewater.  Like boogie boarding, you lay on your stomach, and position yourself so that your face is directed downstream. Also like boogie boarding, you use your body to maneuver and steer through any obstacles, and are typically fitted with a wetsuit and helmet to avoid injuries.

It’s a pretty fledgling sport, and hard to find places to do it, unless you’re the type of person who would just purchase one and jump in a river, which seems ill-advised. The initial blog post I read on riverboarding was based in  Maine, and I also found spots to do it Montana, and California. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find any in Pennsylvania, but did find Adventure Sport Center in Deep Creek Maryland, which is the very western portion of Maryland, that’s essentially West Virginia, that I always forget exists. It’s only about 30 miles from Pennsylvania (and we learned when visiting, a veritable hotbed of vacationing yinzers).

I’ve had my eye on riverboarding at Deep Creek for a number of years now, but it was always one of those “maybe next year” type places that never really fit in to any of my other travels, so when the trip to Old Rag came up, and we were trying to find another activity for Sunday, this was a no-brainer.

Our two hour riverboarding session was at 1PM, which gave us ample time to drive up from the campground we were staying at down in Virginia. The girl who I booked with over the phone advised arriving a good forty minutes early, and cautioned that this was a strenuous activity, which the website also emphasized. She said to make sure that we were in good shape, and if we weren’t, to do a kayaking or white water session. I assured her that we were, as we were planning on doing a 9 mile hike the day prior. She told me that we were going to be sore. She was completely right.

A quick aside about the Adventure Sports Center and Deep Creek Lake, before we continue.

Deep Creek Lake is the largest lake in Maryland, and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting it to be built up as much as it was.  It was rural sure, but had the feel of resort town, with tons of lake houses, condos, places to eat, and boat rentals.  I remarked that even though it was centered on a lake, it reminded me for some reason of a ski resort. You know why? Because it is. Adventure Sport Center is actually on top of the mountain that is part of the Wisp Ski Resort (which I’ve learned writing this post, is the only ski resort in Maryland) and has a completely man-made white water course, which, as the website boasts, is the only mountaintop white-water course.  It was built in 1998 in order host Olympic caliber races.  I’ll let the ASC website take it from here:

The ASCI “whitewater course” is made of concrete and natural rock and is just over 1700 feet long. It drops 24 feet from the top to the bottom. Water pumped from the lower pond and shoots into the start pool at a speed of 5 feet per second. At six locations on the course are variable wave shapers that can adjust waves and hydraulics for different experiences – ranging from Olympic caliber whitewater to a flow that is comfortable for small children and beginners. Natural rocks dug up during excavation make up the river’s edge and main features on the course. This integration of large natural features and high technology and concrete is unique among the pump whitewater courses around the world.

Aside from the riverboarding, ASC also offers white water rafting, kayaking, and canoeing at the adventure center. They hold rappelling and rock climbing sessions, hiking, and biking, in a remote location.  I really liked the idea of riverboarding my first time in a more controlled environment like this, rather then an actual river for a couple of reasons.

A) Despite being employed as a lifeguard for all four years of college, I am an absolutely awful swimmer. Somewhere the current wasn’t too strong, and the sides were always easy to get to, appealed to me.

B) You’re much more in control here, and if you happen to get “swept away,” the course is designed to have areas that are easy to exit. If you miss something fun, you could get out and walk back to it. Also, you aren’t at risk of being caught in a river you can’t get out of.

C) Man made boulders are not as sharp as real life rocks.

ASCI, at least during Memorial Day weekend, is a pretty hopping place.  We arrived at the suggested time, and went into the building to sign in. You could see the course from the parking lot, which was fun, and we saw plenty of kayaks and rafters shooting through the man-made rapids. No riverboarders though. We checked in, and then were sent to be fitted for our riverboarding outfits, which consisted of wetsuits, helmets, and flippers. I’ve never had the pleasure of pouring myself into a wetsuit before. I wore one in Iceland when we did Arctic snorkeling, but that was a padded wetsuit, that wasn’t tight, and made you end up looking like the Staypuft Marshmallow Man. I didn’t realize how tightly neoprene sticks to the body, and getting into that sucker was an experience in itself.  I also didn’t expect, much to my chagrin, to once again resemble the Staypuft Marshmallow Man, this time, no padding needed. Next time I wear a wetsuit, I’m going to take more precautions, ie. I’m going to starve myself for a week prior. I really wish I was able to get a picture of all of us in our wetsuits, as I didn’t bring my non-waterproof camera onto the course with me, and that really would’ve been the only way to prove we actually did this, but upon looking at myself in a mirror I nixed that decision. My vanity won over my need to produce a quality post.

I was expecting a little bit of a crash course on the sport, before we were let loose on the course, but really it was just your typical safety instructions, and common sense stuff. If you’ve ever boogie boarded, or have been sledding, you sort of know the gist of what you’re supposed to do.  We were the only four riverboarding that day, so the one rule that was impressed upon us was that rafts and kayaks had the right of way, and we weren’t to jump in front of one, as it could possibly tip them over, and they’d basically bump us more than we’d bump them. I had one minor encounter with a raft, when I got sucked underwater, after falling off my board, and bobbed up directly underneath one. I think I knocked a guy off, but I can’t be sure as I was already disoriented from being tossed around underwater. Our friend Steph had a much more unfortunate experience of emerging from one such underwater roll, and taking an on coming raft directly in the face. It was pretty much the highlight of our session.

Here’s a shot of one of the waterfalls we spent the afternoon “riding.”

I’m afraid there’s not a ton I can tell you about riverboarding because it is pretty straight forward. You lay on your stomach, hang on, try to steer as much as possible, but in general are at the mercy of the river much more then kayaking or rafting. I imagine in an actual river, it’s both exhilarating, and terrifying, and I’m truthfully not sure whether I’d want to give that a try. I’d definitely come back to ASCI, because the great fun of the session was something I think would be hard to do in nature. The course has several small waterfalls, all of similar size and setup, and our instructor showed us how to jump into the river, directly where the waterfall forms an eddy, turn ourselves towards the fall, and then furiously paddle upriver so that essentially we were riding the wave.  That’s pretty much what we did for the hour and a half or two hours we were out there, floated from one waterfall to the next, then spend time there taking turns riding the wave, falling off the board, being sent tumbling downstream, swimming to shore, rinse, and repeat.

Post-riverboarding, wet suits graciously removed.

I’m not sure if it was the 9 mile hike the day before, the fact that swimming is always much harder then I remember, or that riverboarding really is strenuous, but by the end of our session I was having trouble grasping onto the board, and my body felt like it had been to hell and back, in the best way possible. We were wiped out, but also pumping full of adrenaline, so wasted no time checking out what else Deep Creek Lake had to offer.

I love when breweries feature growlers from other breweries.

After miraculously getting out of my wet suit, we stopped at Mountain State Brewing Company to have a couple of beers. It’s a West Virginia based brewery, with several chains, and I was pleasantly surprised (I know I shouldn’t judge chains, but I do). The stout I had was delicious, the bartender was great with recommendations, and my lone regret of this entire trip is that I did not have one of their wood-fired pizzzas, which looked and smelled amazing (the white pizza with garlic and prosciutto was particularly calling my name).

Climbing animal sculptures at the Honi-Honi Bar.

We went back to our hotel to shower and feel human again, and then ended our night at the Honi-Honi Bar down the street. The Honi-Honi is a tiki-themed bar right on the lake (a number of people were driving up in boats, which is an ultimate life goal) with a huge lawn that has a bevy of animal scultpures, giant chairs, and lawn games, including a giant bean bag toss. Unfortunately the band had just stopped by the time we got there, but we played a few games, took pictures with the animal sculptures, and generally had a good time. Something to be aware of, because we weren’t. Last call at Deep Creek Lake is 10PM, which wasn’t awful considering we had started early in the day, but it still would have been nice to know.  Now, we thought we were tricky because the Uno’s attached to the Honi-Honi was open till 11, so we went up, ordered 3 pitchers and some food, and proceeded to drink for an additional hour. This was not as great a plot as we thought, as the entire place was packed with people doing the same, and  the next day I had to live with the fact that my hangover was a by product of drinking too much at Uno’s, which is sadly the second time last year that has happened (the first was when I arrived a bit too early for The Force Awakens and killed that hour with like 5 unreasonably big high-ABV beers).

The Honi-Honi compound.

Listen, I’m not proud.

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