Making her own waves
March 15, 2011
If you have been cross-country skiing around the Park City Golf Course during the last month or so, you may have seen something that forced you to do a double-take.
If you saw a woman standing on a paddleboard, aggressively slicing through the 18th hole pond in the fading winter months, you weren’t hallucinating. It was just Betsy Risner.
The Francis resident and professional stand-up paddleboard athlete, sponsored by Surftech, moved to Summit County from northern Ohio two years ago and needed a place to train in the off-season. Her main watering hole, Jordanelle Reservoir, freezes over, and most of her teammates live in warm-weather climates.
Risner’s trainer, who lives on the East Coast, told her she needed to find a way to stay in top shape during the winter. After taking up cross-country skiing, Risner passed the golf course and the notion of exercising for the upcoming season on a pond just seemed to make sense to her. She dons a specialized suit that allows her to keep her warmth, especially her feet.
She said many cross-country skiers have stopped dead in their tracks as they rounded the pond.
"It’s fun because people will stop and say that’s the last thing they’d expect to see out here," she said.
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How Risner became involved with stand-up paddleboarding is a story in itself.
Having skied in Park City for many years as visitors, Risner and her family decided Summit County was a perfect match and left the confines of Ohio. A friend of theirs, who sells paddleboard equipment, introduced Risner and her husband to the sport. The first time they made their way onto Jordanelle, it was a memorable one.
"We were traveling up and down Jordanelle from launch to launch; Rock Cliff to Hailstone," she said. "But we had no idea how far it was. We were thinking it was a couple miles. It was eight."
She said they didn’t have the slightest clue of how to interpret water conditions or how to read ever-changing wind patterns, either.
However, within two months of that challenging introductory experience, Risner and her husband began racing.
Since then, the two have become sponsored and have raced against some of the best stand-up paddleboarders in the world.
"Fell in love with it immediately," she said. "We were just completely captivated by the sport."
To stay competitive in the larger-scale ocean-based elite paddleboard races, Risner would eventually learn how to surf as well. Generally, there are two divisions of races: elite and open. Elite is designed for the professionals, and that is where most of the prize money lies.
She said typically, in elite races, contestants must do four one-mile laps on the open water, paddle onto the beach, do a beach run and then hop back on the board and head out and do another mile on the water.
"It’s phenomenal to watch," she said.
In a race on Jordanelle, the typical way to separate the good from the best is to include a plethora of buoy turns, which Risner says "can make or break you." In coastal races, paddleboarders must also deal with large waves and swells and getting in and out of the water as quickly as possible.
Traditionally, coastal races are elite races and Risner said there are times when there are 8 to 12 contestants trying to make it ashore, while 8 to 12 people are trying to make it back out simultaneously.
As for her distinctive off-season training regimen, which will be coming to a close fairly soon as the golf course closes to cross-country skiers and open to golfers, Risner said she would preferably like to avoid getting nailed with an errant golf ball.
"I will be able to get to open water then," she said of the upcoming weeks. "As long as I choose my time out there wisely, I’ll be fine."