The average Portlander, spends 24 minutes commuting to work according to the 2010 census data. The 2009 American Community Survey shows that 6.1 percent of Portland’s commuters take public transportation and 2.3 commute by bicycle. But no one in either of those surveys asked Cyril Burguiere how he gets to work each day. Cyril stand up paddle commutes daily on the Willamette River, rain or shine. Gorge Performance spoke with Cyril recently about his commuting experience.
GP: You are an avid outdoor enthusiast and accomplished SUP racer, but when and how did you combine your passion for SUP with the commute to work?
CYRIL: Ever since moving to Portland to seek out a better work/life balance, I have biked to work. My wife and I sold our second car and I never bothered to figure out the bus route. Some of my colleagues who know of my passion for SUP joked that someday I’d probably show up to work in wetsuit with paddle in hand. After laughing about it every so often with them and wondering about how I could maximize my training through this winter without sacrificing more family time, I decided to give the commute a go in early November 2011. My home and office are both located within 3 blocks of the Willamette River and the marina provides great amenities so the setup is perfect
GP: Where do you put in, take out and store your board?
CYRIL: Put in is at the Willamette Park boat dock, south of downtown; take out and storage at the Downtown River Place Marina (between Marquam and Hawthorne Bridges)
GP: What is a typical morning commute like?
CYRIL: I get up around 6:15am and don’t have to hit snooze because I’m excited to go paddle! I clean up, eat a large bowl of oatmeal and pack my lunch. I usually ready my dry bag the night before with work clothes, shoes, towel, wallet, work badge, keys and phone. I suit up and head out (6:45am) with bag strapped over shoulder and board and paddle in hand. My walk is two blocks to the Willamette Park boat dock, across the busy Macadam Avenue (the worst section of commute). I’m usually on the water by 7am and my route depends on what I am trying to accomplish in my training. Straight 2.5 miles to work on light days; many more miles on other days – I sometimes get creative and see new areas of the river. At the marina, I store my gear, shower up, dress for work and head to work stoked from my morning exercise!
GP: How about gear – Board? Paddle? Dry Bag?
CYRIL: I use the same gear I race with, because I want to get dialed on it as much as possible – my sponsors’ high performance gear are the KIALOA Toro paddle and the Boardworks Surf M&M 14’ board. My dry bag is made by Seattle Sports specifically for SUP. It holds everything I need, has a flat base and clips for possibility of hooking up to board.
GP: Is anyone on the river or are you out there alone? I picture those who commute on public transportation seeing the same people each morning on the train or the same crowd at the coffee shop – is the river like that at all? Do you pass the same fishermen each day?
CYRIL: This is an interesting question. So far, I’ve pretty much had the waterway to myself. I’m guessing a lot of people recognize me, the ‘crazy guy’ with the ‘long surfboard thing’. For me the faces I recognize are those of some rowing coaches (rowers are quite dedicated!), the workers on the new downtown Portland streetcar bridge, the marina manager that greets me each day, and the fishermen on the banks (I stay away from boats). There are two fishermen on the East bank of the river that always smile and wave at me. I see many birds, but the three geese at the marina crack me up – they never seem to get along, chasing each other and hissing at each other.
GP: Describe your worst commuting experience or funny event that happened while commuting?
CYRIL: My worst and most memorable commute was me and my SUP against Mother Nature during a stormy week in February. The temperature was in the 30s, the river was high and flowing very fast, and it was raining hard with strong winds from the South. I was commuting home (south) under diming light and everything was coming at me. As it was, the river was dropping me to about 50-60% speed and the winds between Ross Island and the South Waterfront were gusting so high my speed on the GPS was reading 0 mph at times. The rain was flying horizontally and the water was quite choppy. I dropped to my knees, devastating for a Stand Up Paddler, to reduce my exposure to the wind and managed to paddle home in twice the time it normally takes. I loved that experience and the challenge of it!
The funniest commute was when I saw a sea lion, must have followed the salmon up river, and I managed to take photos of it while flowing towards it with the river current. It didn’t like me getting so close and proceeded to come at me with jaw wide open – scared the hell out of me!
GP: What do you enjoy most about SUP Commuting?
CYRIL:I enjoy so many things about it. I’m a morning person and love to start my day with a big bowl of oatmeal and a workout. The fitness is a big one, as I feel myself getting stronger everyday through repetition and that makes me more confident as a person. I love incorporating sport into my lifestyle – I’m no longer a weekend warrior. I also like how close it puts me to our beautiful surroundings – having only SUP commuted since November, I am only scratching the surface on this one. The SUP experience in Portland provides sensory overload if you pay attention and each day and time of day is different. I am seeing the changing seasons, smelling spring blossoms, seeing different birds, fishing seasons based on the fishermen and the sea lion,
progress of the new downtown bridge and Sellwood Bridge from a great vantage point. Last of all, I like that my daughters get to see me exercising every day and doing something atypical – I hope this will influence them.
GP: Where do you commute to?
CYRIL: I’m a project manager in the wind energy industry, and have been fortunate enough to manage 0.5% of the entire globes installed wind power capacity due to the excellent growth of the industry, the improved technology of our wind turbines, and my employer’s confidence. We will be moving offices to the Pearl District, so I will have to add a bike or run segment in and complete a ‘duathlon’ each day.
GP: Anything else you would like to add?
CYRIL: Typical questions and myths from bystanders – aren’t you cold? No, never. When I SUP, I work hard and usually have to shed layers. Do you fall in? No, the boards are quite stable and paddler’s balance improves quite fast. Practicing in the ocean and the Columbia River makes the Willamette River easy.
Pet Peeve: I’m quite impressed with how little trash floats down the Willamette River, as compared to some other places I’ve lived, especially since this river drops and rises so much. Seeing trash in and close to the river drives me nuts! I try to collect it each time I’m out on the water.
GP: Thanks Cyril – you are an inspiration!
While it may not be possible for all of us to travel by SUP to work, Cyril should have all of us thinking about how we can incorporate more SUP into our everyday lives. Maybe it is time to try paddling downtown for coffee and the farmers market this Saturday or a paddle date for dinner. Who wants to join me? Have a question for Cyril? Use the comments section below.