Catgut Paddle

By: Anastasia Penchi

Are you a water bug at heart?

Do you get the feeling that none of the area’s many festivals are geared to folks who enjoy long-distance paddle sports? No more, I say.

The first annual Catgut Paddle Canoe Kayak Race will be held in La Crosse on July 22. And because they purposely called it the “first annual,” you can be darn sure they intend to do it again. I guess that’s how the city shouts out to potential sponsors/advertisers who might like to jump on board for next year?

If paddling is your thing, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Big guns are welcome.

Experienced racers are invited to paddle a 14-mile Canoe Kayak Race along a stretch of the Mississippi and Black Rivers. The course winds through the peaceful backwaters and the main channel of the Mississippi, creating a variety of paddling experiences. The surrounding greenery and lush bluffs make this valley the perfect home for bald eagles, tundra swans, and great egrets. Racers are encouraged to bring their own watercraft and equipment. Muscly biceps are mandatory per the sheer length of this race, but muscle shirts are optional.

2. Beginners should stick here.

A four-mile canoe, kayak, and Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) race will journey around historic Hiawatha Island. Racers will launch from the Clinton Street Boat Landing and begin downstream around the south end of the island, then head north up Richmond Bay and finish traveling down the Black River back to the landing. This event is built to accommodate all paddlers from beginners to experts. Rental equipment is available. Bring your own waders if you think the majority of your time will be spent portaging your ride.

3. Can you say paddleboard jousting?

One of the advantages of being an uncoordinated klutz is I would never think about trying something like paddleboarding in public – let alone as part of a competitive event that also includes poking sticks at other people while balancing precariously on a skinny floating board. One-on-one jousting requires solo SUP paddlers to strategically knock the other competitors off their boards. The events will use safe, padded joust sticks and jousters will be wearing helmets. Whack-a-mole your friend’s padded head as the crowds cheer on.

4. The bird is the word.

There will also be unique paddling options for bird lovers, those interested in learning SUP yoga or those interested in taking a beginner kayak class. During the Birding Paddling Tour, you will take a leisurely lap around the island looking at regional and migratory birds while learning about the significance of the waterways in the Driftless Region. Paddleboard Yoga will be led by professional SUP yoga instructors at the south end of the Veterans Freedom Park in the marina. Yoga participants must have previous experience in yoga practice such as sun salutations and other basic poses. For any of these unique classes, online registration ahead of time is recommended.

5. Why Catgut?

Despite my minimal efforts at investigative reporting, I have no idea why it’s called, “Catgut” Paddle. Since it’s a city-sponsored event, I’d ask the mayor, but I believe the catgut his tongue. Stop by and find out!

If you would like to register for SUP Yoga or want to see a schedule of events, visit the Catgut Paddle Website at or the Catgut Paddle Facebook page.

Anastasia Penchi

Anastasia Penchi

Freelance writer

Anastasia Penchi is graduate of UW-La Crosse and a long-time Coulee Region writer who has written for area newspapers and magazines (