5 of the best not-so-secret places to paddle near Austin, TX

Tony Smith, the founder of Jarvis Boards, says Austin is the perfect place to live if you love to paddle. Photo: Daniel Davis Photo.
Tony Smith, the founder of Jarvis Boards, says Austin is the perfect place to live if you love to paddle. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Davis Photo
Once a far-away vision of tumbleweeds and 10-gallon hats, the Lone Star state has been feverishly proving its worth to music lovers (it’s the home of the revered Austin City Limits music festival), a plethora of extreme sports fans and outdoor enthusiasts.

Austin is a spider web of biking trails, swimming holes, bouldering pockets and, perhaps still surprising to those who haven’t been, bodies of water — and all the paddle fans who flock to them.

“SUPing is a natural fit for this culture of hyper fitness,” says Jarvis Boards founder Tony Smith, who crafts small-batch wooden SUP boards with recycled materials and eco-friendly woods out of his Austin-based studio (his first project was a wooden canoe he built with an Amazon table saw and a how-to book). “The city has several dammed lakes running through it, which offers plenty of places to play on the water.”

Smith paddling down a section of the Colorado River. Photo: Courtesy Tony Smith.
Smith paddling down a section of the Colorado River. Photo: Courtesy of Tony Smith
And while most weekend paddlers stick to the popular Lady Bird Lake, which runs through the heart of downtown Austin, Smith says your best bet so it branch out to avoid the “Keep Austin Weird” crowd.

“It boggles my mind that 10 minutes away from where everyone is paddling, you can find stretches of water where turtles outnumber people 50 to 1,” he laughs.

Lucky for us, Smith isn’t one to keep secrets — here are his top five spots to launch your board near Austin.

Lady Bird Lake, Downtown Austin

Lady Bird Lake runs through the heart of Austin, so expect glassy water and views of the glass. Photo: Courtesy Tony Smith.
Lady Bird Lake runs through the heart of Austin, so expect glassy water and views of the glass. Photo: Courtesy of Tony Smith
Of course, no top-five list would be complete without mentioning Lady Bird Lake, a 468-acre reservoir on the Colorado River favored by the Austin Rowing Club.

Since no motorized boats are allowed in the water, it’s a great place to learn how to paddle.

“The water is calm and the scenery is really cool,” says Smith. “If you go on the weekend, expect crowds, which can sometimes turn into spontaneous parties. After all, we do live in Austin, and the only thing that we love more than staying fit is partying!”

Secret Beach, on the Colorado River, east of Austin

Just 15 minutes from downtown Austin, you’ll find this remote-feeling pocket of water.

“For whatever reason, the river banks haven’t been developed, which makes it a great place to get away from the crowds,” says Smith. “The best part is that when you’re done, you can throw a rock in any direction and you’ll hit a restaurant with amazing food and cold beer.”

Travis Lake, Pace Bend Park, west of Austin

Travis Lake near Austin, Texas. Photo: Lisandro Luis Trarbach/Shutterstock.com
Travis Lake near Austin, Texas. Photo: Courtesy of Lisandro Luis Trarbach/Shutterstock
Located in the only legal “clothing optional” park in Texas, Travis Lake is fair game for scuba diving, swimming, fishing, boating, paddling and obviously, skinny dipping.

“It’s an expansive amount of water you’ll never get tired of exploring,” says Smith. Lining its edges are dramatic limestone cliffs that make for great scenery and “damn good deep water soloing and cliff diving.”

The Gulf Coast, coast of Texas, two-hour trip from Austin

If you think surfing is relegated to either the East or West coast, you’ve forgotten the long stretch of coastline shouldering up to Texas: the Gulf of Mexico.

“Along the Texas Gulf coast, you’ll find a little bit of everything,” says Smith. “World-class fishing, surfing and miles and miles of wide open beaches.”

Guadalupe River, 30 minutes south of Austin

Cliffs rising along the Guadalupe River in Texas. Photo: Richard A McMillin/ Shutterstock.com
Cliffs rising along the Guadalupe River in Texas. Photo: Courtesy of Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock
Load up your paddleboard and make the drive south to awaken your inner explorer — Smith says that every bend of the river reveals something new: fields of bluebonnets, Longhorn cattle herds and dramatic cliffs abound.

“When you’re done, you’ll be close to the Gristmill so you can pop in and get yourself a nice chicken-fried steak,” says Smith. “It doesn’t get more ‘Texas’ than that.”

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