On a quiet, sunny Saturday in late September, there were only a few motor boats buzzing around Claytor Lake State Park, making it a great day for paddle boarding.
Michael Valach of Mountain2Island Paddle Boarding was ready for customers, and he wasn’t disappointed. Within an hour he greeted three Tech students and a couple from Christiansburg who were looking for an activity that would put them on the lake’s glistening waters.
“The fall is a great time to be on the lake,” Valach said. “The humidity is down and there are not as many boats on the water.” The water in the lake stays warm, he said—as much as 75 degrees—even as fall creeps into the air. “There’s not a lot of wind” in September and October, he added, and the fall foliage is beautiful.
So, he continues to rent paddle boards through October.
In the winter he teams with Christiansburg Aquatic Center to teach people paddle boarding skills in the pool.
Spring through fall, Valach delivers paddle boards, kayaks, canoes and pontoon boats to people visiting the area, particularly the ones who occupy the 50 or so rental homes around the lake. He even offers classes to teach paddle boarders how to share their hobby with their dogs. And the Wednesday night social paddle is a bargain at only $10.
Back at Christiansburg Aquatic Center, yoga lovers can master paddle board yoga in the winter so they can take their skills to the lake in warm weather.
Valach takes more daring paddle boarders to a section of the New River (Eggleston to Pearisburg) which has only Class I and Class II rapids.
June through September, on the first Monday of each month, he packs up his paddle boards to introduce the sport to visitors at Gatewood Park in Pulaski.
At Claytor Lake State Park, where autumn colors had just begun to show in a row of trees near the water, three friends took a break from campus life to try paddle boarding. It was the first time for Tech students Jisoo Sim and Hyesun Kong (both from South Korea), who were steered to the site by Michelle Lee, a Tech sophomore studying architecture.
When they started out, they paddled in the no-wake zone near the park’s boating dock. But the lake was so quiet they were able to venture out of the park’s protected coves.
As the three Tech students returned from their paddle, Holly and Daniel Kenecht of Christiansburg were readying to go out. They were outfitted in lifejackets at the paddle boarding facility in the basement of the park’s marina. Each had paddle boarded in the past, but they still got a mini-lesson from Chuck Higley, Valach’s friend, paddling partner and helper.
At a waterside walkway nearby, Higley coached Holly Knecht to start out by getting down on her knees on the board. As she climbed on, he steadied her board, handed her a paddle and reminded the couple, “When you stand up, look at the horizon.”
Valach spent his career in recreation planning for resorts in Virginia, West Virginia and the Poconos.
“I wanted to work for myself,” he explained, “and I grew up here.”
With his paddle board company, he found a way to return to the beauty of Claytor Lake and share it with others.
Hours at Mountain 2 Island: Summer: 10 a.m. to 7 pm. Daily; currently: Wednesday and Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Rates are: $15 hour, $24 two hours, $10 Wednesday evening social paddle, $49 all day.
For more information, go to www.mountain2island.com, or call 230-2023.