A paddle boarding renaissance in Petaluma

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In the “muddy” Petaluma River, which is often referred to erroneously as “dirty,” Andrew Dickson sees life.

The owner of Petaluma Stand Up Paddle (PSUP) and Napa Valley Paddle, Dickenson was raised in a family full of experts in hydrology and restoration. At 43, he is perfectly situated to “nurture people’s curiosity in nature.”

In the former Harbor Master’s office at the Petaluma Marina, PSUP is being reimagined by Dickson, a Napa resident whose first language seems to have been water, or more accurately, tidal estuary water.

Dickson’s dad, a San Diego-born surfer, was instrumental in creating the Napa Living River Project, which restored wetlands and reintroduced natural river contours and riparian growth, giving floodwater a place to go, replenishing the aquifer, and sequestering “blue carbon,” scientifically recognized as that captured by oceans and coastal and tidal ecosystems.

Worldwide, phytoplankton, the “life” that Dickson praises in these ecosystems, creates 50 to 85 percent of the earth’s oxygen.

An innovative wordsmith and winemaker whose life has always been intertwined with these tidal estuary waters, Dickson calls the Surfit Locker adjacent to the office, “a locker room for the river gymnasium.”

He plans to install a Surfit Locker in Napa in the spring, to give members access to both rivers and the Carneros Wildlife Preserve as well as high-quality paddle boards and kayaks at a monthly rate comparable to indoor gym memberships. In the fashion of a true visionary who has always understood the connective nature of the ecosystem of which the Petaluma River is a part, Dickson is marketing this region as “The Northern Reach of San Pablo Bay.”

He plans to outfit the office as a “clubhouse for the river,” fixing it up with comfortable furniture, WiFi, and kombucha on tap.

Dickson, an accomplished fisherman, rents out fishing kayaks too and even sells bait. Having run Napa Valley Paddle since 2012, he knows how to find each location’s unique possibilities.

In Petaluma, he has organized “downwinders,” SUP experiences available Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m., to take advantage of the Petaluma Gap wind, riding it downriver, and catching the PSUP shuttle back to the marina. There can’t be an easier way to experience five miles of tidal estuary.

Dickson also offers corporate team-building exercises and fundraisers, like the one in late September, Stand up for Bergin, a SUP competition, raffle and barbecue to raise money for the Bergin University of Canine Studies. The event was attended by the University’s founder, Bonnie Bergin.

Seeing all the dog-studded SUPs, she suggested a separate competition, for human-canine SUP teams, be included next year. Dickson was 100 percent behind the idea.

With enthusiasm, a deep understanding of the local brackish tidal water as full of life, not trash, and a master marketer’s grasp of language, Dickson seems set to help open up the slough to more recreation and appreciation in the future.

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