Three men braved Friday's early morning cold in the hopes of being the first to paddleboard the last free-flowing stretch of the mighty Columbia River.
Former Kennewick resident Michael Willis and two friends left from Vernita Bridge in the Hanford Reach National Monument to paddle 33 miles to the Ringold Fish Hatchery over two days.
Willis, 31, is a graduate of Kamiakin High School and Columbia Basin College who now lives in Tacoma, but still has family in the Tri-Cities.
He said he works in a shop on the west side that sells and rents paddleboard equipment, and long has wanted to bring the growing sport to the Reach.
"The Reach is a beautiful section of river," he said.
Paddleboarding is similar to surfing, but uses a wider, longer, thicker board and is done on flat water or small waves.
Participants stand on what's known as the "sweet spot" on the board -- or basically the center of gravity -- and use an 80-inch paddle to propel themselves over the water.
Willis said the sport is popular in Hawaii, but is growing in the continental United States.
"Anywhere you've got water, it works," he said.
Willis and his buddies left around dawn Friday and planned to paddle for eight hours to the White Bluffs boat launch, where they'd stop for the day and return to warm beds at Willis' parents' home for the night.
They should finish their journey sometime today.
It's unknown whether anyone has paddleboarded that section of the river before.
The three wore dry suits layered with fleece and polypro to keep them warm and watertight. Hats and gloves protected their exposed extremities.
They also had the exertion of paddling to keep their blood flowing.
The boards are big enough that paddlers can sit down or kneel if rest is needed, but the custom is to stand while in motion.
Willis said the sport is fairly easy to learn. He taught his brother to paddleboard in the Columbia River at Howard Amon Park.
"Within a minute, he was standing on the board," he said.
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org