How to enjoy Pittsburgh's three rivers: count the ways

Kayaking, rowing, canoeing, paddleboarding (with or without yoga), jet skiing, boating, swimming — even surfing. Each summer, there's more


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The days of thinking of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers as dirty, factory-polluted waterways are long gone. They‘‍re cleaner than ever, and local organizations such as Friends of the Riverfront and Venture Outdoors are working to expand opportunities on the rivers that include everything from canoeing to kayaking, to paddleboarding (with or without yoga), rowing, jet skiing, boating, swimming and even surfing.

This week kicks off with one of the region’‍s largest events: the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, running Wednesday through Friday. But there’‍s much more to come this summer, including celebrations of major milestones at Kayak Pittsburgh, Sandcastle Waterpark and Three Rivers Rowing Association.

Three Rivers Regatta

The 37th annual celebration on the rivers introduces several new events this summer, including the History Channel‘‍s Cross Country Cookout and jet ski racing on the Allegheny -- some of the “zaniest, extreme athletes you’‍ll ever see,” says Michael Dongilli, vice president of ISM USA, event manager for the nation‘‍s largest inland regatta.  

The regatta also will be the site of the XPogo World Championships, which is drawing extreme pogostick leapers from across the globe to compete for prizes and world records in Point State Park for all three days. Pogosticks will be available for people to try, under the supervision and guidance of XPogo members. 

Some “staples,” as Mr. Dongilli called them, will be Zambelli fireworks on Fourth of July off the Point -- billed as one of the Top 10 fireworks displays in the country -- and Sandsational, which with more than 150 tons of sand will be re-creating the Battle of Fort McHenry that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” in honor of its 200th anniversary. 

“It’‍s keeping things exciting and fresh,” Mr. Dongilli said. “That sculpture has been amazing because you don‘‍t see anything like that in Pittsburgh that often. It’s been wildly popular.” 

The free family oriented regatta will likely draw in more than 500,000 spectators from all over the country.

“I think it just enhances the cultural life and the entertainment life of residents, he said. ”We just got out of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and now we’re headed toward another major national event.” 

For the third year in a row, Rivers Casino Amphitheater will be working in conjunction with the regatta to offer free live music right on the river. Among the offerings will be Beatlemania Magic, a Beatles tribute band and No Bad Juju.

Find a full schedule at www.threeriversregatta.net

SUP3Rivers

Fairly new to the area, stand up paddleboarding, or SUP, is gaining popularity on the three rivers. 

Owner Matthew Rumbaugh initially got the idea to start his business, SUP3Rivers, when he was paddling on a board his father had made by hand. People on the river started staring and asking about the board, and he decided to open his own business.

“It was all about branding the community. Everyone’s opening a shop, but we’ll be there before the storm and after.”

Mr. Rumbaugh owns all of the boards and rents them out either for an hourly rate or takes as many as eight people at a time -- the “friendly first timers,“ as he calls them -- and teaches them the skills himself. He’s mainly located on the South Side or North Shore but is also willing to bring a pontoon and pick up a group.

”The Allegheny is a cranky river, and it can be flowing really fast, so I swing people over to the Monongahela because it’s always calm, so I have that beauty of this natural resource. I never have to cancel.”

On a recent day, Kristi Paolina of Bellaire, Ohio, was learning to paddleboard with her 18-year-old son. “It was just an all-around positive experience. It felt safe,” she said.  “He knew what he was talking about,” she said about Mr. Rumbaugh.

Within 10 minutes of instruction, she was standing on the paddleboard.

She said she plans to come back and will consider a package that SUP3Rivers offers that combines the activity with tickets to a Pirates game capped with fireworks. ”I’ll do that with girlfriends,” she said. 

SUP3Rivers offers Stand Up Paddling in the summer and land paddling in the colder months. The price is typically $25 for an hour lesson, but prices vary. Rentals range from $50 for the first hour, and $15 per additional hour; Day rentals: $60 for four hours or $80 for a full day.

“My goal is to make it affordable and fun,” Mr. Rumbaugh said. Another goal, he says, is to ensure a safe experience.

“By no means is this river something to take lightly. It has currents and flows, and anybody that gets on my board won’t get on my board if it’s not safe. They will get a paddle, they will have a safety vest, they’ll have a leash to the board. No doubt that’s the one thing. It’s the law,” he said.

Appointments can be made on his website: sup3rivers.com or call 412-425-7676.

Friends of the Riverfront Triathalon

Nearly 2,000 athletes -- both from Pittsburgh and out of town -- are expected to compete in one of three triathalons on Aug. 2-3: the International, Sprint or Adventure, all sponsored by Friends of the Riverfront, an organization dedicated to increased awareness of and engagement with the Pittsburgh region rivers through expansion of the land and water trails. 

“Basically we're involved with every aspect of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, as well as the Three Rivers Water Trail for kayaking and canoeing. We’re involved in the planning to building to promotion of the trail through our free map and guide,” said Sarah Carr, program manager.

This will be the event’s 17th year and its fifth year being green-certified by Athletes for a Fit Planet. The event will be ecofriendly, meaning registration is completely online, extra food will be donated to a local food pantry and recycling will be encouraged.

Because both the Sprint and Triathlon events involve swims in the Allegheny River, the most frequent question the organization receives from participants is about the water quality. This year, Friends of the Riverfront is preparing a more intensive water sampling and information protocol to assist competitors. 

“We’ve really taken a lot of time and put a lot of effort into sharing information about sewage overflows and what makes a river safe or unsafe,” Ms. Carr said. People are encouraged to read the literature available on the website and decide whether they’d like to compete in the swim segment.

Prices are $140, $120 and $110 for the International, sprint and adventure races, respectively, until July 3. After that, prices will go up incrementally. Relay team rates are doubled. More information is available at http://friendsoftheriverfront.org/triathlon or 412-488-0212.

Kayak Pittsburgh

Kayak Pittsburgh will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer with an expansion to the South Side. 

It’‍s the “social enterprise” of Venture Outdoors, a nonprofit membership organization. Kayak Pittsburgh has locations next to PNC Park on the North Shore and the North Park Boathouse. It will be opening a third location on the South Side in July.

Kayaking has been popular among families said marketing director Jenn Strang.

“We’re active with family programming, so we’ll do specialty outings that the  whole family can go on,” Ms. Strang said.

A popular program is a S’more Hike -- a relaxed hike with a chance to roast s’mores at the end of it. Kayak Pittsburgh also offers wake up kayaking and a women’s paddling group.

“When you see pictures of Pittsburgh in national river photos you’ll see yellow kayaks, and those are our kayaks. That gives us a sense of pride. The city’s being highlighted, and people are interested in seeing the skyline and the city,” Ms. Strang said.

Kayak rentals start at $16.50 for the hour, with a membership discount available.

For more information: kayakpittsburgh.org or 412-255-0564.

RiseSUP Paddleboarding

Combining two popular activities, RiseSUP offers yoga classes on paddleboards. 

Owner Lisa Volpe, who has been paddleboarding for almost 10 years, started RiseUP four years ago. Her experience comes primarily from time spent in California learning styles in the surfing community. When she brought her knowledge back to Pittsburgh, people started asking questions.

“I had people who said ‘What're you doing? You're walking on water.’ And that's what made me think I had to start a business here,” Ms. Volpe said.

What makes her business special, she says, is the technique she learned in California. “I have the West Coast boards, West Coast style ... there’s a technique that I can say no one else I know has. The water’s my second nature,” Ms. Volpe said.

A prior partner with Venture Outdoors, RiseSUP also offers lessons in SUP-ing and in SUP yoga. 

“I’ve been skiing on it, my kids have been on it,” she said about the river. For me it was just a great opportunity to bring awareness to the sport and to see the rivers are clean and fun,” Ms. Volpe said. “There was a time when people were discouraged to get in the water probably because of years of steel mills.”

“This water is amazing and incredible and clean and for no reason should someone feel they shouldn’t paddleboard or kayak or boat. We just have to raise awareness.”

RiseSUP offers corporate events, private lessons, academies for children and other training. One of the most popular options is SUP yoga.

“It deepens your practice, and it’s not impossible. The yoga’s great because yoga is natural and you’re in touch with life and there's nothing better than having those elements outside: the air, the sun, so that's what neat about the yoga,” Ms. Volpe said. And, she said, it’s a great workout. “It’s nature’s gym.” 

One new installment this year is nighttime SUP-ing. Ms. Volpe offers boards with lights underneath them so people can go out on full moon nights.

More information is available at http://www.riseup-pittsburgh.com or 412-965-9335.

Surf Pittsburgh

OK, we all know that Pittsburgh isn‘‍t on the coast, but that hasn’‍t stopped one company from using a special boat to churn up waves so we can surf on the three rivers.

Surf Pittsburgh, located out of Decade Clothing and Surfshop on the South Side, has been offering the surfing experience since last summer.

Although it‘‍s located out of the South Side, Surf Pittsburgh is willing to come to its customers and travel, and promises to teach people how to surf -- year-round.

“If someone wants to go out in the middle of January, we’re willing to go out in the middle of January,” owner Steve Ford said. 

The company offers both private lessons or groups of up to 10. It’‍s hosted different events, from bachelor‘‍s to children’‍s‘ parties. Lessons are offered at $125 per hour for one or two people and $25 more per additional person. 

Information is available at surfpittsburgh.com or at 412-720-1677. 

Three Rivers Rowing Association

From world championship rowing training to recreational beginners’‍ classes serving 10-year-olds to 70-year-olds, the Three Rivers Rowing Association offers something for anyone interested in rowing. 

“It’‍s a neat thing,” said Rick Brown, executive director. “We‘‍re teaching the same thing, but we’re able to fill goals of a lot of different people. People come for community, networking. Everybody wants to be here and wants to do something similar.”

The association, with locations on Washington’‍s Landing and in Millvale, was founded 30 years ago in October, and recreational rowing on Pittsburgh’‍s rivers continues to grow. It was named the USRowing Club of the Year in 2002, 2010 and 2013. One the rivers, it offers kayaks, sculling shells, sweep shells and two Dragon boats.

“In Pittsburgh it‘‍s a great way to be outdoors in the city,” Mr. Brown said. “The rivers are so connected to our city in so many ways, in the history and being a beautiful part of the city.”

There’‍s also an appeal in the lifelong span of the sport. 

“You can start and continue on throughout your entire life into your 70s and 80s, and it‘‍s a sport that’‍s really good for you,” he said. 

Various classes and training will be offered this summer, and people are encouraged to visit http://www.threeriversrowing.org/ or 412-231-8772. 

Sandcastle Waterpark

Celebrating 25 years on the Monongahela River, Sandcastle Waterpark in West Homestead will mark the occasion with 25 days of deals, events and jubilation. Starting on Tuesday, each day will offer something different, from deals on food to a beach-side band.

“It‘‍s a huge milestone for the park,” said Melissa Kelly, manager of marketing and group sales. 

This year, Sandcastle and Kennywood are offering a the Ride & Slide pass that will allow unlimited access to both parks all summer for $124.99. 

The park, packed with water slides, pools and the Lazy River raft ride, will be open seven days a week until Aug. 17, and then weekends until Labor Day. More information is available at https://www.sandcastlewaterpark.com/. 


Kate Mishkin: kmishkin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1352

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