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,
28 June 2014
By Kate Mishkin
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
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
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
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
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
”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
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
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
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
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
“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
For more information: kayakpittsburgh.org or 412-255-0564.
Combining two popular activities, RiseSUP offers yoga classes
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
“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
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
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
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 www.surfpittsburgh.com or at
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
“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,”
Various classes and training will be offered this summer, and
people are encouraged to visit http://www.threeriversrowing.org/
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
“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/.