A new paddler gets his start in GO Outside Festival's practice pool. All photos courtesy GO Outside Festival

A new paddler gets his start in the GO Outside Festival’s practice pool. All photos courtesy GO Outside Festival

In Monopoly, GO is where you score $200. In Roanoke, Virginia, the Anthem GO Outside Festival is where you can score a kayak, a free SUP yoga class, gratis shuttle rides for SUPing the Roanoke River, and no-charge kayak rolling lessons. It runs from October 16 through the 18 and is a largely free festival that’s open to all.

The event has grown quickly. Pete Eshelman, Director of Roanoke Outside Foundation, said, "Four years ago in our first year, we had 4,500 people. Last year, we had 22,000."

A range of activities has powered the five-fold growth in four years. For example, if you want to see if Batman can defeat Superman and you don't want to wait for the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, there's the Superhero Race, a 5K footrace benefitting a local family homeless shelter. Want to learn fly fishing? Can do. Want to shop for that new fly rod? No problem, there are scores of vendors.

superhero kids go outside festival

Eshelman said, "For more seasoned folks, there's an opportunity to see the latest and best gear. You can demo a $5,000 road bike and fly fishing rods."

If you simply want to learn, there are nearly 200 workshops.

"We had 175 workshops last year from fixing a flat tire to using a Jetboil stove. There are wilderness first aid classes, leave-no-trace classes, building survival shelters, and building a fire. It's very hands on. Test out mountain bikes. Learn how to rock climb."

If you just want to chill, there are oodles of ways to do so.

"We have it broken into three categories. The first is ‘Watch It.’ You can watch pro athletes do shows, such as slack line pros, BMX stunt pros, and the lumberjack show with ax throwing and log rolling."

Log rolling showdown.

Log rolling showdown.

If you prefer athletes with four legs, there's the Ultimate Air Dogs, where dogs do impressive Michael Jordan imitations, jumping off a dock. There's also the Go Big Agility Demo and Flyball.

And if your dog just wants to chill with you, canine pals are welcome.

"It's pet friendly, and you can walk everywhere with your beer and pooch."

But if you want to do more than watch, you're invited to try something new.

"Our second category is ‘Try It.’ In addition to our workshops, there's a bouldering wall and a climbing wall. There's a bicycle pump track that's 60 by 40 feet long and four feet wide. It's a circular pattern that brought out a lot of younger people from the BMX and skating community. There's also a 60- by 40-foot inflatable pool if you don't want to paddle on the Roanoke River. You can paddle in the pool or do your first SUP experience there. There's a fly casting pond where you can practice. It's a community-built festival, so all the workshops are put on by local organizations or shops. There's even a shuttle service to take your bike up to the local bike trails."

King of the SUP.

King of the SUP.

Feeling competitive? There's a category for that too.

"Our third category is ‘Race It.’ One opportunity is our Wild Gear Chase, which is an urban scavenger hunt. It's limited to 150 people and you have two hours to hit as many checkpoints as possible. You're ranked on how many you hit and how long it takes you. At the finish, contestants are lined up in order beside a big tent full of gear. You have 30 seconds to pick one item of gear: from SUPs to socks. There's a kayak, a fat bike, tents, Adidas shoes, and sleeping bags. You can stay in the tent as long as you want, but you can only leave with one item and can only be holding one item while in the tent. A pair of socks is the least thing you can win."

There's camping on site and concerts each night.

"We shift gears to listening to music each evening."

Bands include Yo Moma’s Big Fat Booty Band, which takes the 1-10 fun dial up to 11, and Primate Fiasco, which amplifies sans electricity.


However, it's outdoors activities that serve as the big, strong heart of the festival.

"Nothing beats the smiles you see when someone just clicks with a new activity at GO Fest. It happens all the time. I've seen kids in the pool learning to paddle for the first time who are so excited when they don't flip the kayak. But sometimes it is the adults that really inspire you. Standup paddling is a big thing right now, and we have board demos in the pool on site at the festival. Seeing someone go from that timid stage, where they are terribly afraid of the board, to standing in racks ready to buy one is amazing. That newfound love of the outdoors and outdoor recreation is what GO Fest is all about, but it's also for anyone who might have an inkling to get out and about and just have a good time."

–Learn more at http://www.roanokegofest.com/

–Read more about Roanoke, Virginia, in our list of North America’s Best Paddling Towns