What I love about the new sport of stand up paddling is much like a kayak, how versatile it is in various types of water environments. In it’s infancy, it’s interesting to see how SUPs are fairing in these places, such as rapids on rivers. River kayaking has developed for years to a sport in which hard plastic boats and helmets to withstand blows to rocks are required. I paddled whitewater for a few years up to class 3, and have witnessed my own nasty swims, bonks on the head and numerous launches off steep sharp rocks into the river. Last spring, I lost a good friend, Mike Stano, a very experienced whitewater kayak instructor who got pinned on the Green River in Washington State. A great loss. Most of the footage I’m seeing of SUPs in the river show guys on epoxy boards, in shorts or a drysuit, usually no helmet or lifejacket.
That said, it’ll be interesting to see how SUPs adapt to rivers. So far, there hasn’t been any reported deaths, rescues, or other incidents with SUPs in current. In looking at SUPs on the river, I see some issues which may sort themselves out over time as folks get more experience.
Fins – No river kayak uses fins, the paddle and edging the rails are used to turn and control the boat. Fins could be broken off or stuck in between rocks.
Leashes – They’re good for not losing the board in current, but a potential hazard for being entangled in logs and boulders. If the leash is broken, then there’s the potential possibility of losing the board.
Epoxy Boards – Mucho ding repair! Are manufacturers building plastic boards or from an alternative material?
Thickness – If you cross an eddy line without edging, you’ll capsize. Boards are 4″ thick usually, is this enough to prevent catching an edge?
Helmets – Surfers like to be purists, less is more. But imagine falling from a standing postion onto a boulder. I’d want head protection.
PFD – My XCel suit floats as does my board. Some might argue this point, but an interesting one nonetheless. Often also PFDs offer warmth and collision protection, as well as a place to put a knife (leash issues?), short tow rope, powerbar, whistle, etc.
Board Length – Most river kayaks are 6-7′ long max for maneuvering in boulder gardens, taking drops, or finding a nook to pull out of the river, not to mention long hauls on the shoulder down a steep slopes to the river.
Rescues – Worse case scenario, if the paddler is injured, pinned, broken board, how do you tow a board or paddler back to shore? Boards don’t come with grab loops and deck lines. I’ve never seen footage of a paddler with a tow or throw bag on their body or board.
River Experience – Are SUP paddlers taking river classes to understand how to read water, avoid keeper holes and strainers, and knowing when to pul out to scout an unknown blind bend ahead?
I’m looking forward to new developments in the sport in the future, and can’t wait to see SUPs on tidal rapids, rivers and such. It’s just another way to enjoy the water.
** Check out the 2009 Whitewater Stand Up Paddling Championship, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado,
Great photo by: Mike Hardaker, 2008