Paddling white water on a stand up paddle board is most certainly a challenge, but the fun factor has me frothing for it more than anything else I have ever done. I was excited to introduce a few friends to it and ever since that first day on the river back in 2007 I have been racking my brain around what the ultimate white water board would look like?
So in my head I have gone through many shapes and visualizations and these turned into real boards that I was able to ride and give feedback on until we would arrive on the perfect board. This has always been a dream of mine and now it was happening. The final result was released in 2014 with Starboard called the Dan Gavere Astro Stream Board.
The process started in 2010 with the Starboard Whopper in a composite construction. Obviously I was doing some serious damage to the composite boards on the rockier and shallow water in the rivers near my house so my main concern was durability. Very soon in the process I also realized how the low volume narrow tails and sharp rails of most the boards which were made for ocean surfing, did not work well in river situations and especially for downstream river running and catching eddies.
I dreamed of a board that paddled similar to a white water kayak but also still looked like and rode like a stand up board. I loved the flat deck with no deck rails, recessed areas, or bumps and notches on the deck to trip or hit or bump my knees on. Sometimes I would have to bail to my knees and some of the boards I was using at the time left me sore and bruised even with knee pads on.
Then came the Astro/Inflatable line of boards from Starboard and I immediately got my hands on the Whopper Inflatable. It was different and took me a little while to get used to the delay and bucking sensation of riding an inflatable but by the end of the river I was feeling dreamy on the inflatable and I knew this was going to be the ultimate construction for the best white water board. At four inches thick and 200 litres, I had no problems in low and medium volume rivers like the Arkansas in Colorado and the Hood River in Oregon, but would still get the occasional swirl-a-gram, and rail grab to power flip in larger volume rivers like the Deschutes and Colorado Rivers which typically run 4,000 cfs and higher.
I liked the generous rocker and forgiving outline of the Whopper and it paddled predictable even in bigger waves and holes. The board was super fun to start trying on/off the board tricks and surfing river waves. I was even starting to catch waves on the fly for the first time! I could travel anywhere with it in a backpack with a three-piece breakdown paddle. I really enjoyed the ability to easily portage bigger rapids. It was so light weight and carrying it over rocks was so easy I found myself repeating the fun and challenging rapids again and again.
In 2012 the Astro Starboard Whopper six-inch Deluxe version was released at 300 litres. I quickly realized the extra volume was super helpful on the larger volume rivers and even better for small volume rivers and creeks too, especially on stuff from 300-800 cfs. The completely removable fins also added another dimension to shallow water paddling and at 300 litres I could run lines I had never tried before for fear of hitting the fins and falling in shallow water.
The biggest hazard
Fin strikes on rocks are potentially the biggest hazard and hardest to recover from without hitting the drink. I absolutely hate hitting them and I have even been working on a new technique where you jump up and Ollie Boof over the rock. If the timing is perfect it’s a pretty cool move that involves jumping up off the board the instant before a rock hit. If done right your board will pass over the rock and you land on it after the rock has passed beneath your board or at least passed your standing area. The Ollie Boof is my favourite trick on the water and certainly one of the hardest tricks to stick clean and ride away in my opinion.
The Stream started to brew in my head even more and I envisioned a pointy nose with a wide tail, something wide and a board that looked good with the right colours. It would be bright because brighter colours always look good and are the safer for white water for the best possible visibility especially when the board gets away from you on the river. The tail shape had to be perfect, and combined with the rocker I needed a board that had excellent tail release so that when its on edge the tail of the board disengages from the water.
I received the first prototype in the spring of 2013 and it was a sexy beast. It measured 9.6 by 36 inches wide with a pointy nose and some nice rocker lines – I was stoked. The tail was about ten or eleven inch, which I thought would be adequate. The board ripped on waves and hit down stream eddies with speed but I knew it needed more stability especially at slow speeds while paddling downstream.We went back to drawing board, gave it a little more of a generous and rounded nose, which wasn’t as sensitive and didn’t have to be spot on at 90 degrees to the waves and holes making it more forgiving for river running. Then we increased the tail rocker and widened the tail of the board to 20+ inches.When prototype two came I couldn’t believe the difference. It lost 10-15% of its surfing ability but gained 50% more stability and control at slow speeds while running the river. We were getting closer, so we tested and tested again and blew some stuff up in the process including countless paddles and boards to find something that could make the sport more fun.
Now or never
Prototypes three and four came and we kept dialing in the rocker fin placement and a few details but by the time the spring rains started to come in Oregon, I had the chance to test and finally give it the thumbs up or not. It was now or never as we had to decide going into 2014 to get it in production or else would have to wait until 2015.
The production board arrived just before the show and I was so amped to see it. The new colour in red looked excellent and everything was dialled in. It was a compact package at 9.6 in length but packed an amazing 387 litres! This was one short and buoyant package and really made an impression at the Show in Salt Lake City.
On the way home to Oregon I was able to make a stop in Banks Idaho near Boise to hit the Payette River. I went up and got right on the most challenging piece of the Payette I had done so far, the lower 5 of the South Fork Payette. This class 3 and 4 section includes some pretty challenging rapids like Slalom, Bronco Billy and Staircase.
Some of the kayakers I had met just there at the put-in were definitely watching me with a bit of a chagrin smile and a raised eyebrow. I didn’t know if they thought it would be fun to watch me swim the whole thing or they just thought I was crazy?
Either way it didn’t matter, and my crooked smile probably enforced this thought process. I was nervous but the final version of the Stream board felt good under my feet and inspired my confidence to complete the river, it was right then that I had to laugh out loud and feel a great sense of accomplishment to have achieved my goal of making a board that made white water easier.
Previously Published April 25, 2016 in Stand Up Paddle Mag Photos: Zach Mahone