White water stand up paddling for me is the ultimate challenge. It takes all the basic skills of the sport and amplifies it 10 times because it tests your physical and mental skills. Being able to “read” the water and anticipate how each wave, boil, wall, rock, and hole will direct you and your board takes some serious time on the water and skills. I believe I have a serious advantage that naturally lead me into this genre of SUP because of my whitewater kayaking background combined with my love for boardsports like snow, kite and skateboarding.
I often get asked the simple question of how to get into the sport of SUP on the river. My best response is to find your local kayak shop or river outfitter and do some research on nearby rivers and creeks. There is tons of beta online as well and that will get you pointed in the right direct as far as a good location to start. The next part of the equasion is to master your sup technique in the flat water so the basics like the forward stroke, turn strokes, and paddling in a surf stance are well practiced and confident. Trying to learn how to paddle at the same time as attempting to learn the nuances of current, waves, holes and rapids can double up to make learning particularly more difficult. Make it easy on yourself and master the basics in flatwater and then apply them to rough water in lakes and very mellow rivers before jumping right into the whitewater. Of course taking a lesson in whitewater SUP, kayaking, and/or swiftwater rescue are the best ways to learn at an accelerated rate but offerings in this genre of SUP are few and far between at this early stage of the sport.
The future of whitewater sup looks very bright in my eyes. River communities where rafting and kayaking are prominent will see the first growth spurts like we are already witnessing, for example in Colorado and Tennessee where strong communities of “boaters” have already been established because of the proximity to so many great rivers and creeks with access points and resources. Boaters naturally get better and better as time goes along and they need a constantly challenging section of whitewater to satisfy their taste for a good challenge, however as many of them soon find out that transitioning from an intermediate kayaker to an advanced kayaker often means paddling more and more dangerous rivers in the class4 and 5 rating, and these are substantially more dangerous by nature. Many of these paddlers are finding that a similar technical challenge can now be met on much easier whitewater using a stand up paddle board. This is great news on another level because often times the easier whitewater is also much closer to home. Another avenue for the popularity to boom is with experienced sup paddlers that are simply looking for a new challenge outside of the surf break or their usual flatwater routine. Many of these paddlers already have intermediate to advanced skills so they only need some gumption, some direction and few pieces of river specific/friendly gear.
My involvement with the sport for the future will most certainly be to keep challenging myself and pushing the limits of what I believe can be successfully paddled with a stand up board on the river, but even more importantly is to share my knowledge and spread the stoke about a new genre in the world of paddling. Offering lessons, videos and instructional clinics is how I am hoping to spread my love of this new segment in sup.
Some of my most scariest journey's on a stand up paddleboard have naturally been on the river. Paddling off 2 40 + foot waterfalls in Oregon are definitely on the top of the list. I have paddled the same waterfalls while sitting in a kayak which is scary in its own right but nothing is more committing than peeling out of the eddy above the drop and with no chance of escape of turning back you have to focus with every cell in your body to make it off the lip of the drop in control and with awareness about your positioning and control in a split second. Once you leave that last eddy there is nothing left to do but rely on your core skills and knowledge of what will happen and how to prepare for the hit at the bottom. Standing while dropping over a 4 story waterfall has got to be one of the most intimidating feelings but at the same time it’s a kind of willingness to put yourself out there and see what happens. Both of my big waterfall attempts have been without success of landing at the bottom but I would never know until I dropped. You can’t learn to fly without flying and it’s a mantra in life I repeat everyday to myself that the willingness to fail will only make me better at success. Someday we will be landing big waterfalls and there is no doubt that with the right equipment and skills that day may come even sooner than I can dream.