Tips for new whitewater SUP thrills
By Haven Livingston
If flatwater stand up paddling isn’t providing the thrill it once did, take it to the river and test your finesse with downriver SUP. Before jumping in over your head, know that river SUP is a potentially serious undertaking because the water can be relentless and overwhelming. This creates hazards that an untrained river runner may not expect or understand, so starting out with professional instruction should be number one on your list if you want to try your hand at river SUP.
Once you’ve taken a swiftwater safety course and had a professional introduction to moving water, continue to get comfortable with how your board reacts to moving current. Rocking of the board should be absorbed by bending at your knees and being “Elvis in the pelvis” while keeping the upper body upright and stable. This keeps your weight balanced over the center of your feet. Bending too much at the waist before you’ve mastered compound paddle strokes will bring your weight forward onto the balls of your feet and send you headfirst off the bow of your board.
This leads to rule number one in swiftwater: don’t put your feet down in moving water. Foot entrapment is a leading cause of river accidents. If falling off is inevitable, aim for a butt first landing. There are no known butt entrapments on record.
Start on Class I moving water before going into Class II rapids and focus on catching eddies. These will be your best friend in the river to slow you down, giving you a chance to see what’s downstream. Try out different stances – parallel feet or staggered feet front to back – as you practice paddling over riffles. As you move into Class II whitewater remember that you can always drop to your knees to maintain stability while navigating through the peaks and troughs of wave trains. Eventually you can work your way up to a balanced standing position as your core grows stronger and you get a hang of the rhythm of the river.
As when trying any new thing, be ready to eat a little slice of humble pie. River SUP isn’t the most graceful of sports, but your smile at the end will tell you it’s worth it.