White Water SUP

White Water SUP

First forays into White Water SUP

It doesn’t matter how much experience you have on a SUP, there’s always the opportunity to progress your skills and try something new.  For us at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co, we have years of experience on flat water and in the surf. However, very recently we decided to step out of our SUP comfort zone and try something new.  White Water SUP is relatively new on the UK SUP scene – there’s a massive following for whitewater kayaking and canoeing, so why not have a go at white water SUP?

We headed up to the Lake District to run a set of rapids that we don’t think has ever been SUP’d before.  Ok, we’re not confirming ‘first descent’ but Sean from Wild River lives and breathes the river and he’d never seen it SUP’d before.  We took on 6 miles of Grade 2 rapids on the River Eden, just outside Penrith in the Lake District.  The rapids only work about 25% of the time as the water level needs to be just right.  Too little water and you won’t make it over the rocks; too much water and you’ve got a fight on your hands!

Leaving vehicles at both ends of the run, we loaded up two of our Freshwater Bay iSUPs with everything we thought we might need. There’s no get off point during the 6 mile run, so we utilised the boards cargo nets to store dry bags with snacks, first aid kit, iSUP repair kits and a pump – it always pays to be prepared for any SUP emergency. We also took spare SUP paddles, as the last thing we wanted to was to be up the creek without…..

Whitewater SUP Paddleboard UK

Leash or no leash?

One of main talking points in whitewater SUP is whether or not to wear a leash.  It’s a difficult one – a leash is your lifeline to your board, but can also be a hazard.  If you’re going to wear a leash for white water SUP then the recommendation is to use a waist leash on a quick release.  The last thing you want is an ankle or knee leash dragging in the water and getting tangled.  This could be a potential disaster.  After much discussion we decided to run the river without leashes.  We didn’t have quick release waist leashes at our disposal so it was the safest option.

Needless to say, we both came off our boards on the the first tiny rapid, which didn’t bode too well.  However, with Sean’s knowledge of the river, and his white water canoe and kayak experience, as well as my SUP experience, we decided to plough on.

Whitewater SUP Paddleboard UK
By the time we got to the next set of rapids, we were a bit more prepared.  Sean was teaching me what to look for and how to tell whether a rapid is caused by a rock that could pose a danger, or whether it’s a standing wave.  We pulled up on the bank and assessed the rapid to pick out a line that we would attempt to run.  I say attempt as the river has ways of pushing your SUP around that I haven’t experience – the rapids can cause part of the board to slow down and I often found the tail swinging round so I was doing 360 degree turns through the rapids.  In interesting experience when you’re first starting out, but after a little experience you understand how to handle it.

Using the iSUPs on rapids

Taking the two different inflatable SUPs meant we could swap around and see how each paddle board performed.  The 10’2 board is 5″ thick which is beneficial on a wave as opposed to a thicker board, but it was the 6″ thick 10’6 iSUP that really stood out in the rapids.  As the rapids pushed the SUPs around it was much easier to catch a rail on the thinner 10’2 and tip the board. The 6″ thick 10’6 provided the extra volume at the rail which made bounce off the rapids, rather than cut under and tip. A much easier prospect when you’re first starting out in whitewater.

Overall both SUPs handled it well.  We bounced off more than our fair share of rocks and both paddle boards came out unscathed. Our polymer fused PVC construction is among the most durable SUP constructions on the market.   In our opinion, an inflatable SUP is the best choice for white water activity – they bounce off rocks without the shudder you get from plastic whitewater boards.   If you do lose balance and fall to your knees, they are also a lot more forgiving.  The other benefits are that they weigh a lot less than plastic white water SUPs, so easier to drag up the bank and portage around any unnavigable sections of the river.

For us at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co, white water SUP was a learning experience. And a whole heap of fun.  Getting out there and trying some new is what it’s all about.  SUP has so many disciplines – from racing to surfing to down-winding.  White Water SUP is one of the most exhilarating ways to experience the water.  Needless to say, it’s not suitable until you’ve mastered the basics and are comfortable SUPing on the flat. Always go with someone familiar with the River, and never alone.  Get out there and have fun, but also be safe!

whitewater paddleboarding UK
Longboard SUP Surf at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Longboard SUP Surf at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Longboard SUP Surf at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Here’s Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co Team Rider, Al Reed, having some longboard SUP Surf fun on his Classic 9’11 SUP.

If you’re looking for a single SUP that’s as happy on flat water as it is on the waves, then the Classic 9’11 is a great choice.  At 31.5″ wide it’s forgiving and stable enough on the flat.  But with it’s rocker line and thinned out nose, tail and rails it also surfs like a classic longboard.  Al Reed has been UK South Coast Longboard Champion for 13 years, as well as British Masters Longboard Surf Champion.  He loves riding his Freshwater Bay Classic 9’11 in anything from knee high rollers to double overhead reef breaks.

The Freshwater Bay 9’11 SUP also comes in Classic Blue and White as well as Paulownia Wood Veneer, with the same great shape and longboard SUP Surfing ability!

Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co bamboo longboard SUP Surf

Accessible Stoke – SUP surfing Vs Prone Surfing

We’ll be honest, the title of this article sounds a little contentious and doesn’t really promote the right image. After all there’s nothing ‘versus’ (or shouldn’t be anyway!) about either of these sports. As far as Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co. is concerned any type of wave riding activity is good.  Whether it’s SUP surfing, prone surfing, body boarding or Kayaking; it just so happens we’re into stand up paddle boards….


Paddleboard SUP Surf UK
As much as we love a flat-water paddle, there’s nothing like dropping down a wave and having as much fun as you can handle. With paddle in hand and 10ft SUP under your feet, you’re primed to catch waves otherwise unrideable on your usual mal or shortboard.
There are still those in the World that may knock SUP surfing, so firstly let’s clarify what we’re talking about when we say ‘stand up paddle surfing’. It doesn’t have to be Jaws or a Mentawai reef break. Any time you catch a wave, of any size, and regardless of whether or not you’re ripping, that’s what we’re talking about. Sure, if you can shred, tear and blow the backs out of waves then all power to you, but most SUP paddlers aren’t that way inclined.

For us at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co it all comes down to time spent in the water. After a Summer of riding waves that really wouldn’t have been possible or worth it on a surfboard (and at times even we called them barrel-scraping days), we were still out there – in an almost empty lineup – having fun!

SUP Surf Isle of Wight UK
SUP Surfing opens up a whole range of wave-riding options. Ankle-biting ripples are all good – the waves you wouldn’t think about paddling for on a good wave day, become the Holy Grail between the lulls. And why not? You can still catch them, and still have fun!

Paddling a SUP also offers the chance of riding offshore waves, breaking far from the madding crowd. No need to hitch a lift from a passing boat when you can paddle your SUP.  And no burning out your shoulder muscles before you even start surfing.

Then there are the junkier days. If you’ve got the skills days like these are perfect for SUP surfing. The momentum you generate as a paddle surfer means riders are primed for outrunning crumbly sections, rounding sloppy lips and turning an otherwise lacklustre session into something far more enjoyable.

Flip this towards traditional forms of surfing and we just don’t think the majority will have as much fun as on a SUP. There are definitely those who can light up when perched atop a surfboard, even when the waves haven’t turned on for weeks, or even months – the Isle of Wight certainly has its fair share.

But many who surf do so in a recreational sense only – hitting up wave beaches every now and again to get their fix, life often getting in the way. The reality is that the waves aren’t always there when you have the time, and vice versa. Whichever way you cut it, for most people this isn’t enough time on the water to reap the same kind of rewards as SUP surfing will.

Surf Isle of Wight
On a SUP, riders will be having much more fun, quicker. There’s no faffing about with popping up, paddling out is easier (in smaller and light wind conditions) and SUPs pick up swells earlier. Waves that were out of bounds for surfboards (either because the surf is predominantly too small or too far offshore) are now prime for your SUP surf. And then of course there’s the option of using your stand up paddleboard on the flat – a great workout, and more time in and on the water. SUP’s versatility is another key reason it’s super popular.

We reiterate once again: this isn’t a surf bashing article. In fact it’s quite the opposite. We love surfing. It’s just that we also love paddle surfing and think it’s one of the easiest ways to access waves and get that surfing stoke.

A couple of things to point out, although many who’ve gone before us have done the same; get your SUP skills honed in the flat before venturing into the lineup – the surf zone isn’t a place to try out your shiny new SUP for the first time. With more SUPs entering the water, it’s important to respect surfing etiquette – just because you can see and catch a wave earlier on a SUP, doesn’t mean you have to; you don’t need the best waves to have fun, so let some sets pass you by, or find a peak away from the main lineup. You won’t make any friends or influence people by being a wave hog. Ride with Aloha, respect and you’ll get the same in return.