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 teamed up with our Lake District demo partner http://www.wildriver.co.uk 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’s 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!
We took two of our latest Freshwater Bay inflatable SUPs – the 10’6 and the 10’2. Leaving vehicles at both ends of the run, we loaded up the iSUPs with everything we though 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…..
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.
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!