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You've Probably Been Seriously Underestimating Stand Up Paddle Boards

These whitewater athletes are pushing the boundaries of stand-up paddle boards.

By: Kyle Frost + Save to a List

When you think of stand up paddle boarding, or SUP, you probably think of long fiberglass lake boards, or inflatable boards for cruising around a bay or lake. If you live near the beach, there's even a chance you've seen someone surfing on one. You've probably never considered that there's an entire community of paddlers rafting some of the biggest whitewater in the world on SUPs.

River/whitewater SUP is an entire category of itself. The boards are designed differently to handle the variable conditions in whitewater, and there's even a competition circuit.

Folks have SUP'ed the Grand Canyon:

Above: photo of Spencer Lacy, by Joey Schusler

The Futelefu in Chile is one of the premier whitewater rivers in the world:

And recently, I was on a river trip this summer on the Selway in Idaho, with a couple of fantastic stand-up paddle boarders.

What's the difference between a Whitewater SUP and a Flatwater/Lake SUP?

A whitewater stand-up paddle board is going to be inflatable, and have more rocker (curve) from the nose to tail. They need to be durable to handle hitting rocks in the river, and the rocker helps them to have tighter maneuverability, and go *over* waves instead of through them.

In comparison to other paddle boards, whitewater boards are quite wide for additional stability. You don't want to be on a sleek, fiberglass, racing board in the middle of a fast, wild, ever-changing river. Here's a good example of the difference between a river board (first), and lake/ocean board (second). Notice the difference in length, width, and rocker.

Who makes whitewater paddle boards?

Two of the most popular brands are Hala and Badfish


If you're looking to get started with whitewater paddling, you should already feel competent and comfortable in whitewater. Never paddle alone, get informed and trained beforehand, and be sure to always paddle with the necessary safety equipment.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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