River Sup Tips: 16 Insider Secrets From 4 Top River Running Experts

Mike Tevares
Ken Hoeve, Rio Cangrejal, Honduras
Ken Hoeve, Rio Cangrejal, Honduras
Global Partner

For the final installment here at Stand Up Journal Its here in the mountains. Spring. Or at least March is. In Colorado we usually see more and more people taking to the river about now and as the month progresses the numbers increase. By April the majority are on the water and in May its full on. And its has been a great winter so far. Not only does more snow equal better skiing and boarding it also translates into an incredible paddling season once it runs off. I love powder days and riding the mountain but the increase in snow pack also gets me fired up for when it all melts and we are running rapids once again.

I want to turn it over to those that I consider the best SUP river runners I know. Dan Gavere, Mike Taveres and Britney Parker. I have known them for years and trust their judgment on the river. Dan has been a whitewater paddler for 25 plus years and is one of the most celebrated rivermen in the industry. Mike T travels and paddles endlessly and is a podium placer at nearly any event he enters. Whitewater or flat. Britney has burst onto the scene and quickly shown everyone she is game for any adventure. Mighty mite. These are the paddlers I not only like to compete against but also enjoy discussing our fast growing sport with. I asked each one of them to come up with just a few tips for aspiring river stand up paddlers. Here is what they had to say.

Dan Gavere SUP and Ken Hoeve short board the Glenwood wave, Colorado River.
Dan Gavere SUP and Ken Hoeve short board the Glenwood wave, Colorado River.
Dan Gavere:

If your interested in paddling whitewater on your stand up paddle board here are a few of the most important skills to focus on to set yourself up for success. You need to build a solid foundation of skills to build on to maximize your fun and safety when approaching whitewater sup paddling. The first is to become familiar with and get comfortable at recognizing and catching eddies.

Eddies are the slack water behind rocks, obstacles and river bends. Learning how to “eddy out” and “peel out” of eddies is the most basic skill every paddler must learn to be successful for whitewater paddling. Eddies not only allow you to stop, rest, scout, and maneuver through difficult sections but also can be used to set your self up to catch a river wave. River surf on a sup is much easier when catching waves from an eddy. If you can’t catch an eddy you will never catch a river wave let alone get back upstream to surf it again.

The next important skill for whitewater SUP is learning how to ferry. This is a technique used to traverse form one side of the river to the other side of the river without going downstream. This is also another critical skill to master in order to surf river waves. These techniques are typically taught in intro to whitewater skills courses and there are many videos that can be viewed online giving you some basic information on how to do it.

Dan Gavere, Pacific Northwest paddle.

Mike Taveres:

Mike Taveres
Mike Taveres

Start small! Nearly every different part of the country has moving or whitewater easily accessible. You would be surprised at how much fun just moving water is on a SUP board. Find a river with class I or II whitewater to start and know what lies ahead before launching on the river. Most problems come from getting in above your head or not knowing what to expect on the river. Even though I paddle Class III and IV whitewater routinely, I still paddle mellow rivers to solidify my skills and have the time of my life on small rapids.

The easiest way to progress to the next level is to make an easy stretch of river as hard as you possibly can. Once you feel comfortable and can safely navigate class I and II rapids, paddle those rapids over and over and throw in new moves, making the rapids more difficult without being more dangerous. Once you have mastered new and more difficult lines, making harder moves on bigger and more challenging whitewater becomes easier.

Another key ingredient to safe and successful river running is knowing how to properly swim in whitewater and how to manage your gear on the water. Swimming is just a part of running rivers but can be done safely in order to maximize your fun while keeping you safe on the river. I suggest practicing swimming through easy and safe rapids with and without your gear and following the golden rule when in the river, never standing up in moving water. Learning from a whitewater professional is always the best way to learn the proper techniques for keeping you safe.

Mike Taveres, Middle Fork Payette. Idaho

Britney Parker

Britney Parker
Britney Parker

One of the first things you may ask yourself when you jump on a stand up paddle board for the first time is “where do I put my feet?” As a beginner you’ll be most comfortable starting with your feet about hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out, standing in the center of the deck (straddle the handle that’s often times in the center). This stance will make it easier for you to react to anything that may throw you off balance.

It’s good to practice shifting your weight to get use to the trim of the board (i.e. putting more weight on your left leg causing your left rail to become submerged and then reacting by shifting your weight onto your right leg). Once you’re comfortable on your board try playing around with more advanced stances such as staggering your feet, this comes in handy for more technical runs where you have to react quickly and make a lot of sudden maneuvers around obstacles.

Dan Gavere
Dan Gavere

Aside from your legs, your paddle is going to be your other main form of stabilization. Think of yourself as a tripod, your paddle being your third leg. By having that paddle in the water your chances of staying upright on your board are significantly higher. A very common reaction for us whenever we feel off balance is to throw our arms up and out, think of walking on a balance beam, but on a board you want your hands on that paddle and that paddle in the water. When you see yourself coming up to some choppy water try to paddle through it, momentum is your best friend on the river, it will help you push through those rapids instead of them pushing you. Sometimes you’ve got to show those pesky things whose boss.

If the rapids win, which they often will, and you end up falling, there’s a proper way to do so. Ideally, falling on your board is the best option, your board is almost always a safer place to be than in the river. But when you fall off your board you want to try to make your body as flat as possible. River depths are constantly fluctuating and you can never know how close to the surface those rocks are, the last thing you want to do is jump off your board feet first, this can easily result in a broken leg or foot.

So, hold onto that paddle, throw those feet up, and land butt first! Once your head comes up, make sure you’re in a safe position with no immediate danger ahead of you, swim as fast you can to your board, and get back to paddling. Remember, these are just tips and it’s best to go with an experienced or professional guide/instructor until you become confident with your paddling technique and familiar with the river.

To run rivers on a stand up paddle board successfully you need a solid grasp on river safety and etiquette. The river is a wild place and can be extremely dangerous to someone with no prior river knowledge. You may not plan to swim, but you will and you need to make sure you know what to do once that happens. As with most sports, there’s a right way to fall off your board and that’s as flat as possible to decrease your chances of hitting any rocks that lay below the surface.

I can’t stress enough to my students about not standing up in the river, it can be your first instinct when you fall off your board in waist deep water but I promise you it’s the last thing you want to do when you’re in the middle of a fast moving current. Foot entrapments are very serious and almost an impossible rescue. Your feet become wedged between rocks and the current continues to push you downstream bringing your head underwater not allowing you to come up for air. To avoid foot entrapments keep those feet up and pointed downstream until you can safely swim to your board.

Britney Parker, human highlight machine, dropping another one.

Ken Hoeve sup fishing
Ken Hoeve sup fishing

Great advice. Thank you to Dan, Mike and Britney for taking the time. While there is no way to share everything there is to know about running rivers I feel we are off to a great start. The rest is for you to work out. My tips echo what nearly everyone has stated here. Start slow, ease into it, take lessons and a swiftwater rescue class, have the right gear and choose sections of river you are comfortable with. And paddle with those that are better than yourself and never paddle alone.

I have no doubt that this summer the rivers are going to be full of stand up paddlers, just make sure you are prepared and understand that whitewater has a different approach. I am personally so STOKED to see the enthusiasm at giving it a go. Im on a flight right now headed back to Colorado and am thinking of a paddle surfer I met at Sunset Cliffs yesterday.

I was out riding waves with my son and he asked where we were from. When I told him he said “I have seen people running rivers on boards out there. Looks like so much fun. I want to try it someday.” It is and you should. Just make sure you take baby steps and understand what you are getting into before you go. I can’t wait to see you standing in an eddy somewhere with a big smile after you grease that rapid for the first time!

Thats it. Send er’!

Ken Hoeve

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