Paddling the Rapids – Whitewater Safety Tips from pro paddler Paul Clark

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Kialoa team rider Paul Clark talks river safety for standup paddling
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Kialoa Paddles team rider Paul Clark knows whitewater. Living and breathing in the Pacific North West, Paul is an explorer and spends his water time in Oregon’s rivers whitewater paddling. He’s a pro in his field and even helped design the new Big Eddy white water paddle released from Kialoa, newly designed with stability and maneuverability in mind.


1.) ALWAYS practice S.H.I.P.P.S. (This is your river running uniform): Shoes, Helmet, Insulation, PFD, Padding and have a Signaling device a.k.a. whistle.

2.) STAY LOW and keep your PADDLE IN the WATER. Most people attempt to run rapids standing up. What happens is that they get ‘too tall’, raise their paddle above their heads and fall in. I coach all newbie river paddlers to stay low. It really helps for stability and control which translates into greater safety and increased confidence.

3.) FALL FLAT. Land on your board, if you can OR fall butt first into the river to avoid going deep in shallow/rocky water. Remember, inflatable paddleboards are easier to fall on and damage less easily when moving through the rapids.

4.) PADDLE with EXPERIENCED PADDLERS. That means other folks, whether stand up paddlers or boaters who are able to both encourage and supervise. It is good to experiment with other river crafts like kayaks, rafts and canoes. River stand up paddling is definitely a hybrid of all those different kinds of crafts.

5.) RESPECT the POWER of the RIVER. Take swift water rescue courses and ALWAYS get lessons from experienced instructors.

6.) HAVE FUN. River paddling can be too mental sometimes with so many variables: techniques to master, fear to overcome and frustrations from unsuccessful “clean” runs. The more fun you have the easier it all becomes. Laugh out loud!

7. ) LEASHES.* If you are stand up paddling on a river, your leash should be worn above the waist and include a QUICK RELEASE mechanism. Although much of river standup paddling can be subjective (glass vs. inflatables, river surfing or river running), on thing is NOT. Leashes are ABOVE the waist. Period.

Paul says, “I wear a leash on most rivers that are deep and swift where the board can get away from you in a hurry. In shallow, tech-y rivers with boulder gardens, strainers and sweepers, I rarely wear a leash. And NEVER when dropping on waterfalls. I often wear the Astral Green Jacket rescue vest with the leash attached to the quick release belt. If this is overkill in certain situations, I opt for Hala’s quick release shackle attached to my vest.”

Paul has just returned from an 8-day adventure tour in Chile’s Patagonia region, running the rivers and exploring these vistas via stand up paddling. Stay tuned for his blog on his adventures there at You can stay in touch with Paul Clark on his website: and stay in touch with him on his Oregan River SUP Safari tours and clinics.

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Evelyn O'Doherty, editor & publisher of the new Standup Journal 2.0 is a former school teacher gone rogue. She left her career as a teacher in order to spend more time near or on the water after learning to surf turned her life around (upsidedown?). She is a year-round surfer and paddler living on the eastern tip of Long Island in NY who is a certified SUP instructor, seasoned SUP racer and avid longboard surfer. Evelyn was hired as Online Editor to Standup Journal in 2016. Her passion for the project quickly led to her success and eventually taking over the mag herself in Oct. 2018. Today, as editor, publisher and chief bottle washer at Standup Journal, Evelyn keeps her toes wet writing, traveling, paddling, surfing, and learning to foil. You can find her most days paddling out on Gardiner's Bay or surfing Ditch Plains in Montauk, NY.