This past week I had an opportunity to visit Asheville, North Carolina and thought it would be fun to try paddleboarding a river, since almost all of my time has been spent in the ocean. The only problem was that the "official" season didn't start until April 7th, and the air and water temp was hovering in the mid 40's, but I was lucky enough to hook up with Kyle and Tom from Wai Mauna Asheville SUP Tours, who made it all work. Tom helped get me on the water, and explained what to expect on the river. The sport of river paddleboarding is growing rapidly among SUP enthusiasts from the advanced to beginners looking to expand their horizons into a challenging adventure. I didn't realize that there over 250,000 rivers in the US alone! Paddling down a river is a lot of fun but, before you go, take time to know the river and prepare based on your skill level.
First of all, you will probably get wet! I actually wore my wet suit and booties, and although I never hit the water, I wanted to be prepared for a cold water dunk. Most river boarders will wear a wet or dry suit, water shoes, gloves and in areas with rapids, headgear. Rivers typically have accessible sections for all skill levels. Talk to the locals and hike the river first to scout out the section you feel comfortable with. The section i was on, had a nice flow and no visible rocks or other obstacles. I started by paddling up river, against the current and then enjoyed a nice float back down river to complete by "out and back" adventure.
River currents are unpredictable and have under tows that can pull you under, or send you off in the direction of rocks, falls or fast flowing water. Therefore, you should wear a personal floatation device (life jacket) and helmet in areas that have rocks and rapids. If you do fall in, don’t panic. Lie flat on your board and use your hands and feet to move to the side of the river away from the flow. You should use a quick connect leash that attaches to your personal floatation device. Ankle leashes can get caught up and can be difficult to disengage from your foot.
Once you found a part of the river that you are comfortable with, there is still some prep work. Obviously, you must get back to your original spot where you started. Similar to river kayaking or canoeing you will need a partner and a partner car. The folks in Asheville meet their paddlers 4 miles down river after dropping them up river.
Once on the river, use the buddy system, if possible. Always be aware of where your partner is. Keep an eye on areas you can float to and get back on your board easily. If you do fall off, don’t try to get back on in the current.
I found River SUPing to be very fun and relaxing and can't wait to go again!