While the province and country have some incredible lakes to paddle, some of you prefer the ribbon-like bodies of water that flow with the force of gravity to feed them. Stand up paddleboarding (SUPing) a river is indeed a unique experience. If you are an experienced rider and haven’t tried combing the calm waters of a local tributary, we encourage you to give it a try. But whether your cup of tea is the steady-moving channel in Penticton BC or the Cowichan River on Vancouver Island, choice of SUP is key. While different rivers require different strokes, there are consistencies to look for when picking a paddle board. Let’s review.
What to Look for When Choosing a SUP for River Paddling
Unlike many lakes and coastal waters, rivers typically take a little extra work to get to. Local infrastructure did not initially anticipate the popularity of river SUPing. For this reason, we recommend an inflatable stand up paddle board (ISUP) as it will allow you to pack and go (and search) as you please. Premium quality ISUPs can also better (compared to solid SUPs) take a few bumps along the way, should an unanticipated boulder in shallow water create a subtle obstacle. In addition, look for a complete ISUP system that comes with a dedicated wheeled hiking backpack for greater convenience.
Whenever you are on the water, wear a personal floatation device or life jacket. Here are a variety of PFDs we recommend. When paddling on a moving body of water it is best to use a breakaway leash in case of a snag. A shorter 4-6" river fin might also be a good choice for shallower rivers, although you trade off off some stability. Sea Gods Universal fin boxes make it easy to pick up at your local shop.
Even experienced riders can use lessons. Changing and unpredictable water levels create extra challenges that are best taught by a local river SUP course.
A great size for your ISUP river adventures is 11’ x 34” x 6” as this provides for the stability you need when going with the river flow. That said, you can most certainly get by with an ISUP that comes just under those dimensions, as long as other important conditions are met. What other conditions are conducive to stability and sure-footing on your river ISUP? You want to look for a strong PSI range for ultimate rigidity and additional weight support. 20 PSI is optimum. The deck pad is also instrumental in keeping you from taking an unplanned dip. A diamond-pattern high traction EVA pad with 5mm thickness and 50A rigidity is what you want to look for.
Cargo Carrying Ability
A river takes you from point A to B. Unless it’s a short distance and the person who dropped you off will be waiting at the end to pick you up, you will absolutely need to bring essentials along for your expedition. You need a place to secure a pack full of snacks, water, sunblock, insect repellent, your smartphone, and ISUP accessories (pump, etc.) that are coming along. Sounds like a lot? No need to fret when your river ISUP has premium cargo-carrying capabilities. Look for high-quality bungee cord tie-downs in the front and back, such as those found on these paddle boards.
Something for Rougher Rivers?
While a SUP is rarely a good choice for whitewater rivers, calm rivers can sometimes pick up steam when levels are high and there are smaller streams feeding it at certain points. If this is common to your preferred “pathways” then you may consider a v-shaped touring ISUP. It will assist with incoming water displacement. The right touring SUP will also have side handles that will allow you to come down to your knees and hang on until the incoming stream runoff eases up.
A Way to Catalogue Your River Expeditions
As a river SUPer you have a thirst for adventure, and probably want to document these exploits through the magic of high-definition photos and videos. But scrambling to manage your waterproof (hopefully) smartphone or camera while paddling a constantly moving channel is a challenge and can be dangerous if there are obstacles to avoid. That’s why you should choose an ISUP that has an action camera mount (or two!) so that you can simply fasten your GoPro (etc.), hit record, and start paddling. When done, you can spend an hour or more at your favourite après-paddle cafe and comb through the footage. Be sure to share when posting by tagging SeaGods on Facebook, Instagram, and/or YouTube!
River SUPing is a unique experience and comes with some added considerations around safety, board and supporting equipment choice, and training. We hope the above advice helps you make a more informed choice. That said, if you want to know more about which SeaGods ISUP is best suited to the bodies of water that you plan on paddling, feel free to contact us to discuss your options.