Rivers provide the stand up paddle boarder with a huge challenge and a great deal of variety.
These flowing bodies of water blend flat areas with gentle currents and fast rapids, creating endless opportunities for SUP boarders to practice their skills and put their boards to the test.
Can You Use a Paddle Board on a River?
Yes, you can, and you really should! River paddle boarding is becoming very popular as SUP boarders look for new challenges.
After all, there are over a quarter of a million rivers in the United States, and so finding a suitable river is easy.
To make sure you are safe and secure on the water, purchase a wetsuit, and if it’s cold and rough, make sure you have some booties, gloves, and headgear.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, and as the currents can drag you around and make life very difficult, it’s important to be prepared.
What Paddle Boards are Best for Whitewater SUP?
If you already have a stand up paddle board, it might be suitable for river boarding and you shouldn’t rush out to buy another one.
If you’re buying a SUP solely for the purpose of surfing rivers, look out for the following:
The best river board shapes tend to be shorter and of a moderate width.
The ideal boards are around 7 to 8 feet long and between 30 and 33 inches wide, which is a little on the small side for a stand up paddle board.
If you’re focusing more on downstream river running, it’s better to go for boards just under 10 feet, which is usually the lower end for the average stand up paddle boards.
A few more inches in width will also help.
For whitewater, you can opt for something even longer (up to 11 feet), with an ideal width of between 32 and 34 inches.
Fins break more easily in white water, and so you’ll need to prepare for that by shopping for a board with replaceable fins.
As for the type, number, and shape, keep the following in mind:
- A single fin is best for straight-line speed
- A single fin with shorter side fins (2+1) will give you speed and control and is ideal for variable conditions
- 3 short fins (tri-fin setup) are great for cruising shallow waters
- 3 mid-length fins can help when you expect shallow water and the occasional exposed rock
- 4 fins (quads) will help you to get over obstacles as they leave the center of the board clear
- 5 fins offer maximum traction
The deck pad is key, as it should have as much grip as possible.
Fortunately, most paddle boards are made this way, particularly those designed for beginners.
What is the Best Paddle Board for River Surfing?
Although it seems counter-intuitive, inflatable stand up paddle boards are best for river surfing.
They are usually quite thick and strong, and that means they can withstand whatever the river and Mother Nature throws at them.
Don’t be misled by the “inflatable” in the name.
These boards are not like the cheap toys that you buy for your kids at the beach.
They are built to last and are made from very high-quality and durable materials.
You can find some very good inflatable SUPs for less than $500, and these paddle boards are great for river surfing.
Just make sure you follow the inflation and care instructions, as that will greatly prolong the life of the board.
For the best cheap inflatable SUPs, check out brands like Body Glove and Wavestorm at Costco.