Whitewater Parks: Making River SUP Accessible

Photo: Mike Leeds
Photo: Mike Leeds

River SUP at Whitewater Parks

The river can be a mysterious place. But it doesn’t have to be. Thanks to modern engineering, playparks traditionally created for kayaking but now used by all sorts of paddle-able craft from regular surfboards to SUP boards—are popping up in river towns across North America.

And the best place to start SUPing a river is in a whitewater park—a series of man-made ledges built into a riverbed while the river’s dry—that create standing holes and waves so landlocked waterman can shred in relative safety. Or learn basic river-running skills.

They can be full concrete parks, like the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., or include features added to wild stretches of river such as the Buena Vista Whitewater Park in Colorado.
No, they’re not completely natural, but that’s also part of the allure. You’re dealing with a semi-controlled environment. On a remote stretch of river there might be shallow rocks, logjams or other obstacles to dangerously interrupt the learning curve.

“If you’re going to swim it’s a lot safer than a natural river. And you’re going to swim,” says whitewater legend Dan Gavere. “It’s a perfect place to prepare you for the real river and build your confidence.”
And they’re just downright cool. Take the Boise River Park’s waveshapers: they’re state-of-the-art air bladders that can be deflated and inflated based on river flow to provide boaters and SUPers constant waves. And shuttles—the bane of a river-runner’s existence—are also eliminated, allowing a paddler to do a rapid 10, 15, or 20 times in a day if so desired.

You can practice crossing eddy lines, surfing waves and actually using your rails to turn, making drops and just getting the feel of your board until it becomes an extension of you. Repetition breeds proficiency.
“When you eventually get yourself into a more wild river setting, you’re going to have practiced repetition on your side,” Melanie Seiler, an avid whitewater paddler and SUP racer from West Virginia says. “You’ll know what safety equipment to show up with and you’ll have your balance established, instead of having beginner’s wobble.”

Whitewater parks often have entities attached to them, like a retail shop or an outfitter, that can provide beginner lessons, safety courses and equipment rentals, everything you need to get on the river safely for the first time. The more of these elements you have in place, the more fun you’ll have.
“These parks can give anyone a tailored experience,” Seiler says. “It’s the perfect foundation for the first-timer.” —WT


This article originally ran in our Summer 2013 issue.


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