Pioneering Whitewater with SUP Paul
Paul Clark used to do a lot of sitting. As a former long distance expedition sea kayaker, whitewater kayaker and expedition paddle coach he was used to looking at the world from the seat of his kayak. Then he found standup. It was a simple transition: “Once I stood up, I never sat back down,” he says.
Since then, he’s come to be known as SUP Paul thanks to his penchant for long solo expeditions and river exploration on his standup.
“Getting out in remote environments and traveling by water is what I live for,” Clark says. “From the first moment I went standup touring with gear tethered to my board, I was thinking about the possibilities of where standup paddling could take me.”
Clark made his name with long-distance sea kayaking solos in Baja and Alaska, and by guiding multi-day kayak expeditions throughout North America. He’s successfully completed two solo sea kayaking tours along the entire 1,000-mile stretch of the Baja Peninsula. After returning to Baja to complete the same tour by SUP, Clark says, “Standups can definitely handle the same tours sea kayakers go on. Making crossings in turbulent seas is more comfortable on a board than in a kayak. With experience and a well planned system, paddle boarding is a perfect way to tour an open coast.”
Clark believes the benefits of SUP are even greater on rivers. He says the versatility of an inflatable SUP—one that can be rolled up and carried on your back—improves moorage and land travel for an experience that kayaks can’t offer.
“You can carry a lot more of your backpacking essentials on the deck of your SUP than you can in the hull of a whitewater kayak,” Clark says. “You end up being more efficient with your supplies, and it can all be piled on your back for land travel.”
Clark’s longest river expedition was a 150-mile stretch of the John Day River, which he’s standup paddled twice successfully. He’s also done multi-day trips on the iconic 35-mile wild section of the Rogue River, as well as two unassisted 100-mile solos on the Lower Deschutes, “A section with 15 main rapids, many of which are Class III or above—in just 16 hours by standup,” he says.
As part of Clark’s charge to expose river SUP, he’s teaming up with Tumalo Creek Outfitters, a paddle supply and guide company based in Bend, Oregon, to introduce courses in what he calls “swift water” standup. Swift water is basically whitewater without all the obstacles—rocks, timber, holes—that make rapids, and according to Clark, it’s an ideal environment for people looking to give their feet wet with river SUP.
“Running rivers is something to ease into,” he says. “But it’s totally doable. Before someone can get into true whitewater SUP, they have to have an understanding of flowing water. Starting with a suitable swift water route is really the only way to safely learn how to handle a board in a river environment.”
One such route Clark recommends is in Central Oregon on the Lower Deschutes River. Aptly dubbed “Warm to Trout,” it’s a 10-mile section running from Warm Springs and Trout Creek that maintains a fixed speed of about seven knots with few obstacles and an abundance of wildlife and scenery. The run makes a perfect day trip—you can rent gear and a shuttle in Bend, run the river all day and be back in town in time for supper.
“River SUP appeals to people who have had experiences, whether in surf or open water or rivers, who are looking at it as a rad way to get on the water,” Clark says. “I really think it’s the future of paddle sports and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
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