Camille Swan’s path from equestrian vaulting to whitewater SUP

Like many standup paddlers, Camille Swan is a crossover athlete. Unlike many paddlers, Swan doesn't come with a background in competitive watersports. She comes by way of horseback.

Swan is what you might call a thoroughbred outdoors-woman. Growing up Springville, Utah, she was raised riding horses, fishing, canoeing and camping with her father and brothers. She competed seriously in equestrian vaulting through college before discovering SUP in 2011. Six years later, she's one of the best whitewater SUP women in the world with big results at events like FibArk and GoPro Mountain Games. These days, you can find Swan traveling the country in her van, paddling, competing, rock climbing, canyoneering and training in aerial arts. And while her primary focus may have shifted, she still finds time to saddle up a horse now and again. –MM

 Tell us about equestrian vaulting.

Equestrian vaulting is a sport defined as the art of gymnastics and dance performed on the back of a running horse. I've trained in equestrian vaulting for over sixteen years and competed at the silver level, winning the regional titles a few times and a couple national rankings. I co-founded a performance troupe of eight girls and booked and performed shows at various schools, fairs and exhibitions around Utah. In the winter of 2015, I moved to Sarasota, Florida and trained and worked a couple shows with Circo Ma'Ceo, which is a performance troupe led by ninth generation circus performers.

Cami Swan uses technique from her background in equestrian vaulting to help her navigate big water on the river. Here she is doing just that on the Lower Trancura River in Chile.

It didn't take any convincing for me to get on the river on a SUP—I was addicted the second I stepped on the board.

 How did you get into standup paddling?

In 2011 I was working as a raft guide on the Provo River in Utah. It's a scenic river with mellow class one and two rapids. The company I worked for tried offering standup paddleboard rentals, but at the time no one knew what standup paddling was and if they did, they were too intimidated to try it on the river. It didn't take any convincing for me to get on the river on a SUP—I was addicted the second I stepped on the board.

Standup paddling and equestrian vaulting is a unique combo. How do the two complement each other?

Vaulting and my river background is the reason that I was able to paddle bigger whitewater relatively quickly. Vaulting taught me how to control my falls, which helps me immensely when I SUP in whitewater.

Vaulting taught me how to control my falls, which helps me immensely when I SUP in whitewater.

Also, the movement of the river and the movement of a cantering horse is very similar, and I can use the weight in my feet to control the board the same way I use my feet to harmonize with the horse while I stand on it. Lastly, the key concepts in posture and body positioning are identical for both sports—I use the same cues to help me when I am thinking about staying balanced.

Some people ride horses, some people ride SUP. Cami Swan does both. Photo courtesy of Camille Swan

Why river SUP?

I love river SUP because of the energy of the water. Regardless of whether it's a river with big rapids or a mellow river, just getting out on a board and seeing where the current takes me is therapeutic. My favorite part of river SUP is the ability to explore parts of the world that hardly any people get to see because it can only be accessed via a river.

What are your goals looking forward?

My goal since I started river SUP was to get good enough to be able to paddle class IV rapids on my feet. I have cleaned a small handful of class IV rapids, but I want to get to a level where I feel confident and consistent in bigger whitewater.

I am preparing to SUP the Grand Canyon next fall. I've rafted the Grand Canyon with private groups multiple times, but just to think about doing it on a paddleboard makes my heart pound and my hands sweat! I would also like to start doing multi-sport expeditions, like canyoneering and SUPing, back-country horseback packing and SUPing alpine lakes, or even just vaulting on a beach and surfing behind a horse. The possibilities are endless!

Interview by Rebecca Parsons


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