Top Tips from the Pros: Nikki Gregg
Jeff Archer, owner of YOLO Boards, once called Nikki Gregg, "The First Lady of Standup Paddle Fitness." And who are we to argue? Over the past few years, Gregg has been featured in Outside TV/NBC Universal Sports' Facing Waves program, created instructional videos that are considered to be some of the best in the sport (including the forthcoming 'Stand Up Paddling with Nikki Gregg' series), and established a reputation as one of the premier whitewater paddlers.
In addition to being an SUP instructor and a competitor who has won titles at events such as The Payette River Games, Gregg also takes things seriously when it comes to water safety. She holds an EMT-B certification, AHA CPR/First Aid certification and has completed the rigorous Swift Water Rescue Training program. While taking time out from the recent 2014 Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle challenge (just down the road, or should we say, downriver, from her home in Hood River, Oregon), Gregg shared three of her top tips for safe whitewater paddling with SUPthemag.com's Brody Welte of PaddleFit. —Phil White
1. Embrace the "Crouching Tiger" Stance
When you're dealing with the unpredictable water conditions of a fast flowing river, you need to be stable enough to handle anything. That's why Gregg always gets into a low and wide staggered stance she only half-jokingly calls "Crouching Tiger."
"If you're in this position you can easily take a knee when you go through a rapid. It makes for better stability side to side and back to front, which you must have on a river." Gregg also cites the better balance that a lower center of gravity provides in such a position.
2. Paddle Aggressively Through A Rapid
While you should respect the power of the river, you can't afford to be passive out there. "Don't let the rapid just take you wherever it wants you to go," Gregg said. "Pick your line and aggressively paddle all the way through when the water gets crazy."
While she advocates for a powerful stroke to maintain direction, Gregg also suggests that you "use your paddle like a motor and a steering wheel" while navigating whitewater. "You've got to take advantage of correctional strokes, such as a low brace, to keep yourself on your board," she said. To do this, push the backside of your paddle flat against the face of the water, which will help you stand back up if you start to lose your balance.
3. Know How To Fall and Get Back on Quickly
"The safest place for you on the river is on your board," Gregg said. So if you fall off, she suggests keeping hold of your paddle and trying to get back on as soon as possible, so you're not pushed too far down river.
Gregg also advises you to fall as flat as possible if you can control your descent into the water—something she didn't do when she fell off and broke her tail bone a few years back. "You don't want to penetrate too deeply into the water because of all the rocks and debris that can be just below the surface," she said.
Another piece of advice from the pro: river paddlers of any skill level need to wear protective gear—including a whitewater helmet, knee and shin pads and padded shorts—to minimize injuries. The must-have: a whitewater-specific PFD with a leash belt. "Attaching your leash to your PFD works better than fastening it to your ankle," Gregg said.
In addition to these tips, Gregg suggests that paddlers start on a slow stretch of river, particularly if they're only used to standup paddling on lakes or in the ocean. She also advises that everyone from novices to experts should always be accompanied by a partner or guide who knows the local runs intimately. And, it would do all paddlers well to ask the local SUP outfitter about any trees that may have fallen in the river or other issues the staff may know about. It is called "standup paddling," not "fall in the river paddling" after all.