Your Guide To Whitewater Paddle Boarding

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There are so many places to paddle board. You can go to the ocean, lakes, rivers, or even your rich friend’s mammoth-sized pool. But, all jokes aside, each body of water has something a little different to offer. When it comes to rivers, you’ll find they offer some of the most textured paddle boarding conditions possible, and that’s because of white water.

In this guide to white water paddle boarding, we’re going to explore the ins and outs of this sub-category of paddle boarding. So let’s not waste any more time and instead just dive right in!

What is White Water Paddle Boarding?

If you know anything about rivers, it is that they can have long stretches of calm water before you find yourself riding the currents of the river and going down raging rapids. This is the perfect way for adventurous paddle boarders to get something a little different out of paddle boarding.

Now full disclosure, whitewater paddle boarding isn’t necessarily easy. It requires a lot of a paddle boarder to navigate the trickier waters with ease. Is it impossible? No. It just takes the right kind of gear, technique, and tenacity. Look at this guy go get it!!

Starting Off Right

To go white water paddle boarding, you need to focus on the SUP, paddle, and gear. Critical details within each category can alter how whitewater paddling goes for you.

How To Select The Right SUP

Here are the things you need to determine when considering a white water SUP.

1. Size

There are variations of white water or river paddling; river surfing, downstream, and all-around. Beginners need to focus on the all-around SUP option. You overall want to find a board that offer stability and is easy to control. The best option is a 36-inch wide board but I recommend checking out this article on finding your board size.

2. Fin System

Fins are an integral part of making whitewater paddling easier. For example, large center fins are perfect for speed but rough for turning. Extra side fins are great for lateral control. Shallow waters need shorter fins. The list goes on. Having the ability to remove and change fins easily should be a priority find on any SUP you’re looking at.

3. Deck Pad

Find a SUP with a traction pad. You’ll be on the water that will try to get you off your board. Minimize the possibility of that actually happening!

4. iSUP or Solid SUP

iSUPs are the best for this. They’re easy to transport, durable, and these are two elements that make them superior choices.  A standard solid SUP has the potential to be obliterated by the treacherous conditions found on white water journeys, and they’re also a nuisance to lug through the forest to get to your launch spot.

Note : This was just a brief overview of the selection process. I’d recommend checking out this PumpedUpSup article if you’re really getting into the purchasing process for a whitewater SUP. Super helpful!

White Water SUP Paddle

For a SUP Paddle that is perfect for whitewater, you’ll want to consider; length, material, and blade size.

  1. Paddle length should be 8 inches more than your height. However, you can just add 6 inches if you’re looking for something a little smaller.
  2. The material should be lightweight, but most importantly, durable. Look for something that is made with carbon fiber. You can also enjoy a light fiberglass paddle, but they’re not always as durable. Additionally, a plastic paddle is the most popular choice, but they’re the heaviest so keep that in mind.
  3. Blade size depends on a few factors. For starters, beginners may enjoy bigger blades because they offer more stability. Bigger paddlers also perfect somewhat bigger blades. The issue with bigger blades is that they require more of the paddler’s energy.

If you’re a small paddler, get smaller blades as you’ll struggle to maneuver your board if you’re using too much energy on bigger blades.


Some of the things you’ll need are pretty standard paddle boarding gear items;

  1. PFD
  2. Leash
  3. Protective Gear (Drysuit/Wetsuit, helmet, etc.)

White Water SUP Techniques

Whitewater SUP

A few white water techniques can significantly improve your chances while out on the treacherous waters.

Entering the Water

To start off with, you’re going to want to find an eddy. Eddy’s are calm spots in the water. Don’t rush this process. Take it slow and steady, and just get in the water normally.

Your Stance

Most people ride the white waters in a sit-down fashion using a SUP seat to imitate a kayak. However, surfing the white waters is perfectly acceptable. Stand up and put one foot in front of the other, with your right foot at the front. The point is to ensure your weight is evenly distributed. You’ll use the front foot for speed and the back for turning.

Low & High Bracing

You will eventually fall off your board; nothing to worry about, but it will happen. So to avoid falling off on every rough patch, you encounter you need to perfect bracing! You need to be aware of two kinds of bracing techniques: low and high bracing.

Low Brace – When you make a forward stroke, a part of your blade pushes water back, also known as the power face. The opposite of the power face is the non-power face found on the opposite side. When the board becomes unstable, you’ll need to bend the knees lower to your center of gravity, place the paddle in the water, and have the power face up. Then simply slap the water and regain your balance. However, it’s important to note that you need to keep the paddle away from the side of your paddle board.

High Brace – Keep your power face facing down and paddle with a forward stroke, slape the blade as it makes contact with the water, and then regains your composure.

Getting Back on Your SUP

There’s a simple procedure to follow for falling and recovering from a fall off your SUP while river paddling. I’ve written a full overview for falling, but this will do for now.

  • Step 1: Stay calm, start assessing the situation, and see what options are available. The goal is to get either back to the board or land. Which is possible? Which will you attempt?
  • Step 2: If you’re unable to get to your board, start defensive swimming. The practice of defensive swimming is when you float on your back with your feet up while pointed towards the rapids. Once you’re through this, you’ll need to turn back up and get back to your board.
  • Step 3: Hold your SUP in the center and get on. If it’s flipped over, then don’t attempt to turn over at random points. Instead, move to its center and flip from there.

Once you’ve successfully gotten back on, either continue on like nothing happened or get out while you can.

A Few Tips

Here are a few tips to help you out on your whitewater paddling journey!

1. Don’t Do It Alone!

Bad things can happen on a white water excursion. Don’t allow yourself to be caught in a tricky situation alone. Going with someone means that if something awful happens, you’ve got someone there to help you and vise versa.

2. Don’t stand, for the love of all things sacred.

If you fall DON’T stand. The general paddle boarding rules are vastly different when it comes to whitewater conditions.

3. Don’t ignore the opportunity to take a class or program.

There’s so much to learn, and sometimes it’s better to practice in person with people who really are pros in the subject. Don’t miss an opportunity to take a class, program, tour, or anything that can deepen your knowledge and understanding.

4. Steer clear of trees

There is no scenario in which trees are your friends when out there on these types of water. Therefore, AVOID them at all cost.

Final Thoughts

Don’t just go and try this aspect of paddle boarding on a whim. Instead, take a moment to really process this decision you’re about to make. Taking these moments and steps to better understand the dangers of paddle boarding in white waters can be the thing that saves your life.

The best part is, once you get out on the river and successfully attempt paddle boarding on white water, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment unparalleled. So now is the time to prepare for a truly unique experience with tremendous rewards. Send this to a friend, start convincing them, and


Paddleboarding has been one of the few activities that's allowed me to take a mental break from life and just be in the moment. Whether you're looking for an outlet, a method for physical fitness, or even just a way to meet new people, paddle boarding can put you on a path to achieving all these goals. Every article I post on this site is made with the intention to spread sup love and get more people to stand up and paddle!

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