Tips for Paddleboarding on a River or Stream

posted in: How To | 1

Paddling a SUP on open water is an experience like no other, but when you want to start exploring other waterways, there are a number of things you must keep in mind. Going into rivers and streams add excitement and a feeling of exploring something even more uniquely, but it also comes with concerns and planning is a must.

We’ve compiled a list of tips/ideas for when you’re looking to take your SUP downstream. If you have any other tips from your experiences, please add a comment below!

  1. Helmets should be worn.
    Paddling down a river is a lot different than on open water. For one thing, there are a higher amount of hard objects just below the water like rocks or tree limbs. If you fall off in open water, you make a splash and get right back up, but in a river where the rocks could be just a foot below the surface, you’ll want to make sure your head is protected. This is why we strongly recommend a helmet if you’re on a river. You can find any number of watercraft helmets online or from your local dealer.
  2. Use a coiled quick-release leash.
    When you’re on a river, you should still want to keep the board attached to you via a leash, but underwater debris like roots and rocks can catch leashes that drag under the board. Invest in a coiled leash and look into leashes that attach to your waist or PFD, so they are higher above the water to start with. With moving water in rivers, using a leash is really important, since the board could keep going for miles if you fall off, leaving you stranded. If you don’t have access to a coiled leash, try to shorten the one you have to allow it to stay above water while you’re paddling.
  3. Paddle with a buddy.
    The best way to explore a river or stream with with someone else. This is probably one of the best safety requirements for SUPs in moving water. Then you’ll always have someone keeping an eye on you, and they’ll be around to assist if any issues happen. Never, ever paddle alone on a river without at least telling people where you’re going. Many rivers are isolated and if you run into trouble, you may not get help in time.
  4. Get to know the river before you paddle.
    Going into an unknown river can be very dangerous (especially the larger ones). There may be rapids, falls, dams and other obstacles that could make the trip treacherous if you go in without knowing. Its best to either scout out the river before paddling or go with a guide or someone who knows the waterway.
  5. Start small.
    If you’re going from open water to trying to SUP on a stream or river, the best method is to start small and slowly. Find a good river that has slow moving water and very little rapids and go up from there. Never just jump into a fast flowing river without knowing how to control your board (like knowing how to use eddies for safely slowing down). Once you’re comfortable with moving water, you can keep exploring larger, faster rivers and streams. It also goes without saying that if you’re brand new to paddleboarding, start on flat, open water and get yourself used to the board and stable before going on a river.
  6. Plan a way to get back to your starting point/vehicle.
    Rivers normally flow one direction and it is usually away from your starting point. This poses a problem when you want to get back to your car. So plan ahead, park a car at the end of your route, plan someone to pick you up or find local public transportation that will get you back to the start! No point being stranded at the end of your route!
  7. Update the fins on your board to smaller, flexible fins.
    If your board has larger fins made for stability in open water, they will most likely get damaged and possibly get you knocked off your board if you use them on a river. With rocks and tree limbs just under the water, you don’t want anything catching on them. So invest in fins made for rivers – they’ll be shorter and flexible which allows them to run into things and not snap off.

Taking your SUP on a river or stream can be a great experience, and give you a view of the world most people may not see. It will take more courage, balance and skill, but the views will be worth it. Remember the tips above, and most importantly, be safe and paddle on!


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  1. Brad

    great advice, falling on a submerged stick or branch has been a concern but you have out lined a few more issues thanks

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