Choosing a SUP for whitewater paddling can be confusing. Sure, you’ve probably heard that inflatable SUPs are the way to go, but there are still a lot of options. Are all inflatables suitable for paddling in whitewater? The short answer, no.
Stability is an important factor in all aspects of standup paddling (SUP), but the balance element really comes into play when stepping onto moving water. A sub 30 inch SUP may glide through the flats, but if you are paddling white water you’ll want to go a bit wider. Start out in the 34 inch range and work your way wider. Yes, wider! The more gnarly the whitewater, the wider you’ll likely want to be.
As a point of reference, Hala Gear’s white water SUP range runs from 34 inches all the way up to a whopping 42 inches.
Unbreakable, flexible and retractable fins
You’re fins help keep you paddling in the direction you intend to travel. Without them you’ll quickly become lost. If you paddle whitewater on a SUP with a fin , lost is likely where you’ll soon find yourself. Why? Traditional fins are designed to remain in place and not flex. This is great in water free from obstacles, but not so great in whitewater where rocks – and bumping into them – are part of the experience.
Choose a board with unbreakable, flexible side fins and a retractable center fin. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!
Ample nose and tail rocker
Whitewater paddling is rough. I like to think of whitewater SUP as somewhat akin to skiing moguls. You are constantly bumping and changing direction to maintain the most efficient line down the river. You’ll want a board that is up to the challenge and this requires sufficient nose and tail rocker to navigate through the rough stuff.
Arch bar and kick pad
Similar to SUP surfing, paddling a SUP through whitewater requires a lot of moving around on your board. Just like when stepping back to surf a wave, you’ll want to know where you are on your SUP at all times. Having an arch bar and kick pad will serve as a useful touch point to maintaining a center alignment and preventing you from stepping off the back of your board.
Chances are, you’re going to find yourself in the water reaching for your board at one time or another. In flat water it is sufficient to rely on a single handle in the center of your board. Not so in whitewater SUP, however. Look for a board with multiple grab handles. At a minimum, there should be handles on the nose and tail. Better yet, choose a board with handles on the sides, in addition to the center, nose and tail, e.g. a minimum of five grab handles.
Which model do I recommend?
The Hala Radito (10’x34″x6″) embodies each of the factors highlighted above and is my favorite white water SUP. It’s been fantastic entry level whitewater SUP for me and an amazing platform on which to grow and develop my whitewater paddling skills. Capable of expedition paddling or simple out for a day trip, the Radito is one of the most versatile whitewater SUPs on the market. It is also great all around board for novice paddlers, getting kids out on the water, snorkeling trips and surfing small waves. If you want a whitewater SUP that can perform double duty in a variety of paddling situations, the Hala Radito is a pretty good option.