PaddleXaminer is featuring the Hala Rado in a series of articles testing the Rado in different situations such as on rivers and lakes, on the same rivers but at different flow levels, and more. This is the first article in the series.
While it’s getting close to the end of river season for whitewater paddling, with the excellent snowpack we received in Colorado, the season for certain rivers, such as the Arkansas, have been extended. PaddleXaminer’s favorite, or more appropriately nogistalic, river section is the milk run from Wilderness Aware Rafting to Ruby Mountain State Park. This is roughly six miles on the river which can typically be done in about an hour, a bit faster if flows are over 2000s cfs.
I say nogistic because this is the first river I ever paddleboarded back in July 2016. While that was only three years, it feels light-years away from what I’ve learned as a paddler. I’m not an expert and I won’t be winning any races anytime soon, but I love the sport and want to learn all I can about it to become a better paddler and serve as an ambassador for the sport.
Back in 2016, I was using the Hala Straight-Up. This board had two 3” fixed fins along with a standard fin box. I don’t recall what the flow was, but I remember it was moving pretty good. I fell in a bunch, and have one scar on my left shin as a reminder. The lesson I learned on that trip was, beware of fin strikes!
What is a fin strike? It’s when your fin hits a rock or other debris in the water propelling the rider forward like superman when you least expect it.
Fast-forward three years to 2019, running the milk run at 1000 cfs, definitely has potential for fin strikes. Enter the Hala Rado with Stompboxtm. The Stompbox is a spring-load fin box which allows the fin to retract up into the board when it strikes debris in the water. While doing the milk run this time, I encountered zero fin strikes. I definitely felt the fin hit debris a few times on my run but the Stompbox performed just as it should. This is why I love Hala; they innovate!
The first ten minutes of the milk run I’ve nicknamed “The meat grinder” because you’re thrown into the toughest section right out of the gate! There are rocks and small drops to navigate, and they come one right after the other. In flows over 2000 cfs it can be tough to handle at times for the inexperienced paddler. For me, I love it because it presents different challenges at different flows.
At higher flows (greater than 2000 cfs), the flow of the river is fast and unrelenting. You have to be on top of your game to avoid taking a swim. In lower flows (less than 2000 cfs), the lower flow provides more time to maneuver but also present new obstacles which were way under water in the higher flows.
This was my first time on the milk run riding my Hala Rado. I was excited to see how it would perform on a river section I’ve done so many times before. The Rado has river rocker, which I really allows the paddler to ride the wave trains smoothly. The Stompbox came in handy a few times as the flow this run was right at 1000 cfs.
Pro tip: if you have fixed fins and the water is uber shallow, move to the front of the board to pop the fin up slightly. This can make a difference and is a technique I’ve used in the past.
After reaching Fisherman’s Bridge there is another 1.5 miles until you reach Ruby Mountain Campground.
Pro tip: If shuttling, buy a state parks pass because it’s good for Ruby Mountain. They cost $80 for a year while a day pass is $8. You save money after 10 visits to any state park over the course of a year.
There are two Class II sections on the last 1.5 miles; a screaming right-hand turn and Rookie Rock. I’ve never been able to navigate Rookie Rock without falling in or at least going to my knees before this run! The lower flow helped there’s no doubt, but I feel the Rado’s design also had something to do with my success!