SUPCross at the Vail Whitewater Series

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Vail Whitewater Series, Vail Whitewater Foundation, paddlexaminer, michael chebatoris, hala rado, hala gear, hala sup, standup paddling, whitewater, vail, colorado
Photo: Vail Whitewater Foundation

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 fourth article in the series.

When I tell people I paddleboard, a majority of folks think of flat-water paddling on lakes. Well, that can be fun, but what I really enjoy is whitewater paddling on rivers. The typical response is either disbelief or “oh yeah cool” where you can tell they don’t quite understand that I mean yes, I stand up (most of the time) and paddleboard on rivers.

I first started paddleboarding rivers in 2016. I was new to being on the river in general so learning how to read a river: identify the current, and recognize obstacles, all while trying to stand up on my board was a learning experience. I still remember my first experience on the Arkansas River when I got a nice little scar on my left shin from a rock that day. Boy did I enjoy being on the water, I was hooked! 

The challenge with whitewater paddling, besides the obvious of staying on your board, is the season is pretty short. River flows are dependent on the snow pack from the winter. As a skier, I’m always praying to the snow gods for more snow because:

  1. I want to ski POWDER!
  2. I want a high snowpack to fuel the paddle season

In general, the paddle season starts in mid-April in Colorado when the weather starts to warm up and the snow begins to melt. The season can last into August with a good snowpack. If the snowpack is low, the season can gradually wind down in June. As such, you’re looking at two months on the short-end to four months on the long-end. Keep in mind these are general estimates as flows vary from year-to-year.

In 2019, I learned about the Vail Whitewater Series which takes place every Tuesday in May. The course changes each week with different obstacles on the river right in the heart of Vail. I participated in the last event which was a downriver race from the amphitheater to International bridge. 

After this race I was convinced I was ready for a river specific board. I chatted with the Hala folks at the Summer OR in Denver later that summer, demoed a couple different boards, and settled on the Hala Rado. The Rado comes equipped with:

  • River Rocker
  • Swallow Tail
  • Dynamic board shape
  • Two side handles – ideal for pulling yourself back on your board after falling in
  • Stompbox (retractable fin) – no supermanning off your board with a fin strike

I took my Rado out as much as I could last year to get used to the new board. Because the snowpack was at near record levels in 2019 the whitewater season lasted all the way through August. My intent was to get as much experience on my board for the 2020 Vail Whitewater series (VWS).

The VWS was postponed in May due to COVID-19, but was able to hold three races in June, with certain safety precautions: SUPcross races, shorter in distance with different obstacles each week. This was a new event for me but I was ready to test my skills! First lesson, always get a warm-up lap in. Scouting along the shore only goes so far, you need to get your feet wet.

The SUPcross events were a lot of fun! All the participants were supportive, practiced physical distancing, and wore masks when not on the river. Each race started at the covered bridge and ended at International bridge. There were different challenges each week, the toughest being the final week where you start in an upriver position river-left, make a left-hand turn, cross the river and tap a bell river-right fifteen feet downstream. I did not complete the challenge successfully on either of my runs, but I take solace in knowing I wasn’t the only one!

Big shout-out to Vail Recreation District for holding the events this year, it was great to get out on the water!

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