First Timers Guide to SUP River Surfing

Some Basics for Stand Up Paddle Boarders Riding River Waves

In our previous post about river surfing with a SUP, we focused on the safety and the equipment needed to begin this new stand up paddle boarding experience. SUP river surfing comes with its own special considerations. If you have been primarily a flat water paddler, the change in the way the water acts is probably the most daunting hurdle. If you are a SUP surfer, the stationary looking river waves, although we all know they are not, present a different set of demands on your attention. That said, your SUP should be stable, like the previously mentioned Riviera NUGG.

The river has certain attributes that you should be aware of before entering the water. For instance, the wave you are attempting to ride is actually water that has met a submerged obstacle like rocks, at a point where the water is channeled through a narrower part of the river. The water is fed into this channel from what is known as shoulders. The right and left side of the river are determined by positioning yourself downstream. As the wave emerges heading downstream, naturally occurring eddies will form on either side of the wave. These will be your entry and exit points.

The idea is to gain speed from those eddy points below the wave or in some instances, from above, driving your board directly at the shoulder points. If you stand back on your paddle board, the nose will rise slightly, giving you a little bit of lift to get onto the wave. The only thing left to do is slide across into the face of the wave.

For most of us, the most natural way to approach the wave is from the right. It allows you to position your board while you are facing the wave. From the left, you will need to adjust your stance to allow your body to face the wave. Some SUPers actually use a natural stance, feet side by side, shoulder length apart, and then, once you’ve begun to slide across the wave, adjust to a forward foot position to surf.

Fin configuration will give you a lot of different options. I recommend beginning with a three fin setup for the right amount of thrust. But as you become more comfortable, you might find removing the center fin will ‘loosen’ up the board.

Once on the wave, your feet will be in constant motion. Small shuffling steps forward and back will keep you in the right position on the wave. This may take some practice. If the nose dives, you’ll be flushed from the board. Too far back on the board, the river will also claim another surfer. When you are comfortable, take a moment to examine the wave. It can be easily read from your board and will provide you with some good practice for future waves on different rivers.

You have only one exit strategy: getting wet. What happens after that depends on your skill level. To properly leave the wave, simply fall downstream. Allow the current to take you several feet before you try to rescue your board. Tuck your paddle beneath you and climb on the board. You may be able to swim into an eddy holding onto your paddle but depending on the river, this may harder than it seems. I’ve seen some river SUP surfers chuck their paddle to shore and retrieve it later. (The video below might be the exception to this thinking but I believe these guys had some help.)

You may find it difficult to get a river surf instructor to show the ins and outs of the fun activity. There are techniques the ocean surfers employ that will work really well on a river wave. Just keep alert. So if you get a chance, stop, watch and learn first.

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