Navigating Your Standup Paddleboard on a River

Navigating Your Standup Paddleboard on a River

Paddleboarding on a river can be different from paddleboarding in other bodies of water like lakes or oceans, but it can be just as fun as long as you understand the unique aspect of paddling on a river.

While you may prefer paddling on a calm lake or ocean water, the closest body of water for you may be a river. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced paddler, if you have a high-quality river standup paddleboard, and take the time to plan and prepare you can command the river like a pro.

This post offers a look at what you might encounter on a river when paddleboarding as well as the skills you should have to navigate the unique waters of a river.

river standup paddleboard

How to Handle the Differences of River Paddleboarding

While you should always be careful, follow safety protocols, and practice situational awareness while paddling on any water, rivers do have some unique qualities. So this list gives you a heads up of how paddling your river sup board might be different than when you’re out on a lake or ocean.

Consider these river features:

  • Currents: Rivers typically have a steady flow or current, which can affect your paddleboarding experience. You'll need to adjust your paddling technique and body positioning to navigate against or with the current. Paddling upstream requires more effort, while paddling downstream can be easier but may require additional caution to maintain control. Although oceans have currents as well, in a river, you may experience a change in current speed from a gentle flow to whitewater conditions. So understand the type of currents you’ll encounter when planning your route to ensure you stay within conditions you’re comfortable paddling in.
  • Hazards: Rivers can have natural hazards such as rocks, branches, or fallen trees that pose obstacles to navigation. These obstacles can be concealed under the water's surface, making them potentially hazardous. It's crucial to be vigilant and choose a safe route while paddleboarding on a river.
  • Depth and water conditions: River depths can vary, so it's important to be mindful of shallower areas or sudden drop-offs. The water conditions may also change depending on factors like rainfall, dam releases, or seasonal variations. Higher water levels can lead to stronger currents and increased difficulty in maneuvering, while lower levels may expose more hazards.
  • Eddies: Rivers often have eddies, which are circular currents that can be formed behind obstructions like rocks or bends in the river. Eddies can affect your board's movement and stability, so it's essential to understand how to navigate through or around them.
  • Wildlife and vegetation: Rivers are home to diverse wildlife and vegetation, including fish, birds, and plant life along the banks. You may encounter these natural elements while paddleboarding on a river, so it's important to respect their habitats and maintain a safe distance.

When you decide to get on the river with your paddleboard, you’ll be safer and enjoy your time more if you do a little planning. Follow these tips so you remain on a route that meets your experience and comfort level:

  • Know the water conditions. River conditions can vary widely, so it's important to research and understand the specific characteristics of the river you plan to paddleboard on. Local knowledge, river guides, or experienced paddleboarders in the area can provide valuable insights and safety tips for your river paddleboarding adventure.
  • Plan for access points and specific routes. River paddleboarding requires careful consideration of access points and route planning. Unlike open bodies of water, rivers may have limited entry and exit points. It's important to identify suitable launch and landing spots and plan your paddleboarding route accordingly.
  • Keep safety a priority. Due to the flowing nature of rivers and the potential hazards involved, it's crucial to prioritize safety while paddleboarding. Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) or a life jacket, as well as a leash to keep your board attached to you. It's also advisable to paddle with a partner or inform someone about your plans and estimated return time.

river standup paddleboard

What Skills Do I Need to Use My Standup Paddleboard on a River?

To paddleboard on a river, you'll need a combination of basic paddleboarding skills and specific river-related techniques. While you’ll learn through experience along the way, here are some skills you’ll want to build to have the best experience with a river standup paddleboard:

  • Get comfortable with paddleboarding basics. Familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of paddleboarding, including maintaining balance, proper paddling technique, and getting on and off the board. Practice these skills in calm waters before attempting river paddleboarding
  • Practice specific paddling techniques. Learn different paddle strokes, such as the forward stroke, reverse stroke, sweep stroke, and draw stroke. These techniques will help you navigate through the river, maneuver around obstacles, and control your board's direction.
  • Develop your balance and stability on the board. River currents can be dynamic, so having good core strength and balance will help you maintain stability while navigating through varying water conditions. On land, you can perform core workouts or practice Pilates or yoga to build your core strength.
  • Read the water. Learn to read the river and understand its flow patterns. Identify the main current, eddies, and potential hazards such as rocks, fallen trees, or other obstructions. Observing the water's surface and understanding its characteristics will allow you to make informed decisions while paddleboarding.
  • Learn basic navigation skills specific to river environments. Learn how to paddle against the current, cross the current, and use eddies to your advantage. Practice ferrying techniques, which involve angling your board across the current to move from one side of the river to the other.
  • Navigate around obstacles. Learn how to pivot turn or perform quick directional changes to avoid hazards such as rocks or submerged objects.
  • Build your river safety knowledge. Understand the safety considerations specific to river paddleboarding. This includes knowing the river's depth, flow rate, and any potential hazards or risks associated with the specific section of the river you'll be paddleboarding on. Be aware of weather conditions, water temperature, and the importance of wearing appropriate safety gear like a PFD.

You’ll want some paddleboarding experience to at least know the basics before you set out on a river. As a beginner, start gradually and use your river sup board on calm or slower-flowing rivers before attempting more challenging or faster-moving sections.

Consider taking lessons from experienced instructors who can provide guidance and help you develop the necessary skills for paddleboarding on a river, and seek out advice from locals on the water you’re paddling in. Above all, buy an inflatable paddleboard made with high-quality materials from Hydrus to give you the comfort and confidence to tackle unique river conditions.

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