I recently spent four days SUP paddling in southern Nevada/Arizona with my sister and a friend. Rather than sit here and write a detailed account of our trip, I've decided to write about my experience on the SUP. This was my first multi-day trip on a standup paddleboard and served somewhat as a test trip for me. I've completed this trip at least five other times using sea kayaks and canoes and had some basic guesses as to the paddleboards performance. I thought the SUP would be slower than a sea kayak, but faster then a solo canoe. I didn't think I would have the manueverability of a solo canoe or sea kayak. While standing in wind, I figured the sup would be slower than a kayak, faster than solo canoe. The sup would be lighter than a kayak or canoe and I fully expected to portage at least one fast spot in the river. Lastly, I questioned the sup's durability in this environment. Here's what I found.
Five minute impression: I screwed up. Two huge errors - I didn't test paddle the board with gear attached and I brought a brand new paddle model that I've never tried before, in a shorter length than my other paddles. Right away I'm noticing the instability of the board with weight on top and the ridiculously short paddle that I'm holding. I have to paddle four days like this? I'm in trouble.
One hour impression: This system is very, very good. The first day's paddle is 8 miles upstream with a moderate fluctuating flow of water and some headwind. Once we began making progress I was able to modify my stroke for the conditions and shorter paddle. Over the next four days I would realize how much I enjoy a low body position and surf stance.
My setup includes a Bark Expedition 14' SUP produced by Surftech. It's a great board with a notable balance of speed and stability and a planing hull design. It's comfortable to paddle with a center deck pad and I've added two additional pieces of deck pad than line up with my front and back feet while in a pivot position on the back of the board. In addition to being comfortable and gripping well, it gives me an index point that I can feel. The rest of the stern is waxed for grip. I paddled with a 78.5" Werner Carve.
I approached the packing have just come off a sea kayak trip, so most of my kit was organized, I just needed to pack it on the board. I used three bags on the front deck of the board each serving a specific need. First, a North Face base camp duffel, size small, as a catch-all bag holding smaller dry bags with food, cookgear, first aid kit, sleeping kit, etc. The duffel is a top load, durable, waterproof vinyl with lots of attachment points and able to take great abuse. It also incorporates removable backpack straps and easily fills the role of a portage pack. The second bag is a Watershed dry duffel and acted as my day hatch while on the water, holding cameras, batteries, mounts, food, knife, extra clothing and misc equipment that I may need while on the water. The third bag is a North Face hydration pack and held my water, an easily accessible camera, sunscreen, waterproof journal, snacks, etc and is the bag I carry while hiking. Attachment is a breeze with handles and a cam strap. When landing it was very quick to release the hydration pack and Watershed duffel for hiking while leaving everything else attached to the board. I could easily slide my shoes under the hydration pack when paddling barefoot and a spare paddle attached to the top of the base camp duffel. Overall, the system worked extremely well and besides lowering the weight, I wouldn't change much.
The most important thing on this trip was sun protection. It was well into the 100's each day and very dry. I really like dry heat and enjoy the climate, but you have to be very diligent with sun and hydration. I packed two different sun hoodies - one a hooded UPF rashguard made by the North Face, the second a UPF buttonup sun hoodie made by KUHL. Both shirts provided sun protection, comfort, some warmth at night and kept me cool when saturated. I particularly like the integrated hood in both pieces. Around my neck I wore a buff for cooling and covering. The third critical piece was a brim hat, which I rarely wear, but needed on this trip and will continue to wear. This combination of sunwear with a pair of durable board shorts performed extremely well.
I modified my stroke to adapt to the short paddle length and river conditions opting for a fast, low, deep stroke that provided plenty of power and a natural bracing position while making it easy to use the hips and feet. I gravitated towards a normal footed surf stance for balance and power, and could still generate plenty of power paddling on my left side without re-positioning my feet.
Overall Impressions: I'm convinced the sup is the perfect craft for hot weather travel. There are two major advantages to the sup over the canoe and the sea kayak. First, being able to trim quickly on the water. It was simple for me to step back on the board and easily maneuver tight turns quickly with sweep strokes. With a little more work on my part, the sup will be significantly more maneuverable than both the sea kayak and canoe. Second, the planing hull crosses eddy lines so easily. Without a bow in the water, it was very quick and easy to eddy hop up river. Normally in a kayak or canoe the angle of approach on eddy lines is so critical, but on a board it is so much more forgiving that you can change your line without consequences. Granted, you can still be tossed off the board if you let the water pillow-up, but overall, negotiating eddy lines is far easier.
I know the board is fast, I paddle it all the time. I didn't realize it would be this fast in the moving water, though, especially traveling up river. It's a long board with great glide and sprints quickly. Ferrying across the river was easier than in a canoe or kayak for the same reason as crossing eddy lines. The additional weight didn't seem to hinder my speed, maneuverability or stability.
Overall, the system needs to be a lighter and I'll trim 5 pounds off for the next trip. I had low expectations for durability, so wasn't overly upset to see the board take damage. Certainly nothing significant, but deep scratches are very easy to inflict on the finish. I was pretty careful and didn't hit many rocks, but I did happen to scrape one rock in particular that removed a large amount of top layer. A canoe or kayak would barely have seen a scratch. Before the next trip I will address the idea of carrying an extra skeg.
It was a wonderful trip and in addition to camping off a SUP, I got to spend some quality time with my sister. We've grown much closer as we've moved further apart and I really value the little amount of time we do get to spend together. Hopefully we'll meet up for this trip again. Matt Christian joined us the for the last three days. He flew in from northern Washington and easily arranged board rental and transportation from the city to the launch and back. I plan to do more paddling with Matt in the future as he's positive, knowledgeable and laid-back - A real joy to paddle with. In addition to the great company, the trip had many highlights including thunderstorms, trash collecting and special trail gifts.
Check out more pics here.
Check out more pics here.