Before trying white waters SUP, it's important to understand the risks and dangers, also the correct safety kit required as you progress through your white water paddling journey. There are many hidden and submerged hazards when whitewater paddling, so please prepare the gear, get some coaching and avoid paddling alone.
We'll look at some of the important bits of kit that you need to help keep you safe.
The most important bits of kit you need are a quick-release waist leash, helmet, buoyancy aid, footwear, and the right clothing for the water temperature.
A quick-release waist leash
A leash is often the most overlooked but important kit when paddle boarding, as this serves as a connection between you and your board in the water.
Most paddle boards currently come with a leash and an ankle attachment, which is perfect if you're paddling on calm flat water with no risk of entanglement when paddling moving water. A paddle board attached to a quick-release leash is essential regardless of the grade. When you find yourself tangled in branches or trees at the side of the river, or you and your board go opposite ways around a rock, a quick-release leash quickly becomes your best friend because it will allow you to detach yourself from the board before a situation becomes dangerous.
There are plenty of different quick-release belts currently on the market. The simplest of these enables you to attach a leash with an ankle attachment directly to the belt. However, ensure that the ankle leash isn't a big loop, as this could create a snag on your system. Some belts have an attachment loop that requires a carabiner or something similar to attach the leash. This is often preferred for the white water paddlers because it makes it much easier to attach and detach the belt and leash. Higher-end belts will also enable users to carry throw lines all on the same system rather than having separate belts for each option.
There are several different leash styles on the market, with a coiled leash and an elasticated webbing leash suitable for white water. Regardless of what you use, it should be long enough to walk off to the opposite end of your board, but when you're paddling, it normally doesn't trail on the board or in the water.
The most important thing about the helmet you choose is that you can make it fit comfortably and protect you from an impact.
There are plenty of different brands and styles, with some helmets having peaks and others with chin guards. Think about the type of water you will be paddling on and grab a suitable helmet. Make sure it fits comfortably on your head, without any pressure points, and doesn't move too much. The last thing you'll want is for it to slide off your head while you're in the water. Once you have got it to fit comfortably, ensure the chin strap is tight enough that it will not slip over your chin, but not so tight. Get a finger between the strap and your chin. You have to feel comfortable on the water in all scenarios, generally with a kit, if it makes you feel safer or more comfortable taking it with you.
A buoyancy aid
One of the most common questions asked by stand-up paddle boarders is why do I need a buoyancy aid? Your paddle board will float, but it's not going to float. Your leash is likely to be six feet long or more, it's not going to help keep you above the water, especially when the water is flowing, so any additional flotation measures you can wear will be beneficial. A good buoyancy aid fitted properly will help you stay at the water's surface if you take a dip.
Buoyancy aids come in different styles depending on what you're using them for on moving water. You're looking for white water specific with plenty of floatation, a low-cut profile, and neat features. With floatation, all buoyancy aids should have a sizing chart on the back of the model. Make sure you're selecting the appropriate size for you.
Don't get the terms buoyancy aid and life jacket confused. There are two very different things. A buoyancy or PFD is designed to keep you afloat, face up or down, and to allow you to swim in the water. A life jacket is designed to keep you afloat with your face up but will be considerably more bulky, meaning it will be harder to swim in an eraser. The most basic white water buoyancy aid has no fancy features or pockets. It's incredibly slim. It has a generous cut, so it's ideal if you paddle on artificial white watercourses. Whitewater-specific buoyancy aids are normally a little bulkier than their touring counterparts, providing you with more protection if you fall off your board. Some will also have specific rescue features, such as a quick-release harness.
When white water paddle boarding, it's important to have something solid and grippy on your feet. So whether this is a pair of shoes designed for water sports or an old pair of trainers, make sure they are right for your environment. Footwear should have a good grippy sole that can help you stick to the board when needed and support traversing natural river boats.
The right clothing
Regardless of the air temperature, it's important to dress for the water temperature with your clothing. Choices vary from winter through to summer.
During the colder winter months, when the water and air temperature can be around five degrees or lower, you're going to want something that's going to keep you warm on the water as you'll spend a fair amount of time in the water while white water paddle boarding, a dry suit is going to be the ideal outer layer with plenty of warm layers underneath, especially if you're going to spend a full day on the water. Alternatively, a decent winter wetsuit will also work if you only do a short session. If you are wearing a dry suit or dry trousers, it's often sensible to wear a pair of thin wetsuit socks over the top to help protect your socks from rubbing in your shoes and creating small holes.
As the air and water temperature warms up, you'll find that you can start moving towards a thinner wetsuit or just shorts and a rash vest. If it is windy, but the water is warm, you could look at wearing a jacket on top to help protect you from the wind when you're not in the water. It is important to ensure that you avoid having hoods on your dry suit and kegs for white water, just due to the snake hazard that this presents.
We hope you now understand what gear is needed when white water paddle building.