Words: Andrew Kellett ǀ Photos: Johan Swart, Billy Edwards & Kate Walton
Doring River, Cederberg in the Western Cape. Keep low, knees bent and active blade in the water. Red Paddle 9’6 inflatable. Photo Johan Swart
SUPING IS BORN
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Kunene River – Onderuso Gorge on a Starboard 8’5 Pocket Rocket. Not Ideal board for the situation. Photo credit: Camdyn Kellett
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FROM ITS HUMBLE BEGINNINGS, STAND UP PADDLE (SUP) BOARDING HAS COME A LONG WAY AND IS NOW HERE TO STAY. NOT ONLY IS IT GROWING RAPIDLY IN POPULARITY BUT MANUFACTURERS ARE COMING UP WITH MORE
AND MORE WAYS TO USE A SUP, SUCH AS SURFING, FLAT-WATER TOURING/RACING, DOWNWIND RACING, AND YOGA, AND ADAPTING THEIR PRODUCTS TO FIT INTO THESE ESTABLISHED SPORT DISCIPLINES. NOW THE EVER-EVOLVING WORLD OF SUP HAS TAKEN ONE STEP FURTHER WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF WHITE WATER SUPING (WWWSUPING); RUNNING RIVERS ON A SUP BOARD.
My first attempt at WWSUPing was on a recent African trip, whilst on the Kunene River that flows along the border of Angola and Namibia, just below Onderusso Falls. All I had with me was my 8.5 ft surf SUP that proved less than ideal! Anyone who knows this river will tell you that this is probably not the best place to try out WWSUPing for the first time. If it’s not the class 4 white water that catches you out, it’s the crocodiles lurking in the eddies. With more than 20 years of experience in rivers around the world, I had to use all the skills I have just to get down the 6 km of white water alive. Only when I was back home did I get the opportunity to try it out with the right equipment and under the right conditions. Winter in the Western Cape see the rivers flow with fresh snowmelt and rain, allowing us to explore what this new sport had to offer. I made the decision to paddle at higher flows, minimising the amount of rocks and opening the lines available to get down the river but, of course, increasing the speed of the river and hydraulics created by the converging currents. The Doring River, in the Cedarberg, proved to be an ideal section to try out the Red Paddle inflatable I had on loan as there was more than 30 km of white water, over two days, ahead. However, when scouting the first rapid from the bank, it was evident that I had perhaps bitten off more than I anticipated. Sure, in a kayak I would not even have flinched but here, having to stand up through the rapid and with the possibility of falling off and hitting rocks at speed, swimming past a siphon on the river suddenly brought home the reality and difficulty of the sport.
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Doring River, Cederberg in the Western Cape, tight chute, protective gear definitely needed! Photo credit: Johan Swart
One positive is that with the upright stance from standing on the board you have much better vision over the rapid and are able to view the entry and lines much more easily than sitting in a kayak. This allowed me to avoid the rather large hole on the left of the entry and make it through the crunch of the rapid. Half celebrating, I lost concentration and lifted a paddle for a photo and in a split second I was in the water. With the siphon coming up on the right, I launched myself back on the board only to fall off just as quickly. Do I swim left or try to remount the board in time to get a stroke in? One more launch and a quick draw and I skimmed past the siphon rocks. I was safe, but drained of energy and filled with lactic acid that made my muscles heavy and breathing hard. This was not going to be as easy as I thought! As it turned out, the fast-flowing water and small rapids enabled me to get to grips with the new board, as well as work out some new paddle strokes and stances on the board. I was stoked to make it through the next long and big rapid, Krans, with a perfect line. One thing is for sure, WWSUPing is tiring and you need a fair level of fitness. My next opportunity was on a flooding Palmiet River after some unseasonal rain and storms. The river was the highest I have seen it in 20 years and although this flattened out most of the rapids, it was fast, big and intimidating.
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THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCES ON THE WATER WERE THE BOILS AND UNDERWATER CURRENTS, WHICH HAD A SUCKING EFFECT ON THE BOARD THAT SLOWED ME DOWN AND PULLED ME OFF LINE AT WILL. NUMEROUS SWIMS, SOME GREAT LINES AND A FEW NERVOUS MOMENTS AND I HAD MADE IT THROUGH FOR THE FIRST SUP DESCENT OF THE PALMIET.
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Doring River, Cederberg in the western Cape, Not all about the white water. Photo credit: Billy Edwards
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One characteristic that really sets rivers apart from oceans and lakes is the continuous flow. You will need a certain amount of knowledge, skill and respect before setting out on your local creek. They are filled with obstacles and hidden dangers that are waiting to catch you out. So where do you start?
KEY STEPS HERE ARE THE FIVE KEY BUT EASY STEPS TO BECOMING A WHITE-WATER SUPING SUPER STAR.
STEP 1 Basic SUP background - It is critical that you master, at the very least, your balance and basics strokes on flat water before attempting a flowing river. Learn to use your whole body, including your legs, to generate power into your stroke.
STEP 2 The right equipment - As they say, “You don’t take a sword to a gun fight!” This is a new discipline so most boards and paddles out there are not suited to river use. Be prepared and choose the right gear.
STEP 3 Some basic river knowledge - Features and hazards one would encounter on the river need to be understood and recognisable to avoid getting into trouble on the flowing water. Attend a white-water course to give you a kick start.
STEP 4 Instruction and guiding – Enlist the help of someone to point you in the right direction and give you basic instructions on and off the river. A guide to look after you, at least on your first couple of outings, is also a good idea.
STEP 5 A sense of adventure - River SUPing requires a good level of fitness and a willingness to fall - a lot! You are often in remote areas without access and need to be able to endure the challenges and complete the distance. This is a new sport, so we don’t have all the answers!
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SPECIAL INTRODUCTORY OFFER INTRODUCTION TO WHITE WATER SUPPING Join Gravity Adventures for a threeday long trip on the awesome Orange River Gorge to explore the new sport of white water Stand Up Paddle boarding. You will need to bring along your own inflatable SUP and we will provide everything else! Fully catered and guided, you can concentrate on learning new skills from instructor Andrew Kellett, all in a stunning desert wilderness environment. Take advantage of this special introductory offer for DO IT NOW Magazine readers: R2,995.00 per person. Contact us on email@example.com for more information.
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Pamiet River, Kleinmond in full flood. Not for the faint hearted! Photo credit: Kate Walton
DON'T MISS NEXT WEEK'S ARTICLE, WHICH COVERS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE
BASICS OF WHITE WATER SUPING AND EQUIPMENT REQUIRED TO MAXIMISE YOUR ENJOYMENT AND SAFETY ON THE WATER. • Andrew Kellett is a five-time National Freestyle Kayak Champion and an accomplished expedition kayaker with many first descents under his belt. In 2012, he started exploring the sport of WWSUP on rivers.
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