Once you get on moving water it's hard to go back to flat water paddle boarding.
This is what I always tell people who question why I run rivers on a paddle board. And it's true. The feeling of moving with the current, peeling in and out of eddies, and navigating rapids on a board is exhilarating.
Exploring wild places with little more than a backpack's worth of gear has always been what being outdoors means to me. Exploration, adventure, challenging myself to go further and faster and more miles. As a kid I loved scrambling on the granite above Tahoe, and mountain bike riding, and back-country skiing. I have thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and have kayaked the entire 1000-mile length of the Sea of Cortez, twice. But it wasn't until I discovered the river that I found my passion. I discovered the river with a SUP board.
Way back in 2013 my neighbor in Bend, Oregon where I was living introduced me to SUP. She said it was fun and a good workout. We went to the lakes near town. It was fun. We were able to carry our gear to the water without having to worry about boat trailers. And we were able to see fish and underwater rock formations from a standing perspective. Good fun. My brain started turning when I realized you could lash a drybag to the board to do an overnight trip. Could a paddle board be used to do multi-day trips? Expeditions? Rivers?
If you are going to do a multi-day paddling trip in Central Oregon it is going to be on rivers, including the Deschutes and the John Day. But I knew little about rivers then. For me, rivers were paddled by whitewater kayakers cartwheeling in holes and dropping waterfalls, or rafters with a ton of gear. I didn't like the idea of bashing my face on rocks in a kayak, nor did I like the idea of floating on a barge of lawn chairs, dry bags and coolers full of booze. Could I use a paddle board to do a river trip with little more than a backpack’s worth of gear?
I asked Google. At the time there were a handful of YouTube videos showing Dan Gavere navigating big drops on his board, and Mike Tavares instructing how to surf river waves on a SUP board. But there wasn't anything to suggest people were running rivers, especially as multi-day “SUP-support” trips. So, with ambition but little practical knowledge I went on my first river trip to the John Day and did a 120-mile 4-nighter through a remote desert gorge. I was hooked. But after falling off and swimming most of the rapids, I knew I needed to learn how to actually paddle rivers.
Since then I have had the fortune to chase rivers throughout the US and Canada on a board, as well as Europe, New Zealand, Japan, and Chile. I have aligned myself with river SUP brands, and have offered clinics to teach people river SUP fundamentals.