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Dialing in Your SUP Board for the River


The SUP Essentials Kit

Well I’ve gone to the Stand Up Paddle dark side! I picked up a shiny new Badfish SUP River Surfer 6’11″ this week, and I can’t imagine having more fun at the BV River Park at 300 cfs than on this little sports car of a board. Are you eying the River Surfer or another river-specific Stand Up Paddle Board? You’ll need more than just the board. Here are some tips on picking the right paddle, fins, leash and insulation based on the great help I got from Earl at Colorado Kayak Supply, one of the country’s premiere retailers for inland SUP.

Stand Up Paddles From what I can tell, and from what Earl says, Werner Paddles are the way to go if you want a quality, durable and high performance SUP stick. You’ve got a few choices here, which aren’t that intuitive, so here’s what I learned:

Economy vs. Higher-End

As with most products, you can go with everything from entry-level pricing to high-end carbon. Many of the more serious SUPers I know are going with the high-end Werner Fuse¬†for it’s incredible lightness and stiffness. You get what you pay for. In the end, I bought a 1-piece Werner Carve. I felt like if I was going to commit to buying a board, I wanted a reasonably light, strong paddle from the best in the industry. I couldn’t see using a lower-end paddle, so I took the plunge on the $218.95 price tag.

Carve from Werner Paddles on Vimeo.

High-Cadence vs. Low-Cadence

This meant nothing to me when I was first shopping, and at first I thought I wanted the Werner Advantage, a “low-cadence” paddle which is on sale from CKS. Earl set me straight, though. Since my focus at the moment is surfing, and I’m not a particularly big guy, “high-cadence” is the way to go. High-cadence paddles have a smaller blade, are quicker in and out of the water and are made for higher stroke repetition, like when digging in with fast strokes to stay on the wave.

Adjustable vs. 1-Piece

Because I’m sharing my paddle and board with my wife, I figured that I would want an adjustable paddle. Earl convinced me to go with 1-piece, and I’m glad he did. If you can dial in the right length 1-piece paddle, you will end up with a lighter, more affordable paddle ($218.95 vs. $258.95 in the case of the Carve). That said, adjustable is nice for a couple reasons: 1) you can share more easily with different sized friends, and 2) I like a longer paddle for flatwater/ touring use and a much shorter paddle for surfing.


Colorado Kayak Supply’s Stand Up Paddle sizing chart pretty much sums it up. Add 8 inches to your height for surfing/ river use. In my case, at 5’8″, I bought a 76-inch, 1-piece Werner Carve.


Unless you’re paddling somewhere with lots of depth and no chance of connecting your fins with the bottom of the river, replace rigid glass fins (which come with Badfish boards) with the FCS M5 Softflex Tri Fin Set. My friend connected his glass fins with some rock and broke his center fin. These flexi fins take hits like a champ.


salamander quick release SUP beltYou’ve got some options for your leash, but before I get into the reasoning, let me just say that in my experience, the Salamander Quick Release Belt and Coiled Leash is your best bet. Whatever you do, DO NOT use a conventional ocean surf leash velcroed to your ankle! This leash system has already caused more than one SUP death in easy whitewater. You will see river SUPers attaching conventional leashes to their rescue PFD, and this seems like a reasonable solution. I like the Salamander product because I can use it with any vest, I like the coiled leash itself, and it seems safe. Not only does it seem that the quick release on the waist¬†would be pretty easy to get to, if it weren’t, there’s a back up: the velcro attachment point from the leash to the waist belt can be set to fail under a strong load. Check out the picture at left to see what I’m talking about. I’ve been going with 1 or 2 inches of velcro purchase, and it has not failed for normal use, but I can pretty easily pull it apart. I think it would fail in an entanglement/ entrapment situation. Finally, the Salamander product does cost a bit more than the NRS quick release waist belt, but I didn’t like how the bag on the NRS product picked up water weight, plus the leash itself seems less durable and stretches out too far.


Depending on where you’re paddling, you may need some insulation. Paddling here in Buena Vista, CO on the Arkansas River, I’ve got buddies who use as little as board shorts and a hydroskin top. Personally I’ve been wearing a 3/2 full wetsuit and find that just about right for 65 degree water.

Alrighty, beyond the board itself, those are the SUP essentials. Gear up and get out there!


2 Responses to “Dialing in Your SUP Board for the River”

  1. Dan O'Connor
    August 2, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    Alright! A concise break down of small blades V. regular size for SUP!

    • dustinheron
      August 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

      Glad I didn't make the mistake of buying the Advantage… it's all about the Carve for a smaller guy like me focused on surfing

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