What Is Stand Up Paddle Boarding?
Chances are if you’ve been anywhere near water over the last 5 years you have seen stand up paddle boarders paddling across a lake, floating down river or even catching waves in the ocean.
Stand Up Paddle boarding or SUP, is definitely not new though. It can be traced back hundreds and even thousands of years to African cultures that used boards for travel, fishing and more. The more recent recreational version is still even older than many realize with roots back to the 1940’s and 50’s in Hawaii.
The recent popularity of SUP is likely traced back to 2004 when a California surfer brought a SUP board back from Hawaii and the sport became instantly popular. You can read more about the history of SUP boarding at SUP World Magazine.
My Interest In SUP
Being in Minnesota, SUP was definitely a few years behind it’s popularity on the coastal parts of the US. I wasn’t introduced to the sport until 2013 and got my first board in the Spring of 2014.
I spent most of my SUP boarding time in 2014 peacefully floating on the lakes around Minneapolis and St. Paul and didn’t realize that there was much more that could be done on a stand up paddle board. To me, at the time, it was simply a calm way to travel around the lakes and kill an afternoon.
In early 2015, I was lucky enough to meet and work with the legendary guys at Wenonah Canoe for our trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. While we were touring their factory, where they still make their canoes by hand to this day (you can check out that tour here), we found out that they also ran a SUP company called C4 Waterman.
This is where I got schooled on the possibilities of what SUP could really be. I learned about their riders out in Hawaii, guys taking their SUP boards through the rapids in Colorado and even river riding and surfing here in Minnesota. I knew I had to dig in and see how much more this sport really had to offer.
Camping, Whitewater And SUP – The Perfect Combo
If you are a follower of Beyond The Tent, you know that I love camping. I love every type and style from canoe camping, hiking, back country and family camping.
My first thought was that I wanted to get out and do a camping tour on a stand up paddle board. I looked into a few different options from taking a SUP and pack down the Mississippi to taking one through the BWCA.
After looking at bit further I decided that I could get some river riding, camping and even catch some whitewater rapids by paddling up the Bois Brule River in Wisconsin.
Planning Our Trip
Once I had decided on where to go and what type of trip I wanted to take, it was time to start figuring out the details of the trip.
Using An Inflatable SUP
I talked with C4 Waterman and learned about the different types of boards (they have an amazing selection!) and found that their line of iSUP’s were perfect for river riding and whitewater. An iSUP is an inflatable stand up paddle board. I’m sure you’re thinking that an inflatable board sounds cheap and like a kids pool toy (I thought so at first as well), but these boards are made of military grade pvc, double and triple lined walls and inside there are thousands of fibers that connect the top of the board to the bottom. These are as solid if not better than any hard board out there.
The inflatable SUP boards end up being rock solid yet able to safely bounce off rocks and obstacles without damaging the board (which would be the problem with a solid core board).
Packing Light Weight
The next part of planning this trip was figuring out how to pack light enough to be able to strap all the gear we would need for a 3 day trip to the front of our boards without causing any issues with the board. This meant only bringing the absolute necessities and making sure that they stayed as dry as possible.
For a backpack, I had never done a trip where I needed a 100% waterproof pack. All my packs either have rain covers or are water resistant, but not necessarily 100% waterproof. I chose to use my Boreas pack, which obviously wasn’t made for a trip like this, and packed everything inside the pack into my dry-sacks from Granite Gear. I used one dry sack and one compression dry sack. Even though my gear was constantly splashed, submerged underwater and basically in the river for 12 hours a day, the Granite Gear dry sacks kept everything 100% dry. You can read my full Granite Gear review here.
For shelter I decided that I didn’t want to share close quarters with 2 other grown men in a small 3 person tent. We also didn’t know if we would make it to campgrounds or if we would be camping in the woods. So I decided to go with 3 Hennessy Hammocks. Hennessy Hammocks are lightweight camping hammocks. They have a bun screen cover as well as a large rain tarp and are perfect for camping anywhere with absolute minimal disruption to the environment. Full review of the Hennessy Hammocks coming soon!
Other than our packs and hammocks, I packed some Mountain House food, a small light weight stove, a GSI Outdoors cooking set, 1 set of dry clothes for night time, my Go Pro, a water filter and plenty of snack food.
Getting Started on The River
We ended up leaving for the Bois Brule on a Sunday morning at about 7:30 am with two vehicles, one to leave at the mouth of the river at Lake Superior and another to drive us to our starting point (thanks again Kelly!).
After a couple of stops along the way, we were at our starting point around noon and began inflating our boards and packing up the gear.
Inflating the boards was incredibly easy and takes about 10 minutes from un-packing to having a fully inflated board. Each board comes with a high end hand pump, so you simply roll the board out, attach the pump and inflate to about 15 psi.
Once we had the boards inflated we made sure everyone had a life jacket, sunscreen, helmet and gear strapped to our boards.
One of our boards didn’t have gear straps attached to the board. To improvise we used a car tie down strap that went entirely around the front of the board and strapped the gear onto the board. We were a bit nervous about how well this would work, but it turned out to be a perfect solution. We noticed no slow down or drag on the board and only once did the strap catch on a rock.
The Bois Brule was at decent levels during our trip with a flow rate of roughly 120 cubic feet per second, which was a really good pace for most of the narrow river. I believe this kept us on a 3 mile per hour pace during the more narrow stretches of the river and closer 2.5 mph during the wider portions of the river. Average depth of the river was at 1.6 feet.
Beauty of the Bois Brule River
We started our trip at Stone Bridge Landing, which was 37 miles out from our finish point at Lake Superior. The Bois Brule River is divided up into four main sections for people wanting to travel on the river by Canoe, Kayak or SUPs, each being roughly 10 miles long.
The first stretch, which is 11.2 miles from Stone Bridge Landing to Bois Brule Landing is considered the calmest part of the river and is popular for people with little to no experience on whitewater. Through this stretch we experience a great start to our trip with a few slow lakes to paddle through. It was the perfect way to get completely comfortable on our boards and get ready for the more challenging parts of the river.
The beauty of this river is simply amazing from start to finish.
After about 5-6 miles we hit our first class one rapids, which was a much welcome change of pace from the slow calm pace we had been experiencing.
Class one rapids are really nothing much more than a set of easily maneuverable rocks where the pace of the river speeds up a bit. It was a nice intro into rapids but we quickly found out that these rocks could easily snap the fins off the bottom of our paddle boards if we hit them in almost any way.
After about our third set up rapids I noticed that I had lost almost all steering on my board. Of the three fins I had started with I was already down to just one. Loosing your fins while riding a SUP is a lot like loosing your power steering when driving a car. It doesn’t become physically harder like a car, it just become very hard to control your board. In a lake, this would be devastating, but in a river, the current keeps you moving forward and is still tolerable.
I found that the fins tended to snap the easiest when I would hit a rock sideways rather than straight on. Hard fins tend to be the weakest when bending from side to side. When a rapid would turn me sideways and then into a rock, that is when I would lose the most fins.
Thankfully, each of us had packed three extra fins (which was not close to enough!!), but sadly, we had only packed one small allen wrench for changing these fins which had been completely rounded by a previous user. I had to endure the lack of steering for roughly 2 hours until we came upon a cabin with a friendly family that offered us some help.
Once we chatted with the cabin owners, borrowed a alan wrench and got a couple of fins back on my board, we were back in the water and back on our way down the river.
We hit a few more class one rapids on day 1, but mostly we had a calm ride down the river.
Setting Up Camp
On day one, we hit the water at roughly 1 pm, had to make a repair stop and wrapped up with our 11.2 miles at roughly 7:30 pm.
The 3 Hennessy Hammocks we brought along ended up being the absolute perfect way to sleep for the night.
In case you are unfamiliar, Hennessy Hammocks have been called “The Coolest Hammocks in the World” by dwell magazine. They are meant to be your one man tent, chair, lounger and shelter. What’s really nice is that they set up quickly, are light weight and eliminate the need for even ground for a tent.
For us, they were also perfect for hanging all of our wet clothes out to dry over night on the ends of the hammock.
I do have to admit though that sleeping in the trees does not come naturally. Out of the three of us, one fell asleep within 5 minutes of going to bed while it took me quite a while to get comfortable. I found out quickly that my body did not find sleeping in a hammock natural and I was un-prepared for how cold my backside got during the night.
A little tip, I found sleeping sideways across the hammock worked to get my body straighter and me more comfortable. Also, a lightweight sleeping pad in the bottom of the hammock will keep you warmer as well as a bit straighter at night.
Upcoming Weather and Planning Our Final Leg
On day two we got up at 7 and immediately packed up camp on got on the river. We noticed a thunder storm was probable for the following day, so we decided to do the remaining 25.7 miles all on day two. This didn’t sound like too hard of a task, but with limited fins remaining on our SUP boards and lots of rapids ahead, we knew that it could take quite a while.
Hitting The Big Rapids
Almost immediately on day two we started to hit lots of class 1 and 2 rapids. On the first day we really liked the class one rapids but by day two they had really lost their fun and became more of an annoyance. The class one rapids were really more like the river became shallow, sped up and had lots of rocks to maneuver around and break fins on.
The class twos and threes were a ton of fun, broke less fins and actually less taxing on the body. At least on the Bois Brule, the larger rapids were deeper and had nice pools at the end of them to fall into.
If you hit a rock and came to sudden halt in a class one rapid and fell off your board you often just ended up landing awkwardly on another rock and getting beat up. On the 2’s and 3’s, when we fell off we often had deeper water to fall into with small pools at the end of the rapids to catch us (far fewer bruised hips and knees!).
With that being said, we had a blast on day 2.
We had the most fun when we finally hit Lenroot Ledges and Mays Ledges. These class 2 and 3 rapids had roughly 3 foot high ledges with great pools at the bottoms. We had a great time finding routes through them, trying to stay standing on the boards, falling into the pools and then wading up stream to do it again.
We found that remaining standing on the SUPs through the rapids is quite difficult. With a higher center of gravity it is very easy to take a spill into the water (which is half the fun). At times, mainly if we were a bit tired or when we didn’t have a good path through the rapid, we went down to our knees on some rapids. This got our center of gravity lower and made remaining on our boards a much easier task.
Lenroot and Mays were definitely the highlight of our trip and were worth the entire trip by themselves.
Wrapping Our Trip Up
After 18 miles, we were down to three fins between the three of us (each board was supposed to have 3). It was becoming a bit tiring trying to steer our paddle boards and personally, I was frustrated at my lack of control. Without fins, the rapids were incredibly hard to navigate and you were mainly at the mercy of the current.
A small benefit to no fins was that we didn’t have a fin to catch on a rock and bring us to a sudden halt, but personally I would have preferred the steering!
Luckily at a break point we ran into a canoe outfitter who was waiting to pick up some kayakers and offered to give us a ride to our car which we had waiting at Lake Superior. We decided to give all our fins to one of our guys and let him finish the final 7 miles with 3 fins while we got a ride and waited for him at Lake Superior.
We ended up eating supper sitting on the beach at Superior and had an absolute blast on the Bois Brule.
A Few Tips For White Water SUP
A few things we discovered while doing our first whitewater SUP trip was to make sure you have a board designed for white water. C4 Waterman iSUPs were perfect boards for taking the rapids along with anything else the river had. These durable inflatable boards were able to bounce off rocks without sustaining any damage.
Make Sure To Bring Extra Fins!
If we hadn’t brought extra fins, we would have been finless after our first three hours on the river. Sadly though, I underestimated how easily fins can break on this type of water. I’m not 100% sure, but I think that a soft flexible fin could do great on rapids and any river riding.
Learn More About Stand Up Paddle Boarding
If you want to learn more about Stand Up Paddle Boarding, check out C4’s Website and make sure to follow them on Facebook.