Pics: Starboard SUP UK , Georgia Wharton, Sarah Savage, Tom Botterill
White water stand up is an area that intrigues many yet remains at arm’s length. Knowledge and skills required to tackle big volume SUP river runs are extensive. Yet mellower spots are available should interested paddlers fancy hitting them up. One rider who loves a bit of whitewater SUP is Starboard UK paddler Ben Payne. A complete outdoor nut Ben mixes things up between SUP, kayaking, MTB and rock climbing. With this in mind we caught up with Ben to get the low down.
How did you get into SUP and what made you realise it was good for whitewater paddling?
I’ve been paddling for twelve years. Firstly kayak and canoe (whitewater) and then SUP. The cross over felt second nature to me. My first river run was at the age of 13. It was a thrill and I knew then I wanted to pursue paddle sports long term.
Tell us about your local whitewater spot – is it technical or could newbie river paddlers get involved?
My local paddling spot is the Lligwy, North Wales. It offers class 2 sections to class 5 areas in full flood. There are good training routes in places for newbies getting into whitewater SUP. From a kayak to stand up the main skill you’ll need is the ability to ‘read’ the river – knowing what to look for and understanding what changes in body position/paddle angle will aﬀect your boat or board.
Have you travelled to many river SUP spots – if so, where’s your favourite and what’s so good about it?
The best river spots to paddle whitewater SUP are in North Wales. There’s loads of variety across a small area and I haven’t found anywhere better, yet.
What kit do you use when paddling moving water and what does it oﬀer in terms of performance?
The board I use is Starboard’s Astro Stream 8.6ft. I also wear Palm’s Fuse drysuit, Gradient boots (these give ankle support), Lowcut Palm PFD, a helmet that covers my forehead (important) and a coiled leash attached to chest harness for quick release. All of this is essential river paddling gear and I couldn’t be without any of it.
Got any tips or advice for aspiring river SUPers?
If you’re hitting rivers for the first time then the biggest tip I can give is set up your feet correctly when standing on your board – one back and one forward, just oﬀ the centre line. And visualise your moves/line before heading out. Familiarise yourself with river paddling terminology and start off slow and easy. Don’t chuck yourself into the biggest volume whitewater you can to begin with. Also get some tips, advice and guidance from other more experienced paddlers.
You also race a fair bit. Does this help with your whitewater SUP or is there no comparison whatsoever?
No comparison really, other than balance skills.
Do you paddle surf as well – if yes then where’s your favourite spot for waves?
Yes! My favourite spot is Putsborough in Devon. To be honest I love all aspects of paddling whether it’s in a boat or on a board. I love river SUP, surfing and flat water racing is also good.
Where do you see the sport going in general?
The sport may get into the Olympics but hopefully it will remain accessible for everyone to get involved. It’s so easy to start SUPing and you can paddle a stand up paddle board on any type of water. You don’t need to make it extreme – although you can if you want. Simply being afloat is fun. For those who want to push it then, of course, these options are available.
Tell us about some of the paddlers you look up to – who provides inspiration to get out there and hit it?
I just watch other people’s paddling and pick up tricks and tips that way. I note where they’re placing their paddle, how they stand during moves and try and glean as much info from them as possible. There’s not any one particular person I take note of – anyone out there doing it is worthy of attention. You can always learn something.
The level of SUP worldwide is on the increase – do you think the UK holds its own or is there some way to go before we’re on the level of paddlers across the pond?
The thing is to not think of ‘them across the pond’ as we have plenty of amazing training grounds around the UK. We just need to shout about it louder. The level of UK paddlers is also going up and with the right guidance there’s no reason we can’t be on a similar level to those elsewhere in the world.
If you were giving advice to those entering SUP for the first time what would you say?
Get good quality coaching as it makes all the diﬀerence! If you think there’s no technique involved with SUP then think again…
Tell us about your local crew – who do you normally paddle with at home?
I train buy myself in whitewater and race but I do run the local SUP club at South Cerney Outdoors Centre – an up and coming group of paddlers. They’re a great bunch and we always have fun when we get together.
Do you ever get ‘banter’ from other river users such as the sit down brigade?
Nope. As paddlers we are all there to help each other. It’s the rowers you need to look out for!
If you were trying to convince a sit down paddler to get involved with SUP what would you say?
Give it a go, try this – pretty simple really. They could either get involved or not. Most are intrigued though.
What about other sports – do you have any hobbies outside of SUP/kayaking or is paddling it?
I compete in MTB endurance and downhill and rock climbing. These are good ways to cross train and mix it up. MTB = cardiovascular while climbing = strength.
Any final thoughts on stand up paddle boarding in general?
Let’s help it grow! SUP is an awesome sport and there’s no reason it couldn’t be huge. We just all need to work together and make it happen.