Some of the staff members from Sea to Summit’s North American office recently completed a two-day paddle tour on the Colorado River using Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs). The Ask Baz Blog was really interested to find out what gear they used, what experiences they gained, and what advice they might have for anyone else considering this emerging sport:
ABB: Andrew, Shelley, Mary – who first came up with the idea of the tour? Was the primary motivation gear testing or just having fun?
A little of both. There are some light and very compact new products coming out this for this Fall ’13 season, so we figured a SUP touring trip was the ideal testing situation. If you want to go without raft support, you’ve got to be able to carry all your camping gear on the deck of your board. We also wanted to use some gear currently in our line that we knew would be perfect for a SUP river trip, like the Hydraulic Dry Bags, the Clear Stopper Dry Bags and the TPU Waterproof Cases for our iPhones. We had recently given this same gear to a couple of guys who are currently doing a 1,000 kilometer SUP tour up the east coast of Africa (from Pemba, Mozambique to Zanzibar, Tanzania), more on these guys soon. Of course, we’ve already tested and used most of these products in other water sports and wet conditions – as have our counterparts in Australia, but we’re also in the midst of developing more SUP-specific gear, so really wanted a first-hand experience on a SUP touring trip to give feedback to the product design team back in Perth.
ABB: For someone attempting a tour of this kind, what are the ‘must-have’ items of gear?
Absolute must-have items are a good selection of dry bags and TPU Guide Waterproof cases, tie-down straps and accessory straps to attach your gear to the boards, a paddle leash, paddle gloves and lots of sunscreen. Other items we used that added to our ease and comfort at camp were Pocket Towels, a Pocket Shower, some XL Bowls and Delta Insul Mugs for our Starbacks Via coffee, the Adaptor Coolmax liners (too warm for a full sleeping bag) and we brought a new Tarp shelter that is really quite revolutionary! Can’t say too much more than that just yet but it will hit retailers in a few months and is just an amazing piece of gear.
A couple more beers for the campsite would’ve been nice! Seriously though, we actually discovered that we were very well equipped. One of us decided against using our Eclipse paddle gloves and wished we’d packed a spare pair. Otherwise we didn’t miss anything. The Sea to Summit kit we had with us was more than sufficient to ensure our gear stayed dry while we were on the water and to have a comfortable set up when we got to our beautiful campsite.
ABB: What was the toughest aspect of touring with an SUP? And what was the most fun aspect?
Toughest was paddling in a head wind. Oh, the hardships of touring with Stand Up Paddle boards! There were a couple of times that the wind was quite strong – stronger than the river current – as it whipped through the canyons, requiring us to really paddle hard to make progress down the river. The plus side of those very canyons was the incredible scenery and wildlife – including a couple of river otter, mountain goats, nesting Bald Eagles, a Golden Eagle and two of our group even saw a mama bear and cub at the river’s edge! The freedom and simplicity of being on the water with just a SUP board, a paddle and minimal gear reminded us of backpacking trips we’d taken. The ability to get away to somewhere remote pretty quickly was hugely appealing. Our trip had the bonus of a little “deep water solo” rock climbing/bouldering along the way. No mats required, as the cliffs overhung the river. A couple of us tested the depth there and it was just fine.
ABB: Besides the essential gear you listed, do you have any advice for people considering a (self-supported) SUP tour?
The usual advice – be prepared. Make a list, check it twice and note the weather prior to departure to ensure you have all the gear you need. If you already own dry bags or other critical gear, give it the once over to make sure the seams are sound, there are no micro-holes or punctures and that your camping gear all fits. We’d also recommend doing a Google Earth search for the stretch of river or coastline you plan to tackle so you can see what the water is like and scout in advance for camping spots that looks nice and distance attainable for your paddling level. We could see on the satellite images that there weren’t many rapids and that they were pretty mellow. Perfect for beginners. Of course, we also read some blog posts and talked to other friends who had done this same trip. It’s also a great idea to check on any permits that may be required. Our permit noted that we needed to have PFD’s with us on our boards (not necessarily worn but carried), a fire pan, portable toilet system and a copy of the actual permit.
ABB: Where and when is the next SUP tour planned for?
Maybe the Yampa River in the vicinity of Steamboat Springs or another section of the Colorado River and hopefully before the end of summer. We’ve got lots of rivers here in Colorado to explore, so now I guess we just start ticking them off.