“If I start pointing my paddle frantically in one direction it means paddle that way fast,” instructed Ben Moore, our SUP guide, as we stood on the banks of the James River.

A crew from Appomattox River Company had rolled into Richmond, last Thursday, for a little whitewater paddle-boarding with Ben Moore and Mitch Davis of Riverside Outfitters. Ben, a BIC SUP and Werner Paddle Pro, had been after me for a while to get on the James River with him and experience the SUP life in downtown Richmond. I’d gotten home the day before from a two week road trip, fishing from Louisiana to Tennessee. I was a little whupped, but the prospect of paddle-boarding with the guys from work got me psyched.

Eleven of us met at Riverside Outfitters around 12pm. RO has a cool little outdoor recreation compound in Richmond from which they stage rafting, climbing, biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, etc trips throughout the area. Ben and Mitch informed us we’d paddle the Wetlands to Reedy Creek section. It’s got some very friendly Class I and II rapids that are perfect for the first time whitewater paddle-boarder. After a short bus ride and a concise, informative safety talk from Ben, we found ourselves standing on some Jackson Kayak SuperCharger SUPs in the middle of the James River. Fall colors were in effect.

On the water we got comfortable on our boards, playing paddle board chicken and a few other games geared towards acclimating us to our water legs. The first stop was a little ripple above the Powhite Bridge. I tried to surf it and ended up in the drink. I was all smiles though.

“This is just good clean fun!” I found myself exclaiming, over and over to anyone that would listen.

The water is cool right now, so it’s important to layer up in proper clothing. My Immersion Research paddling jacket was on point. I was also psyched I got to test out my Astral Hiyak Shoes/ Booties, which look a lot like the old Air Jordan’s of my youth.

After the surf session, we headed down river towards Choo-Choo Rapids. Choo-Choo would be our first real test. A solid Class 2 with some decent water running through it, we were all determined to stay on our feet through the whole thing. Ben and Mitch deftly navigated the James River on their BIC SUP boards, showing us the lines and making sure we stayed safe. After a brief snack, and talk / scouting of the rapid, we boarded up and headed into the whitewater one at a time. Every one did awesome! It was such a blast. Guys were hooting and hollering all the way through the little wave train that followed Choo-Choo. I grabbed some shots of all the guys running it, then loaded up and headed in myself. It was a wild, fun ride!

Following Choo-Choo Rapid we ran Mitchell’s Gut and a few other small ripples. By the time we got to the take-out sign everyone was laughing and talking about doing it again. Coming into the take-out channel, you just start to see signs of downtown Richmond. Buildings loomed on the horizon towards the Lower James section, a more difficult run. The James River in Richmond is a true gem of urban water. There were times I completely forgot we were in the capital city. It was a fantastic way for us, as co-workers, to share in a exhilarating experience.

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“I want to bring my wife down here!”, “I want to come back before winter and do it again.”, “How much does this cost if I come back next week?” The boys were psyched.

The crew at Riverside Outfitters is awesome. These guys and gals carry a lot of passion for the James River scene in Richmond. They are advocates, ambassadors and die-hard users for and of this amazing resource. We were all impressed, both with the quality of the instruction and the joyful bliss of RVA SUP. Ben and Mitch were top notch guides. They’ll not only guide you safely down the river, but they’ll lead you to love that same river for all that it brings to the city.

I’m primarily a kayak angler, though I’ve paddled some whitewater in WV from a kayak. My wife is the real whitewater star, having competed professionally for a good period of her life. I was thankful for getting to experience just a tiny taste of the river that shaped her upbringing in the paddling world. I had been a little skeptical of the river SUP thing, but no longer. It was so effortlessly smile inducing, which is how I measure fun activities, that I know I’ll be back at it very soon.

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When I got home, bursting with enthusiasm and appreciation my wife smiled (and always the pragmatists) said, “Good, I’m so happy for you! Sounds like you found your path to enjoying whitewater. Now I don’t have to worry about rescuing you from a kayak.”

Rivers have been tied to human exploration for as long as we’ve traveled this planet. Floating these rivers is intrinsic to our nature. We have so many beautiful stretches of flowing water in this country, in the southeast. Get out there. Explore. Tune in to the wilderness outside and your wild inside. The James River in Richmond gives you a beautiful opportunity to get a taste of that wilderness at the doorstep of urban  civilization. It’s a true gift.

I love fishing from my kayak, but I’m grateful to have found a new way to appreciate the river’s bounty. Put whitewater paddle-boarding on your radar.