Favorite SUP Run
New River, VA —Luke Hopkins, founder of Stride Stand Up Paddleboards in Blacksburg, Va.
While the rest of the world is going gaga for stand up paddleboarding (SUP) on hardcore whitewater rivers, Luke Hopkins has grown keen on the mellower version of the sport. Hopkins is the founder and owner of Stride Stand Up Paddleboards, but now he’s more into cruising. That’s why he likes the 36-mile stretch of the New River between McCoy Falls and the West Virginia state line.
“It’s an incredible place to cruise with a slow moving current, wildlife everywhere, and the best smallmouth bass fishing in the country,” Hopkins says. “Seeing fish from on top of a paddleboard will blow you away.”
SUP Cred: The combination of mild water and the proximity to outfitters has turned this corner of Southwest Virginia into an incubator for SUP activity. Tangent Outfitters is using this stretch of the New to create a host of innovative SUP trips, from fly fishing excursions to overnight wilderness paddles. “If you would’ve asked me 10 years ago what my favorite SUP river was, I would have said Great Falls of the Potomac,” Hopkins says. “But now, I’m into getting my wife and daughter on the board and cruising. The New is perfect for that.”
Rapids: There are a couple of class II rapids along a primo eight-mile stretch of water between Eggleston and Pembroke, but you don’t pick this piece of the New for whitewater. You SUP this stretch for the scenery. The river is banked by a mix of vertical rock cliffs and green mountain slopes. You’ll even spy a natural arch a mile downstream of the Eggleston Bridge if you keep an eye out.
Logistics: Put in at the public boat ramp on Eggleston River Road and take out eight miles later at the public boat ramp in Pembroke. Tangent Outfitters rents paddleboards and offers lessons and guided trips, from half-day flatwater paddles on Pembroke Pond to two-day overnight trips.
Nantahala River, NC —Chris Tilghman, stand-up paddleboard guide and surf shop owner
It’s hard to imagine any sport that’s hotter than stand-up paddleboarding right now. The boards aren’t cheap, but the learning curve is short, particularly if you’re looking for a different way to cruise flat water. But Chris Tilghman, owner of the Blue Ridge Surf Shop in North Georgia, is stoked about the burgeoning SUP whitewater niche.
“This side of the sport is just now being explored in the South,” Tilghman says. “First descents are just now being logged, so the sport is wide open.”
Tilghman is coming to the sport with a surfing background (15 years surfing big waves in Hawaii), but likes whitewater SUPing because of the technical nature of rivers.
“This is more exciting than surfing big waves, in a way, because there’s so much going on with river running. It’s just so technical, you always have to be thinking,” Tilghman says. Big drops are the
next frontier for SUP, but the boards lend themselves more naturally to wave trains, which are plentiful on the Nantahala.
“The Nantahala doesn’t have too many drops and the water isn’t too technical, but it’s fast, and the wave trains are so exciting,” he says.
The Nantahala is one of the most paddled rivers in the Southeast, but the advent of the SUP is allowing boaters to rediscover this river all over again.
SUP Cred: The Nantahala is a world-class play boating destination that was recently tapped to host the 2013 World Freestyle Championships. It’s also going to be the site of the South’s first downriver SUP race in August. The race will feature a full timed run, slalom, and a boardercross where heats of SUPers will go head to head. In 2010, the river held the Emotion SUP Showdown, where the longest ride at the footbridge wave took top honors.
Rapids: Run the entire eight-mile Nantahala and you’ll be treated with fast, near constant class I-II whitewater with the occasional class II+ thrown in. The run ends with Nantahala Falls, a surprisingly technical class III drop that Tilghman has yet to run standing up without swimming. Keep an eye out for Patton’s Run, right out of the gate. This II+ wave train is known for its push, medium-sized waves and Jaws, a large boulder you should do everything you can to avoid.
Logistics: Put in at the forest service ramp at Beechertown and take out after Nantahala Falls at the Nantahala Outdoor Center ramp. Get SUP lessons, rentals, or guided trips from Surf Blue Ridge (surfblueridge-sup.com). If you’re not up for the Nantahala, take a more beginner-friendly trip on the Toccoa River tail waters in North Georgia.