Paddling the Rapids – Whitewater Safety Tips from pro paddler Paul Clark

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Kialoa team rider Paul Clark talks river safety for standup paddling
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Kialoa Paddles team rider Paul Clark knows whitewater. Living and breathing in the Pacific North West, Paul is an explorer and spends his water time in Oregon’s rivers whitewater paddling. He’s a pro in his field and even helped design the new Big Eddy white water paddle released from Kialoa, newly designed with stability and maneuverability in mind.


1.) ALWAYS practice S.H.I.P.P.S. (This is your river running uniform): Shoes, Helmet, Insulation, PFD, Padding and have a Signaling device a.k.a. whistle.

2.) STAY LOW and keep your PADDLE IN the WATER. Most people attempt to run rapids standing up. What happens is that they get ‘too tall’, raise their paddle above their heads and fall in. I coach all newbie river paddlers to stay low. It really helps for stability and control which translates into greater safety and increased confidence.

3.) FALL FLAT. Land on your board, if you can OR fall butt first into the river to avoid going deep in shallow/rocky water. Remember, inflatable paddleboards are easier to fall on and damage less easily when moving through the rapids.

4.) PADDLE with EXPERIENCED PADDLERS. That means other folks, whether stand up paddlers or boaters who are able to both encourage and supervise. It is good to experiment with other river crafts like kayaks, rafts and canoes. River stand up paddling is definitely a hybrid of all those different kinds of crafts.

5.) RESPECT the POWER of the RIVER. Take swift water rescue courses and ALWAYS get lessons from experienced instructors.

6.) HAVE FUN. River paddling can be too mental sometimes with so many variables: techniques to master, fear to overcome and frustrations from unsuccessful “clean” runs. The more fun you have the easier it all becomes. Laugh out loud!

7. ) LEASHES.* If you are stand up paddling on a river, your leash should be worn above the waist and include a QUICK RELEASE mechanism. Although much of river standup paddling can be subjective (glass vs. inflatables, river surfing or river running), on thing is NOT. Leashes are ABOVE the waist. Period.

Paul says, “I wear a leash on most rivers that are deep and swift where the board can get away from you in a hurry. In shallow, tech-y rivers with boulder gardens, strainers and sweepers, I rarely wear a leash. And NEVER when dropping on waterfalls. I often wear the Astral Green Jacket rescue vest with the leash attached to the quick release belt. If this is overkill in certain situations, I opt for Hala’s quick release shackle attached to my vest.”

Paul has just returned from an 8-day adventure tour in Chile’s Patagonia region, running the rivers and exploring these vistas via stand up paddling. Stay tuned for his blog on his adventures there at You can stay in touch with Paul Clark on his website: and stay in touch with him on his Oregan River SUP Safari tours and clinics.

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Evelyn O’Doherty
Evelyn O'Doherty, owner & publisher of the new Standup Journal 2.0, worked her way up the ranks in the world of stand up paddling. A former surfer gone rogue, Evelyn stepped onto a SUP for the first time in 2009 when a plaguing neck injury kept her out of the water from surfing. Discovering the core benefits and expanded perspective on the water that stand up paddling brings, Ev immediately was hooked. She became a strong SUP racer in the North East and a year-round SUP surfer, gathering multiple top brand sponsorships including becoming a team rider for Starboard SUP and a national ambassador for Kialoa, as well as celebrating all aspects of the sport with additional brand ambassadorships including lululemon athletica, Clif Bar, Cobian, Kaenon & Indo Board. Her love of watersports and commitment to advocacy in preserving our marine environments led to a short film made with The Nature Conservancy as part of their Clean Water initiatives on Long Island, NY, called "A New Perspective". Evelyn just keeps paddling. Today, she's stepped up to take over the helm at Standup Journal after having worked for the magazine for 2 years as senior online editor. Her dedication and belief in the power of print to immerse readers in the watersports they love even if they don't have access to the water in a daily existence plus a powerful desire to spotlight the amazing people doing rad sh*t on the water is what drives her vision for Standup Journal 2.0. Evelyn welcomes the conversation about how to make the magazine benefit as many people as possible and encourages feedback, letters to the editor and communication at . Now, as owner/publisher for Standup Journal., Evelyn continues to live in East Hampton NY where she has daily access to the water. When the swell is working, you can find her in Montauk rattling around in her Ford Ranger surfboards hanging out the back headed for points East.