Sunset over a still lake in BC, Canada
February 16, 2021
Sunset over a still lake in BC, Canada
Having been a white water kayaker for the most part of my life makes the sea to sky corridor in BC is an attractive destination. I first visited BC in 2017 and was blown away by the white water rivers on offer and have since frequented the area and used it as a training ground for kayaking. The majority of the rivers in BC are glacial fed and offer good water levels from around May all the way through to September, making it a long season by any Waterman’s watch. It also gives them their distinct clear blue color that makes for a picture-postcard scene, and they offer views of surrounding snow-capped mountains and evergreens, it really is a magical place.
Paddleboarding on the Kaituna river in New Zealand. Image by Fantail Photos.
It was during a trip to New Zealand in 2018, we had decided to take the Oahu Nui Giant iSUP down the Kaituna River in Rotorua. The Kaituna river boasts the highest commercially rafted river at an impressive 7 meters. The trip was insanely fun and on our second descent we were close to landing the waterfall, all three of us still on the SUP. This is where my excitement for paddleboarding on white water began.
Kayaking the Ashlu River in BC
After getting comfortable on the rivers of BC in my kayak, it was time to start exploring some of the more mellow sections by SUP. Some friends of mine and regular white water SUPers took me to the Green River, just north of Whistler. It is a Class III run that offers lots of great eddies, fast rapids, and tricky features to maneuver around. They decked me out with a quick-release leash and I put my kayaking drysuit to good use. My board of choice for this river was the Big EZ Air, and it was a good choice. The long 11’0” length made picking up speed easy yet the narrow width made turning into eddies quick and efficient.
Carrying the Big EZ Air to the river
Pumping up the Big EZ Air
Standing up on a paddleboard added a whole new element to getting down the river. I had to focus on staying on my feet while navigating the rivers changing features, which is easier said than done. Needless to say, I spent the crux rapid of the run in the water trying to scramble back on my board. Apart from my wet attempt at the biggest rapid, I did manage to stay connected with my board by my feet for the remainder of the run, which I thought was a huge success given my only one other prior experience of SUPing in white water. The paddleboard regulars had no problem with the crux rapid or the rest of the run and styled the river head dry. Still to this day I think that is an impressive feat.
Taking in the scenery
The next river we headed for was a section of the Cheakamus River. The Cheakamus River has some amazing Class V to Class II sections of water. In the winter the rafting companies run the eagle tour float around here as it is ‘the winter home of the bald eagle’, and if you are lucky you’ll see a big bird or 10. The Class V sections of the Cheakamus are renowned among white water kayakers and offer some incredible kayaking including waterfalls and highly technical rapids, they are often the proving ground for some of the more intense white water runs in the area. We headed to a mellow Class II section located in the Paradise Valley region of the Sea To Sky. We had a wonderful float down a 4km section of the river, catching some eddies, jumping off some rocks into the river, and spotting the wildlife. A couple of kilometers above the confluence to the Squamish river the Cheakamus turns up a notch and some bouncy Class III awaits. There is a short section of white water forming a big wave train down the river that offered a great amount of fun, thrills, and spills! Some made it stood up the while rapid, some on their knees and some not on the board at all. From the confluence, we floated a few more kilometers to the Watershed pub on the banks of the Squamish River and got a beer while we waited for our shuttle drivers to arrive.
Enjoying a beer at the take out
A week later I got a call from a good friend, Rapha, who had a great idea. He had been traveling up the highway that runs alongside the Cheakamus river and had noticed that the gates on the dam were open allowing more water than normal to flow through. This created a very runnable waterfall formed but the dam itself. The waterfall is visible from the road but I have never seen the gates open before. I loaded my kayak on the roof and SUP in the trunk and headed out to meet him. It was perfect. We both jumped on in our kayaks for what we assume to be a first descent of the Cheakamus dam.
A rainbow leads the way to the unrun dam
The dam created a decent sized waterfall
In the pool below the waterfall, Rapha had his Pau Hana Diablo ready and waiting. He quickly jumped out his kayak, removed his spray skirt, clipped his leash in, and was ready for the class III-IV section that lay ahead of us on his SUP. I had decided to keep mine in the trunk as I felt this section may have been a bit above my 3-time white water SUP skills! Rapha was quite amazing to watch and styled the river on his feet, boofing waves and holes, peeling in and out of eddies, and even surfing a few waves! It really was impressive, especially now knowing how hard it was. Paddling a hard board in white water has its advantages and disadvantages. The zero flex from the construction makes handling the board easy and cutting through the water a breeze but at the price of avoiding all hard objects. The Diablo is a hard white water specific board made from Ricochet that allows it to take minor knocks from rocks and debris in the water without damaging the board, which made it a good choice for this shallow and fast run. We made it to the take out and celebrated with a beer for another great day on the water.
Rapha weaving his way through the river on the Diablo paddleboard
Kayaking behind Raphs through one of the Cheakamus rapids
There are still so many rivers to explore by paddleboard in BC and I will make it back there one day to try and tick a few more off the list.
What a paddleboard brings to white water is certainly a very different challenge compared with kayaking. I have a long history of being on moving water and I feel comfortable being there. I recommend giving white water paddleboarding a try but I also strongly recommend you get the white water training, correct equipment, and know-how before you go. There are plenty of white water rescue courses available that will equip you with the knowledge you need to make good and safe decisions on the water.
Have you tried white water paddleboarding? If so why not tell us what your favorite river to paddleboard is in the comments.
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