River & Whitewater Paddle Boarding Guide


To both experts and people who are getting started with paddleboarding, rivers offer what can be considered to be the most varied challenges and opportunities. When exploring a river on your beginner stand paddleboard, you will come across fast-moving rapids, gentle currents, huge expanses of flat, calm waters, and even standing waves that can be surfed.

When selecting a river paddleboard, your choice will largely depend on the terrain you will be exploring during your next paddleboarding trip. Making your decision before considering the river features you will have to interact with could easily lead to you choosing the wrong affordable paddleboard.

Whitewater SUP boards can be tuned for use anywhere in the whitewater. Some can be designed for use in only specific areas. In this article, we will focus on helping you make the right decision when choosing downstream (river running) paddleboards, park and play (river surfing) paddleboards, and paddleboards which can be used anywhere in the whitewater.

Choosing the Right River Paddle Board for Downstream (River Running) Paddle Boarding

If you intend to transport a river paddleboard ideal for downstream paddleboarding, you should look for a board that is relatively short and wide. The ideal width for the paddleboard should be 35 to 36 inches. Its length should be approximately 9 feet and 6 inches. If you want a paddleboard capable of offering higher speeds, you can look for a paddleboard whose length exceeds 9 feet and 6 inches.

Rapids are generally turbulent. This means that they can be incredibly challenging. Hence, stability is crucial when choosing a downstream river paddleboard.

Maneuvering around obstacles is often necessary during downstream paddle boarding. A short river paddleboard will have the ability to turn quickly. This makes maneuvering easier.

Most river running whitewater SUP paddleboards can be incredibly limiting if you decide to use them in other types of paddleboarding. Shorter and wide Isle SUP boards are slow. For you to ensure that they are tracking straight, you have to use a lot of corrective strokes.

For your paddle blade to clear the board edges, you will have to reach further to the side. This can be quite uncomfortable if you intend to paddle for a long period of time.

However, if your goal is to get through class IV rapids without having to swim, a wide and short whitewater SUP paddleboard can help you improve paddling performance. To ensure that you are getting the most benefits from the downstream paddleboard, dedicated training is often necessary.

The Ideal Park and Play (River Surfing) Paddleboard

When compared to using your best surfboard to surf in the ocean, surfing the stationary river waves on your river paddleboard usually has very different demands. Even if you are just getting started with SUP surfing, you have probably noticed that the majority of the surfable river waves feature very little space in front of them. This demands a shorter river paddleboard featuring a bigger upward curve in the nose when compared to the surfboard you would use on the ocean waves.

The mechanics used when paddling a standing paddleboard into the river wave and then maneuvering the wave face are pretty different from ocean surfing. Over the years, the shapes which work in a river surfing environment have evolved through testing and experimentation.

When compared to the multi-purpose whitewater SUP boards, river surfing boards are much shorter. Their length ranges from 6 to 8 feet. They feature a moderate width of about 30 to 33 inches. They are either nearly rectangular or widely rounded at the tail and nose.

The river surfing boards feature a rocker curve which is optimized to ensure prolonged planning is achieved while ensuring that the nose doesn’t get submerged in the cresting water. The wide flat tail and overall width allow the river surfing paddleboards to stay stable on the wave face. On longer and more open waves featuring good lateral recovery and turning, you can surf larger boards.

The Best River Paddle Board for All-Around and Whitewater Paddle Boarding

If you intend to enjoy the benefits of paddleboarding by exploring various river sections, going out with one of your overly specialized whitewater SUP boards can be incredibly limiting. On a single river paddleboarding outing, you are likely to find yourself paddling cross-stream, upstream, or downstream while running into rapids. You will also come across parts of the river featuring still water.

For these reasons, you should invest in an all-around paddleboard that has the ability to perform well in a wide variety of river conditions. Finding an all-around paddleboard that is being advertised for whitewater paddleboarding is not easy. Hence, you need to understand the features to watch out for before investing in the first multipurpose bamboo paddleboard you come across.

The ideal multi-purpose board should be long enough to allow fast paddling but not too long so that it makes it easier for you to paddle around the obstacles. The ideal length should be approximately 10 to 11 feet. The width should be approximately 33 to 34 inches. It should also feature a fin system that can be easily customized when using the paddleboard in whitewater.

Paying Attention to the River Paddle Board Fin is Crucial


After sizing your SUP paddleboard correctly and selecting the perfect shape for the type of paddling you intend to do, you will need to pay attention to the whitewater SUP board fin. While most people do ignore the fin, it is capable of making a huge difference in the river paddleboard tunability and performance.

You are likely to come across soft top paddle boards featuring 2-fin, 3-fin, quad-fin (4-fin), and 5-fin in varying configurations. What you will need to watch out for is a system that features removable fins that can be swapped out and reconfigured for different conditions with ease. Some of the best configurations include:

  • When speed is a priority, look for a paddleboard featuring a long center fin.
  • When you need to achieve some lateral control, make sure that the paddleboard you choose features a long center fin and some shorter fins on the sides. This configuration is ideal for varying terrains. Most of the whitewater SUP paddleboards will have this configuration considering it is the default.
  • If you are expecting some exposed rocks and shallow waters, the ideal fin configuration is 3-medium length fins featuring the same size.
  • For exploring the shallow waters, choose a configuration featuring 3 extra-short fins.
  • If you want to get over obstacles easily, make sure your paddleboard features a quad-fin setup that leaves the centerline clear. This clear centerline will make it possible for you to get over the obstacles.
  • To achieve maximum lateral traction, choose a paddleboard that features 5 fins (short to medium length).

If you are still wondering what is SUP, you may wonder how you are supposed to achieve flexibility with your paddleboard fins. You can achieve flexibility with the fin setups if you invest in a touring paddleboard whose fins can be removed.

3 fin boxes will offer enough options for the majority of the purposes, provided that the different fins are available for the required fin system. 5 fin box setups are more common on specialized whitewater SUP boards where both complexity and extra weight are justifiable. Most paddleboarders rarely need the complexity offered by the 5-fin configuration.

Fins do break during whitewater paddleboarding. For this reason, being prepared for the possibility of fin breakage is always a great idea. To reduce the chances of the fin breaking, you can invest in a fin that has the ability to retract when hitting an obstacle and then springing back once it clears the obstacle. It is essential to note that even a retracting fin can fail considering that the board can be hit from the side by the rushing water and hence hitting the obstacle from a position that makes retracting impossible.

2-fin setups are generally not recommended. This is because they usually lack the control and flexibility offered by removable center fin. Removing the center fin is usually enough for most paddleboarders. They can remove the fin whenever they need to paddle with only the fins on either side of the paddleboard.

While most whitewater paddleboarders do overlook the non-removable three-fin setups, they can be an ideal trouble-free option for people who are trying to avoid the hassle usually associated with fin boxes. Provided that the board is ideal for the task you intend to put it through, 3-fin setups should have the ability to perform well in the majority of the conditions.

Making Sure That The Deck Pad is Ideal for Whitewater Paddle Boarding

If your goal is to use your best SUP paddles to explore the river, you need to ensure that the deck pad features enough grip. A pattern of deep grooves in a criss-cross or diamond shape will work much better when compared to crocodile skin or a smooth brushed pattern when water shedding and maximum traction are necessary.

You should look for a deck pad that covers more than 50% of the front part of the paddleboard. When navigating the rough whitewater on your river paddleboard, you will have to move around. Having enough traction in all the areas where you might find yourself standing will help boost paddleboard safety.

Properly designed whitewater SUP paddleboards should have a raised rear edge at the deck pad tail. This will keep you from slipping off whenever you apply tail pressure. You should look for a paddleboard featuring a raised arch bar centered on the tail. This acts as the leverage point when turning and also helps you locate the rearfoot without having to look back and down.

Numerous extra attachment points are not recommended on the board or deck pad. These could end up getting in the way of the footwork. You could end up getting snagged on things, especially if you are in moving water. While you may come across whitewater SUP paddleboards with numerous attachments, experienced whitewater paddleboarders rarely require more than one attachment.

Hard Versus Inflatable Whitewater SUP Boards

Most whitewater paddleboarders consider the inflatable paddleboards to be a default choice. When compared to the hard paddleboards, they are usually better suited for whitewater/river paddling.

Hard paddle boards are usually manufactured using materials like Kevlar, plastics, wood, fiberglass, and foam. They usually feature a layer of epoxy resin for protection. Kevlar and bamboo veneers are capable of creating rigidity and durability while foam offers buoyancy.

While hard SUPs can offer better responsiveness and performance in downwind and surf, they are more likely to suffer damage. If an epoxy paddleboard hits a rock, it won’t have the ability to bounce off. For this reason, it will end up suffering serious damage.

Inflatable river paddleboards are manufactured from PVC layers with woven fibers connecting the bottom and top at various points on the inside. They weigh anywhere between 18 and 28 pounds. They feature a valve where the owner attaches a pump and uses it to inflate the paddleboard, normally to approximately 15 psi.

The reason most white paddleboarders invest in inflatable SUPs is that they are less likely to suffer damages. If a well-built inflatable paddleboard happens to hit a rock, it will have the ability to bounce off the obstacles without suffering serious damage.

Globo Surf Overview

Whitewater and river paddleboarding will be much fun if you invest in the right river paddleboard. If you are a whitewater paddleboarding enthusiast, you may want to own several specialty boards for varying purposes. Before investing in a whitewater SUP board, you will need to consider whether it is designed to surf standing waves, running rapids, or explore still waters. If your goal is to invest in a single paddleboard that has the ability to perform well in a wide range of conditions, you should consider going for an all-around paddleboard.

More Paddle Reviews:


  1. Quick guide to SUP boards for Whitewater, Bluefinsupboards.com
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!