Many people who live in our state have ﬂoated the Yakima River from Ellensburg to the Roza Dam at one point or another. For some, it’s a yearly tradition — for others, time spent ﬂoating down this stretch of our beautiful river was in their high school or college years.
Either way, these fun, summer experiences might include some or all of the following: a tube or other ﬂoatation device (bonus points for a unicorn ﬂoaty or other magical creature), a paddle (for steering, of course), sunglasses, hopefully gobs of sunscreen (you’ll be out there all day in the hot, Yakima sun) and a ﬂoaty cooler with snacks and “beverages” — hopefully there’s no need to explain the air quotes.
As much fun as these relaxing days on the river can be, what if there were another, more exciting, more adventurous way for you to explore the river this spring, summer and early fall? Good thing you asked, because there deﬁnitely is — you can paddle the river on your stand up paddle (SUP) board! But before you grab the foam SUP you bought oﬀ of craigslist and head straight to the river, there are a few things you should consider.
Use the Right Gear
Like every other sport, using the right gear is insanely important. For instance, many people don’t think about their ﬁn length before they drop into the river after paddling on the ocean or a lake.
River ﬁns are much shorter — the reason being that they won’t hit rocks unless it is SUPER shallow. (If you’ve ever hit a rock or downed tree while standing on your board and paddling, most likely your face got very familiar with your board very quickly, or you took a nice face plant into rocks in shallow water, both of which have happened to me in my early years paddling rivers. I do not recommend.)
Personal floatation devices (PFDs) aren’t created equal, either. For lake SUP, waist PFDs are OK if you are a strong swimmer and it isn’t windy and/or there isn’t wind in the forecast. That being said, I always recommend an SUP vest PFD to ALL of my clients (for river, lake or ocean). No matter how conﬁdent a swimmer you are, a vest is much safer than a waist PFD because you take away the human error and the self-inﬂating error that could occur when using a waist PFD in an emergency.
The standard river SUP “outﬁt” consists of a vest PFD, a quick release leash (you do not want to use normal leashes on a river because it could get caught on a rock and pull you under — it’s better to lose your board than your life) and a helmet. These items are what we always recommend to clients who are going to be paddling any type of rivers with rapids, fast moving water, etc — basically anything above Class 1. FYI, my husband, Andy, wears this entire setup when he paddles the Tieton and Naches rivers on his SUP.
Also, remember that in Washington state, SUPs are considered vessels, so legally you must always have a PFD, whistle and light with you when you are on any body of water on your SUP.
If you know me as a coach, you know that safety is always my main concern. I like my clients and the public in general to be prepared before they embark on an adventure, whether on the trail, the mountains, rivers or lakes. And being prepared doesn’t just mean physically. Be mentally prepared as well.
Why is this also important? Because if things go sideways and you don’t have the mental strength to deal with it, (aka you freak out and freeze instead of jumping to action), things will get worse and accidents that could have been avoided will occur. Make sure you’re familiar with river water safety as well as what you physically and mentally will need to do if you or your partner falls into the river at any point. Moving water is much diﬀerent than standing water, period.
Know the Hazards & Plan Your Route
Not all rivers or parts of individual rivers are safe to paddle. For example, there are certain stretches of the Naches and Tieton river that I have confidently paddled, but there are other sections you will never see me even try to paddle. This is the same with the Yakima or any other river. DO NOT paddle a section of river that you aren’t sure is safe. There could be downed trees, dams, reroutes, etc. that could injure be life-threatening.
There are actually quite a few sections of the Yakima River that are safe to paddle on your SUP certain times of the year with the right gear. The section of the Yakima River in the Yakima Canyon is the most mellow stretch of the Yakima River and is considered a Class 1 river. But keep in mind that the water levels of the Yakima River as well as all of the other rivers ﬂuctuate with snowmelt and with the amount of water that is let out of dams upstream, etc. More water means a faster river and most likely larger, more dangerous rapids, whereas less water means slower water but potentially more hazards if it is too shallow. (You can check river depth for the Yakima River online at https://waterdata.usgs.gov/).
One of the main things we teach in our clinics is to stay away from the shoreline — especially on corners, because they can be deadly. Also, be respectful of other users of the river and give anglers a large berth, making sure to never go between them and the shoreline. We can share the river and all have fun doing what we love!
Take a Clinic or Private Lesson
As with anything that we are learning or trying to improve at, taking a lesson or clinic can help improve skill sets and increase your conﬁdence.
Andy and I teach River SUP clinics and lessons all spring, summer and fall in the Yakima Canyon for all levels of paddlers, from true beginners up to advanced paddlers. We start everyone on a private lake where we focus on skills, safety and confidence building and then once everyone is prepared and ready to take on moving water, we head up river and drop in at Red’s Fly Shop.
From there, we practice our skills together while stopping along the way to talk about hazards, work through the more difficult zones and to have snacks and water of course! At the end of our clinic, we head back to the private lake for a relaxing happy hour that is every bit earned!
If you’re interested in hopping into one or our public clinics or want to set up a private clinic or lesson, head on over to www.mahremade.com for more information or to register.