Whitewater wisdom from Trey Knight, USNWC

This is the first on a series of whitewater gear and technique Q/A posts from whitewater sup educators. This one is from Trey Knight, Kayak Program Manager and standup paddle yoda at the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC.

Question: What kind of basic equipment does a paddler need to get started in whitewater paddling?


“As you know the outdoor industry has grown in recent years. Due to this growth there are many quality products and the competition has helped with quality and price. The downside is there is a lot of more frugal and less quality products and many people getting into whitewater (SUP or other sports) are intimidated by the equipment and the potential costs of the endeavor and choose lower quality gear because of the price.
This is true in many sports, including SUP for flatwater and racing, but the lower quality equipment can become a safety concern in the river.
In river SUP, one of the greatest causes for concern is the use of leashes and the lack of understanding of the true risks associated with them. Education is the best answer.
Other important equipment are helmets (built for whitewater) that work well for SUP. Most whitewater equipment is built for kayaks. Most of it works great for SUP, however there are some that do not, and others that works better.
PFD’s and shoes are the same way. Some PFD’s are better for SUP and leashes than others because of some small differences. Shoes for the river are built for sticking to wet slippery rocks. This is an important benefit that helps in river SUP, however it also can be a disadvantage. The rubber used to stick to wet slippery rocks is soft and because soft rubber sticks well to hard objects like rocks. It doesn’t always stick well to soft materials such as SUP deck pads. The types of foam used on the deck pads can help determine which shoes might give you better traction on your board.
There are also throw ropes and other items river SUP paddlers would want to invest in eventually. They should learn how to use these before doing so. A basic river rescue course is very valuable to all paddlers, especially those who spend time falling off their boards and swimming in whitewater.”
Trey Knight

I’ll be marching through some gear over the next few months as i learn more about river paddling. I hope to spend more time in Charlotte before heading to Ottawa, CA in July.

What questions do you have about whitewater paddling? I know I have a ton.

There’s more to it than sticking on a helmet and hopping in the froth