The more you know the more you don't know....
This was my very first trip down The Athabasca River... September 2016.
After many years of looking at the river and wishing to explore it, I hired a local jet boat driver to accompany a friend and I. We set off from town with little to no understanding of the river.
It was a stunning first experience and in this moment began my obsession with exploring more of this waterbody.
Up to this point I have covered 1208 Km kilometres of The Athabasca River on my paddle board. With the intention to complete all of it by 2024.
In this time frame I have completed my River 1 SUP Instructor designation which took me two years to do. I had the assumption like many after paddling essentially moving flat water of my home river that I would breeze through the course...WRONG!
After a very humbling first three day course I began to understand what I really didn't know about reading water, paddling rivers and mitigating safety.
Often as paddle season opens up I get messages about where to go, if it's safe and how long it will take.
Let's test your Paddle IQ to see if you're ready for the adventure you're planning?
What is required as per Transport Canada law for use of your watercraft?
Do you have a float/trip plan?
What is your warm up plan?
Can you self rescue, are you going alone?
If you lost your watercraft can you survive in the water? Or on shore?
What is the number one risk while paddling?
How will you communicate?
Do you have first aid training/first aid kit with you?
Do you have a leash on your SUP?
Do you know the weather conditions?
That's an easy 10 points to answer and plan for. If these are all new concepts for you perhaps consider a little more training or skill development first.
Here's a picture of me departing on a 50 km paddle down The Athabasca River.
I'll answer the above questions relative to this trip:
I require on a SUP a PFD, Whistle and 15 m Throw Bag.
My float plan was informing my husband when I left and what time I planned to arrive, with instructions to go get the jet boat to find me if I didn't check in by 5 pm. You could use the Adventure Smart App for group adventures.
My warm up plan was a bag full of dry clothes, the ability to start a fire and a tarp to shelter under. A silly as it sounds, shoes! You can't walk out barefoot like you could as a kid trust me!
I can self rescue onto my board comfortably and easily I've practiced even when tired and cold (it's harder for sure), if not I can hang onto my board and flutter kick to shore to safety. This is where a dry suit or neoprene is imperative if you end up spending time in the water.
Being warm enough in the water is important read below, as well I have a fire starter, striker, knife and other survival tools in my dry bag. One further note I have a SUP repair kit and a pump with me to fix my inflatable board should it fail.
Hypothermia, what you can't tell from this photo is I have neoprene on my feet, neoprene capris and wool layers under my PFD along with a windbreaker and puffy in my dry bag. (This is early May understand what the temperatures of the water and air are and how they affect you).
My Garmin In Reach satellite communication device is charged and IN my PFD pocket so if I'm left with nothing I can still communicate, I also had my phone but no service the whole time on the river.
Even on a day trip you need to take a first aid kit and prepare for worse case scenarios in your mind to problem solve.
Leashes save lives. It keeps you attached to the giant floating device called your SUP; however rivers are different. Relative to rivers I have a quick release river specific leash which I can disconnect from my board if I become trapped in wood or rocks etc. An ankle leash can be dangerous on moving water, either wear no leash or have a quick release one.
I paddled through sun, rain, wind and then more sun. I knew that the winds would be light and still got caught in a small wind storm. Ironically, on a river I feel safer in wind than a lake. Why? Because I can get to shore quickly and off the water, a lake if the wind blows wrong could send me out to oblivion. As well what is the flow rate? Is it safe?
Consider if your paddling skills allow you to move your board through strong winds, waves or other weather conditions that can occur out there? This is where training through skills classes is imperative! Check out courses coming up! Or contact for a private session.
I hope this gives you some food for thought! The biggest risk we have when doing anything new is the overestimation of our skill level.
Garner knowledge, take a course, paddle with friends you feel safe on the water with.
Sending You Love N' SUP,
Owner Paddle Athabasca
CANRVRSUP Collective Instructor
River 1 SUP Paddle Canada Instructor