How To SUP on the Grand River
A quick guide to prepare you for stand up river paddling in Southern Ontario
Stand Up Paddling has taken the world by storm and for good reason. It’s excellent for balance, great exercise, offers a whole new perspective compared to canoeing or kayaking and is just downright smile inducing fun. The only thing that will bring a bigger smile to your face is doing it on some moving water. Near wilderness setting, easy access, mellow to rollicking river conditions, few hazards and close proximity to the GTA make the Grand River near Paris, Ontario the perfect place to get an introduction to river stand up paddling. Here’s some info from local guide, Jonah Logan, to get you started SUP’ing on the Rio Grande.
SEEK GUIDANCE – River SUP has a different set of skills and more potential hazards compared to flatwater SUP paddling. Hire a local guide or take some lessons from a Paddle Canada or ACA certified “River” SUP Instructor. A local guide will know the river and will instruct you how to deal with its unique obstacles (logs, weirs, low head dams, rocks, swifts, strainers, etc). If an outfitter offers SUP rentals but doesn’t offer guided trips or lessons on the river there’s a good chance they’ve never actually been on a paddleboard. Here are a few skill and safety tips:
1) The Grand can be shallow and bony (river speak for rocky) depending on water levels. Get comfortable with moving forward on your board or going into a surf/kung fu stance so you can throw weight onto your front foot. This will take weight off the rear and help the fin “pop” over obstacles when cruising through shallower sections. Otherwise you may catch a fin and then some air, Superman style.
3) River SUP’ing can often become river swimming. You should be a solid swimmer and learn how to swim properly in a river environment. A lesson can help you with that. The nice thing about a board is that if you do capsize your ride doesn’t fill up with water and become a 1000-pound moving hazard like a canoe. Just flip your board back up and continue rolling down the river.
3) You’re first instinct when you fall off your board is usually to jump in feet first. Don’t. Follow Swiftwater’s Golden Rule: Never stand up in moving water, especially if it’s over your knees. This is because your feet can become wedged between rocks and the current (if strong enough) may continue to push you downstream and underwater. To avoid foot entrapments keep those feet up and pointed downstream until you can safely swim to your board or safety. You can also easily sprain (or break) an ankle jumping off feet first. When you fall try to land on your board or try to make your body as flat as possible to spread out the impact if you’re hitting the water.
GEAR – Everybody’s favorite part!
1) PADDLES- Maybe think about leaving your $500 dollar carbon fiber paddle at home. The shallower sections can be rough on paddles and I’d hate to see anybody bust an expensive stick. Go with something indestructible your first time out. You’ll be squatting more than usual so an adjustable is nice so you can shorten it up if you need to. Also print your name and number on the paddle. Just in case it ends up in Lake Erie.
2) FOOTWEAR – Bomber close toed shoes or booties are essential. You’ll be walking rocky shoreline and may have to hike around obstacles.
3) HELMET – Brain buckets are highly recommended. River SUP is more akin to mountain biking or back country skiing where you need to pick your line and clean it. If you don’t then a helmet often comes in handy. Remember: You don’t tend to swim so good if you’re unconscious.
4) LIFE JACKET – A full life jacket is the way to go on the river (as apposed to a self-inflating belt pack). It will help float you down if you take a swim and will also give you extra padding in case you take a fall.
5) LEASH – WARNING: Never wear an ankle leash in the river. If it gets snagged on something or your leg does you may not be able to reach it to get it off. If you need/desire to wear a leash than use a quick release version that can be clipped to your life jacket where you can reach it easily with both hands. That way if it does get snagged you can set yourself free. Badfish SUP, Corran SUP, and NRS make great quick release river leash options.
6) BOARD – As we’ve said before, sections of the Grand can be rocky and shallow depending on water levels. Conditions that can chew up and spit out a fancy pants fiberglass epoxy board. Use an inflatable, plastic, or specially coated hardboard and go with a short fin set up (under 6”) and bring extras. Running without a fin is an option but these are looong paddles to go finless. Companies like Badfish/Boardworks, Starboard, NRS, Corran, Jackson Kayak and Glide all make river specific paddleboards that are fantastic.
THE RIVER RUNS –
The Beauty – Grand River - Glenn Morris to Paris – 11km – This is one of the coolest and prettiest sections of the Grand and my personal favorite. It has a few mild swifts (okay, rapids) that might seem like a breeze in a canoe or kayak but which take on a whole new dimension of difficulty when you’re standing up. Super fun! You may even get to try and surf a standing wave. Local riverman, Dan Whelan runs it with his dog, Benson, hanging ten (or twenty) on the front of his board!
The Easy Rider – Grand River - Brantford to Paris – 12km - This section is less demanding but is still a nice paddle. It can get very bony at low water levels.
Lazy River – Grand River- Brantford to Oshweken – variable – This is easy river paddling. Wide, deep, slow, and free of obstacles. Unless you get a brutal headwind that is.
The Wild One – Nith River - (Paris Section) – 1 to 15km. The final 1km stretch of the Nith that shoots into the Grand at Paris has some of the only true whitewater (Class 2) in the area at high water levels. Not for the beginner SUP’er. It’s only runnable at higher levels so the season is usually limited to spring thaw and after heavy rains. Totally worth braving the cold (with a drysuit and booties of course). A great little river surf wave forms in Paris when conditions are just right. Just watch out for the elusive Nithian Merwoman.
GO FISH - The Grand and its tributaries have some fantastic fishing and there is no better way to see and slay fish than from a SUP.
EATS AND TREATS – Be sure to check out downtown Paris. It has all the potential and personality of a high end outdoor Mecca without any of the pretense. It offers a plethora of great dining and drinking options for such a small town. For convenience and craft brews our favorites are the Spoke and Paddle (at the Arlington Hotel), Cobblestones or the oddly named Stillwater’s, which has an amazing rooftop patio overlooking the rolling Grand. All are located right on the main drag, Grand River Street.
Start easy and slow, respect the river, and remember that these are just tips. It’s best to take a lesson or to go with an experienced guide/instructor until you become confident with your river SUP technique. Most of all have fun! Hope to see you on the Rio Grande this season! Your next stop will be SUP’ing the Ottawa River!
ABOUT JONAH LOGAN – Jonah Logan is a Paddle Canada Certified River SUP Instructor. He runs North Shore Paddlesurf on the Grand River and also works with South Coast Watersports out of Port Dover on Lake Erie (another SUP paradise). He’s paddled a SUP 215 km down the Grand in 2 days, was one of the first people to complete the grueling Muskoka River X expedition paddling race standing up and did the first SUP crossing of Lake Erie (with friend, Tom Comet). He’s been a clown for Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas and performed his own show on Broadway and around the world. In between, he’s been a pyrotechnician, stuntman, rigger, theatre designer, rock and ice climbing instructor, river guide, and most recently a father. He grew up paddling in Brant and Norfolk County and recently returned to start up a family with his lovely and talented aerialist wife, Sabrina, daughter (circus artist in training) Rosie and little giant Waylon.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.northshorepaddlesurf.com and www.southcoastwatersports.com for more information.