- The heavier the SUP, the more force required to move it and the more force on the paddler's joints. Adding touring/camping equipment to the board further increases the initial forces; note that the force dissipates somewhat once the board is moving but returns with directional changes. Also note that the heavier the board is, the slower it reacts to waves and current lines. Paddling into the wind increases the stress on the paddler, especially standing. A lateral wind forces the paddler to paddle on the leeward side of the board to compensate for the prevailing wind and maintain the desired direction. This increases the potential for over-use injuries on that side.
- Ideally, paddlers should be trained in standing, kneeling, and sitting positions. There is more wind resistance in the standing position. The kneeling position can be hard on a paddler's knees (especially older paddlers and ones with a history of knee injury) but is the most stable position in whitewater. Expedition-based SUP programs need to consider the amount of time a student group will spend paddling each day and ideally should provide equipment to reduce the forces on the paddler's bodies. This means numerous breaks and position changes throughout the day to prevent overuse injuries, adjustable paddles to accommodate different paddling positions, small blades, knee pads, and two bladed paddle options (especially in windy conditions). A few touring boards come with back rests and foot supports to enable comfortable paddling in the sitting position. Double bladed paddles work best in the sitting and kneeling positions. Single bladed paddles work best standing or kneeling.
- Fiberglass boards are significantly lighter than plastic, much more expensive, and simply not suited to the rigors of commercial expedition-based travel. The plastic shell on BIC Sports boards adds a level of protection but are more expensive and less durable than an all plastic board. All hard boards require a trailer for transport; Inflatable boards roll up for easy transport, are more durable than fiberglass boards, but are generally unsuitable for commercial expedition-based travel. Whitewater SUPs tend to be wider, shorter, and have rocker to increase their stability and maneuverability in moving current and whitewater. With a fin, or fins, they track reasonably well in flat water but are noticeably slower than touring boards. Touring boards come in varying lengths, the longer the board, the faster they are and the better they track. Also, the longer the board the narrower they tend to be.
There is something special about self-supported SUP travel but even with good site management there will be more inherent risk in a self-support trip than a trip with a support boat.
Support boats — motor craft for lake travel or rafts for river travel — provide a solid safety net, especially for beginning paddlers, carry camping gear (thus reducing overuse injuries), allow longer trips, and permit luxuries; however, there are drawbacks:
- Support craft are expensive to outfit, transport, and run; they require at least one additional staff person.
- The noise of support motor craft can be bothersome. This can be avoided by the support boat staying behind or ahead of the group but within radio calling distance.
Note that self-rescue with a overturned and loaded kayak or canoe is significantly more challenging and slower than, SUP self-rescue when a leash is used.
Site management is typically challenging due to the difference in physical abilities and interest among students, the number of students, and the amount of flat water and amount and class of whitewater. There is NO way to help a student paddle faster other than training and group pressure.
- A student who is pushed too hard physically will develop over-use injuries that may ultimately prevent them from continuing with the trip; the timing of their development is highly variable and essentially unpredictable.
- Towing an injured or tired student on a SUP is a difficult proposition for an SUP instructor; a double bladed paddle, back rest, and foot supports makes it significantly easier.
- Head or side winds on a large lake is a challenging environment for all paddle-based watercraft. Instructors need to keep the group together and travel along the lee shore so students are not blown towards the center of the lake where rescue is difficult. It's important to have safe landings along the lee shore where a student group can wait out the wind. An instructor to student ratio of one instructor to three students allows a group of nine to travel as a single group with instructors in the lead, middle, and sweep positions that can also be modified to include flanking. The 1:3 ratio also permits instructors to divide the group into ability-based pods for easier management in difficult conditions. It will be vital to the trip's success to avoid head and side winds. Fins and proper board trim will help students maintain headway in flat water and wind.
- Use stationary sites to train eddy turns, peel outs, ferries, and rescue. Ensure that students have mastered basic skill board-handling skills in both kneeling and standing positions before relying on their skills during moving sites.
In my view the ultimate expedition board has yet to be designed: I'd love to see a plastic ± ten foot long-board under 60 pounds with a high-volume bow to shed water, bow and stern rocker for maneuvering in Class II-III whitewater, recessed deck, two large water-tight hatches, bow and stern lash points, multiple fin options for flat water, and a 350 pound carrying capacity. While my ideal board doesn't currently exist (and may never exist), there are a number of plastic boards that come close likely suitable for your multi-day expedition-based SUP program:
- Imagine Surf Wizard is a versatile board. It's biggest drawback is its weight; maximum paddler/gear weight is 300 pounds. I particularly like the hatches and interior storage options; while interior of the board is not completely waterproof, the hatches keep the majority of the water out. If you pack heavier items below the deck the board is more stable. It can handle Class I to easy, open Class II rapids.
- Imagine Surf Speeder is faster and lighter but narrower, and not as stable with less below deck storage. While interior of the board is not completely waterproof, the hatch keeps the majority of the water out.
- Corran SUP Waikiki is stable and faster than the Imagine Surf Wizard and has a smaller hatch, but its internal storage is dry. It is a little wider, heavier, and slower than the Imagine Surf Speeder but can carry more weight (350 pounds). It can handle Class I to easy, open Class II rapids.
- Corran SUP StreetFighter is a good whitewater board with a fair amount of dry storage below deck if you remove the small bowl-shaped storage area and insert a mini-cell foam wall in the bow. It has a fin that is on a hinge and pops up when it hits a rock without slowing the board. This means a beginning paddler can control the board better. It's payload maxes out at 250 pounds, including paddler weight, and is enough for a couple of days if you travel light. It is quite sluggish on long flatware paddles but can handle Class III+ whitewater when fully loaded.
- Jackson SuperCharger is another good whitewater board with no below deck storage but reasonable carrying capacity on the deck itself; it is also sluggish on flatware.
- All the boards listed above EXCEPT the Jackson SuperCharger have an optional seat. The Corran SUP seat could be added to the SuperCharger. The Corran SUP Cobalt paddle converts to a kayak paddle for kneeling or sitting.
- Use a Type III Coast Guard approved life jacket with lots of room in the shoulders for freedom of movement. Avoid life jackets with floatation under the arms to prevent chaffing; comfort is important. Chaffing is less of an issue if it's cool and clothing is worn. If your company safety policy requires a life-jacket, use one. Properly fitted and adjusted life jackets should be worn in moving water, whitewater, wind, waves, and under any circumstances where a sudden change in weather is possible. In warm, calm water I don't believe a life jacket is necessary with a swim test; this is similar to paddling a canoe in warm, calm water. Paddling without a life-jacket is more enjoyable.
- Leashes increase self-rescue potential; this is especially helpful in rapids and wind. It's easy for a board to get away from a swimmer in current or wind. Require and train paddlers to use quick release leashes when wind or current could separate a paddler from their board; both Badfish SUP and Corran SUP make releasable leashes. Avoid ankle and knee leashes.
- Require a simple helmet in whitewater. I wear a helmet in whitewater, but I've never come close to hitting my head and I've taken some HUGE spills in rapids; from programmatic perspective you would be likely considered negligent in a moving or whitewater situation if a student hit their head and was injured.
- Use a solid skill progression and stationary sites for initial paddle and rescue training. Train self-rescue and towing in waves near a leeward shore with a safe shoreline/bank so wind blows students to shore if they have problems. Train moving current & whitewater self-rescue, towing, and leash release in deep tail waves with eddies on both sides of the wave train and calm water below.
- Have knee and elbow pads available for everyone; consider adding them to the student gear list. Avoid pads that attach solely with velcro as they have a tendency to come off and get lost; recommend pads with a sleeve.
- Normal closed-toed river shoes should work fine; avoid river sandals in the rivers with lava beds and sharp rock.
- You'll need a durable dry bag for clothing, sleeping gear, and food. Watershed duffels and backpacks are the best on the market. Lash to the deck of your board.
- Carry and use Toilet in a Bag (wag bag) or Restop 2 Bags for human waste.
- Use lightweight backpacking stoves, shelters, and food.