HEADING OUT ON THE RIVER
After we mastered the balancing aspect of paddleboarding by taking the boards out to area lakes for practice, we were ready to hit the river. We found river trips to be very exhilarating, because the current of the river adds many new aspects to the sport. One notable aspect is that the higher vantage of a standup helps paddlers see rocks and obstacles much sooner than when you are canoeing or kayaking. While it may not seem that the mostly tranquil waters of the French Broad River through Asheville would be terribly exciting, even the smallest of rapids or slightest of current of Class I and Class II rapids bring excitement on a paddleboard. Navigating one’s way through some sections of river that have numerous rocks and rapids can be a fun and sometimes difficult challenge that requires a bit of planning, quick thinking and a strong paddle stroke to find the right line through the rapids.
But with these challenges comes the dangerous aspect of standup paddleboarding down rivers. The muddy waters of the French Broad River plays host to numerous sub-surface rocks that lurk just deep enough to remain out of sight but not deep enough to avoid striking a fin on the board and launching a paddler from their board. Such was the case on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when my wife and I were nearing our destination at a local riverside bar when her fin hit a rock, catching her off guard and sending her board in one direction while launching her in another into a shallow rocky section with swift current. Luckily she was okay, suffering just a minor injury to her knee that was nothing a little ice and a cold beer couldn’t take care of, but it could have been much worse.
For those who don’t have the pension for risk taking, an excellent approach to navigating rapids and shallower water is to kneel down through these sections, lowering one’s center of gravity and making one much more stable on the board. Sections of the French Broad closer to its headwaters in Rosman offer deeper and virtually boulder-free terrain. These sections take longer to complete as the current is less swift and make for an excellent trip for those seeking a gentle excursion down a lazy river. The various sections of the French Broad River between Brevard and Asheville offer paddlers an opportunity to take in a variety of landscapes. From the beautiful farms and forests of Transylvania and Henderson counties through the secluded sections of the Biltmore Estate to the urban center of Asheville, the French Broad certainly offers a section ideally suited for everyone.
SEEKING BIGGER CHALLENGES
While most standup paddlers are content with the slow moving portions of the French Broad River and find the gently flowing river to provide ample challenges, a handful of paddleboarding enthusiasts are taking their boards down the fast-moving section of the French Broad River Gorge near Hot Springs that is renowned for its rocky ledges and big waves.
For Derek Turno, co-owner of Asheville Adventure Rentals, the challenge found in running the rapids of Western North Carolina’s streams and rivers on a paddleboard brings new excitement to rivers he has grown accustomed to paddling in kayaks. Recently, Turno and his friends were on a quest to make their way through a Class III rapid on the French Broad River known for its intimidating wave train of 2- to 3-foot waves. “Lately we’ve been running Big Pillow by staying to the left and avoiding that main hole and wave train,” he explains. But he’s quick to add that this approach “still doesn’t make it easy.”
“When you first drop into the rapid you have to just bend your knees, put in a low brace and go for it,” Turno said. “Occasionally you have to drop to your knees when you’re going through whitewater, because you get a little scared and don’t want to take a dive off the board. … It’s still exciting, but it’s always fun to try to do it standing up.” And while running rapids isn’t for everyone, Turno believes a lot of people would enjoy it.[quote]“Paddling whitewater on a standup paddleboard provides a whole new perspective on the river,” he notes. “It’s nice to add a new challenge to an old favorite like the French Broad, because I’ve run it so many times that it has kind of lost its luster. Running it on a standup paddleboard is like doing it for the first time all over again.”[/quote]