River boarding basics with pro skier Andy Mahre


Andy Mahre has successful moved from standup paddleboarding on the calm shores of Washington State’s Lake Diablo to river rapids in his backyard. Photo: Shannon Skouras

Go slow and explore: That’s how Sevylor paddleboard ambassador Andy Mahre, better known for his pursuits as a pro skier, describes his measured approach to standup paddleboarding (SUP) on moving water, or river boarding.

“I still love to ski, but when it’s a job, it takes some of the fun out of it,” he says. “With SUP, I started to get out of the heat, stay in shape and stay in motion. I wanted to paddle for fun, for the right reasons. It’s mellow, but you do get those adrenaline rushes, because it forces you to react and make things happen.”

<iframe width=”620″ height=”420″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/6BkuaZCgNws” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe> Government, Washington-based Mahre first tried SUP in Kauai. “The ocean is a whole different deal. I struggled because I spent all my time growing up in the mountains, but I saw potential to use the board to explore,” says Mahre, who returned to his home on the Yakima River and promptly purchased a used board on Craigslist to scratch his new itch.

“With the Yakima being a high-volume, low-pitch river, it was a relatively easy place to start,” he says of transitioning to river boarding. “Unlike skiing, I like starting at one point and ending at another, a one-way path. I like being able to go wherever you want, from one side of the river to the other, looking at spur streams and just exploring.”

Without a paddling background, Mahre has had to build his instincts on the river. “Start small. Don’t plan for the longest trip, or the steepest, or the most rapids. Work your way up, and spend the time to acquire the instincts to go up to the next level,” he says.


Mahre navigates the Naches River, just steps from his house. Photo: Shannon Skouras

Mahre suggests starting out on a river that’s deep and slow, with a calm entry and exit point: “On the Yakima, there are some spots where it gets rolling and rippling, but nothing is too high consequence.”

Next, go old school: Practice. “After that first run, I did a 100-yard section numerous times. Only then did I go further upriver,” Mahre says. “Eventually I started driving upriver and putting myself into the unknown.”

Getting comfortable on the river is about building reflex through repetition. “You need to gain enough experience so that you’re acting off of instinct and not having to think about decisions,” he says.


A GoPro allows for an up-close encounter while river boarding. Photo: Andy Mahre

When Mahre moved to navigating small rapids, he took an equally unhurried approach. “I did a lot of preparation as far as scouting where I needed to be and just walking up the river to see obstacles before I ran them,” he says.

Along with a roommate who has also taken up SUP, Mahre uses other clever scouting tools: “We’ve been doing Google Earth research to check for big obstacles, so we’re not going into anything completely blind.”

Mahre prefers the functionality and ease of an inflatable board for the river — and, equally importantly, for transporting it to the river. He teaches first-timers, as he was only recently, to not rely so much on the paddle. “If you picture the paddle as being your third leg, using it more for balance like a tripod, you can stand up through a lot more,” he explains.

<blockquote class=”instagram-media” data-instgrm-version=”4″ style=” background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% – 2px); width:calc(100% – 2px);”><div style=”padding:8px;”> <div style=” background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;”> <div style=” background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;”></div></div><p style=” color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;”><a href=”https://instagram.com/p/oovRY7CpWP/” style=” color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none;” target=”_top”>A photo posted by Andy Mahre (@andymahre)</a> on <time style=” font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;” datetime=”2014-05-30T21:45:28+00:00″>May 30, 2014 at 2:45pm PDT</time></p></div></blockquote>
<script async defer src=”//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.js”></script> Mahre also found that a surf stance rather than facing forward works better for his balance on the river. Newbies shouldn’t feel like they need to stand up all the time, either. He says, “If I’m not on the right line, I get on my knees or whatever it takes to get low.”

For Mahre, river boarding is still a challenge — a work in progress — but definitely not a job. And that, he says, is what keeps it cool.

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