World’s Hardest White-Water SUP On The Upper Gauley
When it comes to white water SUP the majority of the people within the sport currently sit in and around the grade 2 bracket of white water. There are few people who progress above into grade 3 but it is a very quickly growing discipline and we can expect to see far more people paddling grade 3 well over the coming years. There is almost nobody that can sup grade 4 and only a few people in the world who can SUP grade 5! For SUP you can easily add a full grade to anything you are paddling if you were to compare it to other sports. i.e. SUP on grade 5 is just as hard if not harder than kayaking grade 6! The very few people who can SUP grade 5 are almost entirely sponsored by the same company Hala! There are three main reasons you do not see many people paddleboarding in and above grade 3 – for one swimming in these environments is serious and can be fatal. The sport is still relatively new and elite athletes have yet to be developed and there is the mental factor it is easy to fall off a sup and you are at height in huge whitewater to not be cautious of this would be foolish!
But the current world’s hardest white water sup done to date is without a shred of doubt the Upper Gauley in America. This river used to be grade 6 but has now been downgraded to 5/5+ as equipment has developed over time. The Upper Gauley has been the site of many kayaking and rafting fatalities over the years so to even think of doing it on a sup is crazy… But it has been done and this year there was even there sun boarders doing it at the same time. I stress the only there that have actually even attempted it (Chris, Will, Jim).
The river consists of 6 rapids at grade 5 or higher and numerous grade 4 named and unnamed… as well as many grade 3/3+ rapids that are not even mentionable. The most serious rapid of which is Iron ring which used to be grade 6 – a swim here would be unthinkable and as such is not worth the risk on a SUP. All the other rapids have been paddled on a SUP one way or another.
Photos From The Trip
September of 2023 three Hala team members tackled the Upper Gauley – portaging Iron Ring but between them all paddling the other rapids. Each rapid comes with it’s own unique problems. For example, Initiation has a terminal Siphon on river right. Insignificant has huge waves/hols that are almost impossible to see until you are in them and then a swim is less than pleasant to say the very least! Iron curtain has undercuts you need to avoid and less than stable eddy lines. Pillow rock has the room of doom and serious undercuts – don’t mess it up. Lost paddle has huge undercuts horrible rocks, big boils and serious drowning potential. Tumblehome has serious siphons, shipwreck literally has an undercut cave. Iron ring has huge holes, sharp rocks, undercuts, risk of drowning, incredibly hard lines on a sup to make and unthinkable swim potential. Sweets fall has a huge hole, undercut rocks, box canyon. Julies Juicer has a terminal hole, woods ferry has a horrible siphon… have we put you off yet?
Each of these rapids has potential lines and most of them give you time to avoid the difficulties if you mess up a tiny tiny bit. But if you take the wrong line it would be game over. So why would you SUP it? Because the river itself is one of the best sections of easily accessible whitewater anywhere in the world, there are normally huge numbers of people on the rocks nearby who could help with some issues, to push the realms of the sport itself, to be social or perhaps because it is there. Each person’s reasons for attempting dangerous things are their own reasons. But for Jim as the company director he simply loves being on a sup – is not afraid to portage things if required, does not paddle if he feels adrenaline rushes of any sort and wants to continue helping to develop the sport in whatever way he can. When he paddled the Upper Gauley he was over in the US for two weeks and paddled many other rivers as well which you can get a feel for from the video below.