White-Water SUP on the Noguera Pallaresa
Earlier in the year when the four of us decided to go to the Noguera Pallaresa in September I had posed the concept of whether it would be white-water suppable to many people… Needless to say they all had the same thought process which roughly consisted of are you mad??? Sup on dam release grade 4/4+ rapids that is not doable… Well, thankfully the four of us (Steve, Mags, Kirsten & myself [Jim]) had decided that although it was pretty crazy, it should be doable and if it turned into too much there is always the kayak backup… nah it will be fine. I should probably also say that the other three in our group are all nice sane individuals who mainly kayaked. But, with my Sup WW coach assessment looming in the next few weeks; and given I truly am loving the white-water Sup it was a no-brainer for me what craft was going to be paddled for the two weeks on the Noguera Pallaresa in Spain.
Waking up at around 1 in the morning I started to make my way down to the airport meeting Kirsten on route whereby we flew out to Barcelona, hired a car and drove up to Sort. Arriving in Sort we met Mags and Steve who had driven over; and we all came up with a plan for the next day over a beer or two – that plan consisted of let’s go and paddle the biggest gnarliest rapid on the Noguera Pallaresa because it has lots of nice easy sections either side of it around grade 2+ perfect for a white-water SUP – but the rapid itself which is called Pastis is 4/4+ – just so happens to also be full of lots and lots of rocks and very shortly after the get on… so minimal warm up and horrific swim potential… It was certainly going to be a baptism of fire for paddling on the sup here. This day we had two sups on the water – myself and Kirsten and two kayaks (Steve and Mags).
The White-Water Sup Truly Begins
Jumping on the water we all felt pretty confident and strong; quickly paddling towards Pastis rapids where we stopped and had a look. Myself Mags and Steve all decided we would paddle it and were just sorting the order of paddling when I asked if I could be third down just in case something goes pear shaped and I mess up on the white-water Sup as it would be a horrible swim! Steve jokingly says so you are first? My response was definitely… no I’m third thanks! Steve led the way with a Stirling paddle right through the chunk of the rapid nailing his line perfectly and Mags and I followed in unison behind. The rapid I had just been inspecting from the bank now suddenly looks a lot bigger and Mags has flipped over in front of me – the cogs were definitely firing away in the back of my head asking if maybe everyone was right and this is a mad idea… half way down punching through the main stopper it spun me around to face backwards down the river but somehow didn’t knock me off the board… Credit where credit is due I was paddling the best white-water sup on the Noguera Pallaresa, the Hala Atcha 9’6 and there isn’t another board on the market I could have stayed on having been spun around.
We all regrouped at the bottom and took a moment to breathe and recover when a friend of ours turned up so we joined groups for the rest of the paddle down the river. Stunning scenery and gorges emerged with beautiful grade 2+ paddling with the vultures circling overhead (probably hoping for an unlucky paddler let’s just hope it’s a kayaker…). This is more like it! We headed off completing the rest of the section of the Noguera Pallaresa with almost no further scares from the SUP until the very end in the middle of a grade 1/2 white-water (maybe?) Rapid my board caught a sleeper rock (impossible to see) sending me supermaning off the board pretending that I was off to infinity and beyond! Thankfully to no harm and now suitably soggy/laughing I jumped back on the board and paddled the last bit to the end. I would also mention that given the nature of the river I was wearing upper body armour, padded shorts and solid knee pads just in case!
White-Water SUP Noguera Pallaresa Classic Section
The next few days consisted of supping the classic white-water section of the Noguera Pallaresa down to Sort which is pretty much constant grade 3/3+ big water with one grade 4 thrown in (the washing machine). Each day we met many locals on route rafting and kayaking who could not fathom a Sup paddling this river – they all had the same idea as everyone back home – who is this crazy Scot and why on earth is he not in a kayak??? Is white water Sup the next big thing in Europe? I certainly hope so! A few even ventured as to joke that I must have a death wish to be paddling this river on Sup – but after standing down all the rapids time after time to a cacophony of cheers and whoops that would emerge from any onlookers – everyone would realise that it was doable albeit it incredibly difficult.
It did take some time to figure out the washing machine which had a very tight move to make moving right just before a large rock and hole in the middle of the river you would not want to go over. But after some effort working out the line it was successfully done as well. Every day we would go back to the campsite and sit at the bar having a beer where all the locals would be peering across gossiping amongst themselves staring in our direction in utter disbelief that anyone would want to stand going down the rapids.
Kayak Capital of the World!
Sort and the section of the Noguera Pallaresa are also known as the white-water kayak capital and has a wonderful slalom course running right through the town which we took the opportunity to play on for a few occasions on the SUP. Again to the disbelief of the locals who would stand on the side filming and wooping. The funny thing is that despite being easier in terms of grade, the eddy lines in the slalom course are all quite strong lines and coming across them on a sup is tricky at the best of times making this probably harder to stay on the board here than anywhere else on the rest of the river; so after a bit of thought process the eddy line transition technique was changed to reduce the chance of swims. Normally one would swap paddle sides to go to an upstream paddle side coming into an eddy or alternatively cross deck paddle. This in turn ensures that the board carves into the eddy. But given the lines were so strong the balance point was all off (or maybe it was all the beers the nights before paddling…) so after a sit down and think through everything I decided to try something new and weird… the worst that will happen is a swim in a nice deep eddy so why not lets try.
The wonderful thing with Sup is it is still so new we don’t know everything so without trying and adapting techniques on occasion we will never know. Instead of the normal technique I opted to enter the eddies when ferry gliding on a downstream side paddle but utilising pressure control through my feet (while maintaining a low brace support) to edge the board into the eddy. It worked… eddy after eddy felt controlled and easy to enter… I will have to do further research and testing to see if this is a viable method outside of the slalom course but my gut says it is!
SUP It All!
Near the end of the course is a beautiful wave that surfs like a dream come true. You will often see the slalom boaters in there playing about surfing and doing tailies on the eddy line. Much to the slalom boaters confusion I lined myself up for a surf to some rather confused faces. Paddling into the wave utilising pressure control in my feet and a handy stern rudder/brace I surfed back and forth multiple times to a huge cheers from three youth slalom boaters who are already far more stylish than I will ever be in a kayak! Unfortunately I was so focused on the surf I never heard them and it wasn’t until Mags mentioned they were in awe that the wave could be surfed standing up and were cheering me on that I learnt of their positivity. It would have been nice to say thanks for their support and offer them a go on the white-water sup (if they wanted) but they had already moved on and I had crossed to the other side of the Noguera Pallaresa – hopefully they didn’t think me rude.
The paddling continued onward for the last week in much the same succession bar for significantly fewer swims; and who knows perhaps next year we will see more white-water SUP on the Noguera Pallaresa or maybe people will look back at the crazy Scot and laugh at all our jokes about sending me back to the mental hospital after the trip! This was our usual response when someone couldn’t understand how it was possible. It took the first week of practice before all the rapids were stood successfully. But after the first week the river gods of the Noguera Pallaresa gave in and allowed the first successful clean fully stood up descent of the all the rapids. I must say I am eternally grateful that Steve, Mags and Kirsten all believed in it being possible and that we paddled together on the water coexisting between kayakers and Sups.
Further SUP information
- If you are looking at developing and pushing into grade 3 or 4 white-water sup then we can offer this trip to the Noguera Pallaresa as a development course to help you further your abilities over 1 or two weeks. Take a look here.
- The board used was a Hala Atcha 9’6 – the best white water SUP in the world! If you are thinking ab out buying this board contact Jim directly and you could give one of his a shot before committing to buying one – he can supply them in the UK as well!