by Beth Poliquin
Last spring, I was the first person to enter Houlton, Maine’s Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race with a stand-up paddle board (SUP). It was also my first time stand-up paddling a river.
Beth’s board, paddle and PFD ready to hit the river
Some of my first paddling trips have been on rivers—canoeing or kayaking in Virginia and West Virginia. But that was twenty years ago. I had vague memories of things like "shooting the V" and warnings about “strainers." But only one thing was clear—I was going to need to do some research.
I looked at maps and visited and observed portions of the river that were close to the road. This wasn't a whitewater course, but there were a couple sections of small rapids.
My regular SUP, the Grey Duck 12.5' Journey, is a fiberglass touring board. It’s seen enough small repairs that I knew there was a reason most whitewater paddle boards are inflatable.
So for this race my craft was the inflatable Grey Duck Aurora, which is eleven feet long and 34 inches wide, so it's nice and stable. I swapped out the regular fin for a five inch shallow-water fin.
Wind and moving water can take watercraft away very quickly so I planned to use my leash. Although I often attach my leash to my ankle, I chose to use a quick-release leash I fastened to my PFD. Then I could more easily free myself if I got into trouble.
My paddle was, of course, my trusty Aqua Bound Malta.
Beth starts her race while the next paddlers get into position
Conditions were perfect this year with an abundance of snow melt that helped the river run deep, but not to where it would be dangerously powerful. With debris, currents and cutouts, moving water has more hazards than flatwater.
Wearing a personal flotation device (PFD or life jacket) was required by race officials, but also is good sense. At the end of April the water temperature is still pretty low and I always dress for submersion. This called for a dry suit, so I was glad it was a chilly, cloudy day.
For this cool April day Beth knew she needed her dry suit
Despite the lack of warmth and sun there was a sense of camaraderie around the river when we met for the pre-race safety briefing. I enjoyed checking out a couple of the kayaks in the first heat. Word had gotten out there was a paddle board in the race, and many people came up to me to tell me how brave I was for doing this. So many people, in fact, that I started to wonder if they were actually thinking “crazy"!
There were a couple things that surprised me on this race. I expected the movement of the river help more with propulsion and that my paddling would be mainly for directional purposes. But that was only the case through the rapids. Otherwise, I found that if I wanted to go fast, I still had to paddle hard.
To maximize stability, I got on my knees with a wide stance through the whitewater sections. If I had let the river take control of me, I’m certain I would have gotten tossed off. But I kept paddling to keep moving forward.
Going through the last section of rapids I heard my fin catch on the rocks and break off. I didn't need to feel underneath to know it was gone. Paddling through the last stretch meant only one stroke on a side before needing to switch sides.
When I finished, I found the fin box had cracked, revealing itself to be more fragile than the carbon fin. After the race I repaired the fin box with a two-part epoxy, but I plan to use the Level Six Rubber Center Fin in the future.
Beth interviews with a local news station after the race
Even with fishtailing the last half mile I finished first in my category. Yes, I was the only one in the Open/SUP category! But I'm optimistic I'll have some company next time.
All photos courtesy of Beth Poliquin (three are screenshots from video clips).
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