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5 questions for Charlie MacArthur, rapid riding paddleboard revolutionary

We caught up with the godfather of stand-up paddleboarding...over some Class 2 rapids.
charlie macarthur river paddleboarder
(Photo: Robert Zaleski)


Stand-up paddleboarding (or SUP to insiders) has replaced canoes and kayaks as the country’s paddle sport of choice. And it has its innovators. Like Charlie MacArthur—the man responsible for introducing the core-chiseling workout to the fast-moving river environment. No joke, MacArthur has paddled down Class 4 rapids.

We recently SUP-ed down some slightly less intense Class 1 and 2 rapids with the paddleboarding guru in Colorado, where he runs the Aspen Kayak and SUP Academy—and it felt as much like a life lesson as an adrenaline-pumping workout session. (MacArthur’s reminder that “you don’t have to paddle fast just cause the river’s moving fast,” seems like it could be pretty broadly applied, no?)

Here’s what the early SUP adopter (he first tried it in Hawaii in the ’70s) had to say about riding the river, paddleboarding’s popularity, and the “simple, irresistible desire” of standing on a board:

1. Did people think you were totally nuts to bring  SUP to river settings? Um, there are rocks! Some people thought I was crazy, yes, but we surf in the ocean—in very shallow and rocky conditions at times. We also ride bikes and ski or snowboard near rocks and trees. It’s just a matter of practice.

2. So how is paddleboarding on a river different than on an ocean or lake? It’s different on the river because the current is relentless. It’s critical to learn how to harness that constant flow—and to be able to get out of it as well. Unfortunately, many people buy gear and start running rapids without any training. But it’s far better to get some instruction, learn how to read the water, and learn rescue techniques as soon as possible. Once you have some skills, it’s a joy to search for the fast line, surf an endless standing wave, zip in and out of boulder gardens…and even run some small waterfalls!

3. Why do you think paddleboarding’s become so crazy popular? I think it’s the simple, irresistible desire to stand and glide on a board in flat water, or on a wave, or in river current.

Charlie MacArthur on some serious rapids. Fear not, first timers don't get anywhere near water this white.
Charlie MacArthur on some serious rapids. Fear not, first timers don’t get anywhere near water this white.

4. Has SUP reached a saturation point, or do you think it will keep on growing? I don’t know the current numbers, but as recently as late July, sales were still climbing. There’s still so much to learn that we are just starting to tap into.

5. Speaking of sales, you’re now designing your own paddleboards. Which model would you recommend for people like us who live in cities? For New Yorkers—or any big city dwellers—an inflatable board is often the best choice, just because of the lack of storage space. Our most popular inflatable is an all-terrain board, with the speed to paddle flat water and let you catch waves, while still being stable enough to run whitewater rivers. The 2014 model is even thicker, and adding thickness to the board adds rigidity and speed.

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