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Thing We Like: Surfing Whitewater in Colorado

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Colorado, a world-class surfing destination? For Hala Gear founder Peter Hall, the answer’s an emphatic yes. Hall first got into surfing during a college semester in Australia, and later brought his love for the sport to Colorado’s Yampa River, where natural wave patterns provided excellent surfing grounds and a wellspring of inspiration. By 2011, he had quit his job to start building stand-up paddleboards specifically designed for shredding fast-flowing river waves and charging downstream through class IV rapids.

Hala Gear’s SUPs are inflatable, but double-layered and triple-enforced with PVC to give them the durability of a hard board. “They’re heavy duty, and can take the wear and tear that any river — or lake, or ocean — throws their way,” Hall says of his boards, which are designed, prototyped and field-tested in and around Steamboat Springs. But unlike a hard board, they’re easily transportable. “We live in an age of portability,” he says. “You can roll up an inflatable and take it anywhere you want to go.”

The sensation of whitewater surfing is something like flying across the surface of the water, even though you’re barely moving. Formed by water flowing downstream over natural elevation drops, river waves are stationary, and usually less steep than their tidal counterparts. Compared to the 15-second rush of coastal surfing, river surfers can hang on a wave for as long as they can stay upright.

Want to see it for yourself? Take a look at whitewater SUP in action:

In Colorado, the sport of whitewater stand-up paddleboarding is growing — fast. There are multiple annual events offering whitewater SUP camps and competitions, including the Golden Games and FIBArk, held in Salida. There’s even a newly formed Colorado River Surfing Association.

Hall’s favorite place to paddle is still the Yampa, where Hala Gear was born. “Our employees are on the Yampa almost every day it’s running, and our headquarters is a stone’s throw away from a fantastic surf wave.”

More surfable rivers can be found throughout Colorado, and some of the best runs are located on or near the Front Range. River Run Park in the Denver suburb of Sheridan, Clear Creek White Water Park in Golden and the Buena Vista Whitewater Park are top spots for trying out whitewater SUP. (Though if it’s your first time on a board, it’s best to get your bearings on flatwater before tackling rapids.)

The Upper Colorado River whitewater between Pumphouse and State Bridge is another favorite for Hall. “Scenic high-desert canyons, great fishing and typical nice weather are the reasons we like this run so much,” he says. For seasoned SUP surfers, he recommends the Miracle Mile section of the Arkansas River: “This is a fantastic intermediate to advanced run featuring continuous class II and class III rapids. The take-out is at the Buena Vista Whitewater Park and across the street from Eddyline Brewing, so you can enjoy a craft brew after a lap.”

Ready to try it out? Hala Gear can be shopped online or in person at their Steamboat Springs showroom. You can also buy them (and helmets — a must for whitewater SUP) at outdoor gear shops throughout the state, including Confluence Kayaks in Denver, Altitude Paddleboards in Littleton, The Gearage in Fort Collins and Jagged Edge Mountain Gear in Telluride.

Read the Complete Guide to Whitewater Rafting in Colorado >>