I recently moved to Colorado, and I’m loving the place. While the housing market is crazy, everyone here seems to enjoy an active, outdoor lifestyle- and this is what I love most about the place.
The adventurous outdoor lifestyle was a big draw to me, and I couldn’t wait to paddle on the numerous lakes in the vicinity. After all, I wanted to feel like a local, and it was the best way to make friends.
Out of eagerness, I picked up a Sun Dolphin Aruba for flatwater paddling last weekend, but I reconsidered my purchase after a few tries on the lake and returned the paddle board.
It wasn’t like the paddle board was defective or anything, but I simply didn’t love paddling on flat water.
Don’t get me wrong, paddling on Pearl Lake was amazing, but here’s the thing, it didn’t get me fired up as I hoped.
Instead, I opted for a whitewater paddle board, and man, the experience was euphoric.
See, river paddling presents unique challenges and recreational opportunities flatwater paddling can’t offer.
When exploring a river on a SUP, you’ll come across fast-moving rapids, gentle currents, expanses of calm water, and even standing waves that paddlers can surf.
Some other pleasures of whitewater paddling include maneuvering through the challenging rapids and working you way through the difficult passages complicated by obstacles.
These, and much more are some of the thrills flatwater paddling can’t offer .
Of course, with such challenges to overcome, you need SUP for the job.
It’s easy to think a flatwater SUP can also double up as whitewater paddle boards, but that’s further from the truth.
The flatwater inflatable paddle boards aren’t going to give you the maneuverability in class 3 rivers. They also won’t allow you to pull the rodeo moves in the rapids or even let you ferry across the river.
On the other hand, the best whitewater SUPs have ample stability, rugged construction, and convenient accessories for whitewater use.
Now, if you’re looking for the best inflatable SUP, this article is for you. We’ll recommend some of our favorite whitewater SUPs and offer a buying guide to help with the selection.
Table of Contents
The Best Whitewater SUPs For The Money
#1 Aqua Marina Rapid Inflatable - EDITOR'S CHOICE
Aqua Marina needs no introduction. This brand has found a place amongst the elites of paddle board pioneers in a short time.
It has proved to be an innovative brand, combining modern technologies with high-performance materials.
One of their toughest and most reliable iSUPs is definitely the Rapid. Aqua Marina Rapid is specifically designed to take on river rapids and whitewater.
From the first impressions, it’s easy to see that Aqua Marina has stepped up things in the design department. This whitewater SUP is great-looking and has an eye-catching color scheme. The colors, branding, and graphics are also tastefully executed, and overall, the design looks much nicer and sharper, in our opinion, than previous models.
Performance-wise, Marina doesn’t fall short either. Our educated guess is Aqua wanted a responsive paddle board that riders can be confident that it won’t flip when making those critical turns.
It’s short, only coming at a length of 9 feet and 6 inches. It was never random, though; it’s quite maneuverable due to its short length, but what surprised me is how well it tracks for a short and wide board.
Meanwhile, the 33″ of width provides a stable deck to step on, and more importantly, a stable platform to pilot the iSUP on the white water.
Regarding the construction quality, Aqua Marina chooses nothing but the best and most durable material. The sturdy PVC and 1000 Denier material, and double-layer drop-stitch technology, will take on the sharpies on the water without puncturing and collisions against rocks without breaking.
When fully inflated at 18 psi, Rapid feels stiff and rigid under the foot, and this makes a huge difference for a huge rider like me as it keeps the board atop the water under any circumstances.
Meanwhile, a traction pad provides sufficient traction, keeping you from slipping in the middle of your adventure. It’s also soft, so it won’t harm your feet even after a long day in the water.
The Rapid also comes with four smaller fixed fins that enhance the overall stability and yet can handle the river rock.
Plus, the whitewater paddle board doesn’t stop at paddling. If you love taking pictures or documenting your trips and nice water adventures, you’ll be pleased with an action camera mount.
Other exciting accessories on the Marina include a dual-action pump and river leash.
#2 Hala Atcha 8' 6" Paddle Board - Best Whitewater Board for Agility
Hala continues to push the boundaries of what inflatable whitewater SUPs can do with the Atcha 8’6’.
The Atcha 86 is a smaller version of the Atcha 9’6″.. It’s just as tough but lighter and with better maneuverability than its bigger kin.
It’s one of the smaller versions in Hala’s stable, and I find it perfect for the smaller whitewater paddlers who carve the thrill of whitewater action.
While smaller in length, it has the same 34” width and 6” thickness as the larger versions, so you don’t lose out on the passenger capacity.
But more importantly, the smaller version will offer incredible performance when negotiating the small pockets and tight turns. It’s the ideal whitewater paddle board if agility is your priority.
Away from improved handling, this Hala Atcha is light. At only 4 pounds, it’s light weight, and this should come in handy for the long river trips when you need to carry the kayak for the tricky river sections.
Hala’s construction is also nothing short of impressive. In fact, the manufacturer describes it as “burly,” strong, and rugged. The durable and beefed-up PVC design with double-layer drop stitch will take on a hit, white water pounding, or serious boulder scrapes without breaking down.
But this board isn’t only a tough paddle board-it’s also stable and responsive. A rocker running across the length of the board offers superior maneuverability, while PVC stringers bolster the overall stiffness.
The signature feature, however, is the patented Stompbox fin system. It’s a concept that eliminates the problem of your fins breaking by allowing them to retract into the whitewater paddle board when it touches a rock and spring back once you’ve passed.
This game-changing invention will allow you to paddle all year round and allow users to go over rocks without worrying about the fins breaking.
#3 THURSO SURF Expedition Touring SUP - Best Inflatable SUP for Long-Range Riding
You should expect to see heads turning once you get the Thurso Surf Expedition Touring SUP. It’s an attractive SUP with a nice, sharp design.
Though this being a touring board, it’s created for speed, I find it more “squirrely” than any all-purpose board I’ve used.
The streamlined body shape is precisely contoured to minimize drag, letting you cut through the water like a hot knife on butter.
Meanwhile the sharp nose and narrow tail eliminate the chances of the board going underwater, and instead, it grants more maneuverability at faster speeds.
The Thurso Surf construction is also solid and will take on the gnarliest of the whitewater conditions like a champ. The quality meets my expectations, and I now don’t have to worry about working my way on the shallow rivers or colliding with boulders in the water.
Finally, Thurso Sur comes with everything you need to get started. You get a lot for the price.
It includes a double action pump, good quality coiled leash, and carbon paddles.
#4 Red Paddle Co 2019 10'6" Ride MSL - All-Around Board
It’s tough to design an all-around board that will excel in most water conditions.
But the Red Paddle succeeds in many ways.
This board is designed for use as a cruiser board for playing in the surf and white water.
Its agility is unmatched and quick to turn and maneuver while not super stable as most all-around whitewater inflatable sups or cruiser boards.
Red Paddle has a lot going on in terms of construction, and as with other Red Paddle Co products, it utilizes a technology the brand has coined MSL technology.
It’s a construction concept utilizing a layer of high-density drop stitch material fused to the inner layer. It’s solid, rigid, and will take on the gnarliest of the river conditions without breaking or puncturing as other inflatables do.
While remaining sturdy, we also love this whitewater paddle board for its versatility. It handles well in just about any water conditions, more like a jack of all trades.
It maneuvers and glides well, though it requires effort to track straight. It’s responsive, though.
And as you’ve probably noticed, it has a thickness of 4.72″, about an inch thicker than most inflatable whitewater paddle boards. The little bit of thickness helps with stability while allowing heavy paddlers to use the board without worrying much about flex or added weight. Yet, it’s not too thick to affect the overall maneuverability.
On the other hand, the 32” width offers a large platform for good stability, so you won’t risk taking a swim, while the 11” length sets it up for an effortless glide across the rivers.
Red’s twin fin set up also helps the board maneuver easily and help with performance in the surf.
Overall, there’s nothing wrong that stood out with the Red. It’s easy to use, comfortable and performs as it should. You should get it for your next surfing trip!
#5 Badfish Board - High-Performance Whitewater Paddle Board
The Badfish is a game-changer for paddlers wanting to run whitewater in a whole new style.
One of the notable features of the Badfish is the huge rocker, running the length of the board from nose to tail. It’s like the board is shaped like a banana. The huge rocker lets you punch through the wave holes with ease, gliding you right up and over the rivers. Hardly will you see water rising over the front pad, and when it does, it sheds in no time.
In addition to the huge rocker, Badfish holds its width throughout the board. It sits at 36” wide in the center and tapers a bit towards the tail and nose. It’ll provide you with unmatched stability, while the tapering on the ends means it can still cruise.
Stability is vital for any whitewater board, and the Badfish will easily crush the wake train. It runs superbly on the rough wakes, yet, it doesn’t sacrifice the speed and even allows you to take on the river rapids.
While at it, the Badfish offers great control and will let you use your back foot to control the direction of the whitewater paddle board, even at the crest of the wave.
Best Whitewater SUPs Buying Guide
Of all the water locations paddlers could choose to paddle, rivers provide the most varied opportunities and challenges.
Of course, your choice of SUP board for whitewater will depend largely on the terrain you plan to explore and the features of the rivers you’ll be interacting with.
Now, if you’re still undecided on how to choose a river SUP, this section is for you.
In our whitewater paddle board buying guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about selecting the best whitewater SUPs for your needs.
But first, let’s look at the two common types of whitewater SUP and which one best fits whitewater paddling.
Inflatable Paddle Boards Vs. Hard Top SUP Paddle Boards for Whitewater
Generally, inflatables tend to be the default choice for whitewater paddling.
The reason is the river can be a rough environment, and any hard boards will likely suffer serious damage when impacting rocks. On the other hand, a well-built inflatable sup board is likely to bounce off rocks and other obstacles unscathed.
They’re sturdy too, and when packed to a sweet spot of around 15PSI, they have a surprisingly stiff deck that won’t shatter as the epoxy decks would.
Since they inflate, the inflatable whitewater paddle boards are also stable because of their thickness. They rise higher up the water than the traditional epoxy SUPs, and this translates to a more stable board that is especially helpful in choppy river conditions.
Remember, unlike the lakes and flatwater, rivers are full of surprises, so it’s important to have a standup paddleboard that is easy for you to balance on.
How to Choose the Best Whitewater SUP
Now that we know the two different types of inflatable sups, consider the essential features to consider when making a whitewater SUP purchase.
Choose the Right Shape
Whitewater stand-up paddle boards are generally built for single-purpose use or can be tuned for all-around whitewater use.
We’ll break down the different shapes of whitewater SUPs and their best location for use for simplicity.
River Running Paddle Boarding
Whitewater boards optimized for downhill paddle boarding on Class IV rapids are generally shorter and wide.
Most of them are 9’ long and 35” wide.
The wide deck makes up for a board that is extremely stable, even in the turbulent and challenging rapids, while the shorter length makes the board more maneuverable and snappier.
The river running whitewater inflatable sups are generally limiting when used for other forms of paddling because the shape makes for a slow board and requires a lot of effort to track forward. Generally, it’s uncomfortable to use these inflatable sups for casual padding or extended periods.
On the rapids, however, they’ll keep you from taking a dip into the water and promote an effortless ride.
Most of these sup boards also tend to have a “rocker.” The slight upward turn at the front of the board is necessary for keeping the board out of the water, which is important in moving water.
That said, the river running paddle boards will only do half the work; you also require training, dedication, and discipline to get the most of these inflatable paddle boards.
River Surfing Paddle Boarding (Park and Play)
Padding a stationary river requires different demands as paddling on the ocean.
While rivers have waves like the ocean, the river’s waves are described as “holes” and have little space in front of them.
As such, they demand paddleboards with a slightly pronounced rocker or upward curve than the ocean boards.
The optimized rocker curve helps promote prolonged planing over the wakes while keeping the board’s nose from submerging on the cresting water in front of the trough.
Most of these paddle boards tend to be a bit shorter than the multi-purpose paddle boards regarding the shape. Most of them are within a range of 6 to 8 feet for the length and 30″ to 33″ for the width.
This shape is critical for offering better stability and will keep you on the wave for long enough.
General-Purpose/ All-Around Crossover Shapes
Rivers have varied terrain, so it would be limited to go out with an overly specialized board.
For example, in a single outing, you’re likely to find yourself paddling upstream, battling waves, or running a rapid. You’re also likely to come across the wide expanses of still water.
For these reasons, the ideal whitewater SUP should perform well in varied conditions, and this is exactly what the crossover boards do.
These paddle boards aren’t marketed for any specific use or whitewater, so they might be challenging to identify.
But generally, most of them have a board length of 9 to 11 feet, which is long enough for them to gain more paddling speed without compromising the maneuverability.
They also have a generous length of 32 to 34 inches, sufficient to provide you with the needed stability without getting too bulky.
Finally, they sport a moderate rocker profile, which makes them suitable for flatwater paddling.
Consider the Fins: They Can Make All the Difference
Once you’ve settled on the board types and shape for your paddling styles, the fin setup is the next thing to pay attention to.
The fins can have a big difference in board performance and tunability.
Let’s look at some of the critical elements to consider when choosing a fin set up for your whitewater SUP.
Removable fins let you swap out fins and reconfigure them to different positions.
These fin setups give whitewater paddlers unmatched flexibility to place the fins, ultimately affecting the ride performance.
Some of the popular fin setups for whitewater paddle boards are:
- A single fin for maximum speed
- A long center fin with shorter lateral fins. It’s a standard configuration in most paddle boards and best used in varied terrain where lateral control is a priority.
- Three medium equally sized fins for working your way through the shallow rivers.
- Four fin quad set up that keeps the board’s centerline clear. It’s ideal for getting over obstacles.
- 5 Fins or the best maximum lateral traction
Also, be sure to check into what types of fins fit in the provided boxes.
But the good news is most 3 inboxes provide enough options for most purposes.
When paddling through the whitewater, you’re likely to come across obstacles that may damage your fins.
Fortunately, some designs are already in place and will help to mitigate the possibility of center fin damage.
Of course, these concepts can never replace the skill of reading water and better navigation.
However, a concept such as Hala’s StompBox keeps your fins safe most of the time.
While it has its limitations, though, since it only works when hitting an obstacle from the front and not the back, it helps shield your center fin against damage.
Overall, having such a concept is interesting but unnecessary, especially in the wider context of rider paddling.
Check the Deck Pad
Your SUP should have as much grip as possible.
Generally, a pattern of deep grooves in a diamond or crisscross shape works better than the smooth brushed or crocodile skin pattern.
Also, look for decks that cover at least half of the front end of the SUP. There’s a tendency to move a lot around this part.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our winner for the best whitewater paddle boards is the Aqua Marina.
We choose this iSUP because it ticks on all the boxes of the best river paddle boards and comes with everything you need for a cutting-edge ride experience.
The Aqua Marina is agile yet stable and will take on the rapids with aggressiveness.
It’s sturdy too and doesn’t damage easily, even when mishandled.