Stephanie Dickerson Stand up paddling the Kenai River

The Kenai River in Southcentral Alaska is famous for fishing. Thousands and thousands of people visit its turquoise waters to fish for record setting king salmon, monstrous rainbow trout and countless sockeye salmon. Judging by the strange looks we received, stand up paddling hasn’t really caught on here yet.

Fall is a particularly gorgeous time of year on the upper Kenai where the birch and cottonwood forests are glowing golden in contrast to the turquoise water.

We put in at the lower end of Kenai Lake where the Sterling Highway crosses the river and floated down roughly 12 miles to one of our vehicles at Jim’s Landing. I think this stretch of river took us about four hours with light but steady downstream paddling. We stopped for lunch and to play in a few of the rapids.

The river in this section is very mellow with only a couple sections that might be class II. We paddled the Boardworks SHUBU inflatable boards in the 10ft and 10’7″ models. One member of our floating party was on an Uli board. The inflatable SUPs are nice for river paddling since they can handle running into rocks without damage that would be inflicted on the standard rigid epoxy boards. The fins on the inflatables are made of a rubber material and can withstand the abuse of bumping down shallow sections.

Stand up paddling on rivers and in whitewater (River SUP) has been gaining popularity worldwide. If you do some browsing online you’ll see paddlers in heavy class V whitewater, dropping waterfalls, paddling the grand canyon and even whitewater sup competitions. There are both rigid and rubber inflatable  stand up boards designed specifically for  paddling on rivers. For me personally, the river paddling is an enjoyable alternative to surfing and ocean paddling, but I’m not about to move inland and give up the saltwater scene.