ON A RECENT PADDLEBOARDING TRIP to Moab, I was in very dynamic weather. The altitude of the desert creates a dramatic shift between the chill of winter and the heat of summer. We were there in early spring, so we would be experiencing all of it. Hot days, cold nights, freak snowstorms; we would be spending our time outdoors in the midst of all of it.

1

Choosing the right board for the river.

Choosing the right board for paddling a river is entirely different than choosing a board for the ocean. I was lucky on this trip because Surftech sponsored the adventure and sent me with five different boards to try out. We had touring boards, surf-SUP boards, and inflatables. Because the boards are so tough, all of them worked, and each shined in its own way. The touring board was amazing for long, deep, flatwater sections. The surf-SUP boards let us ride the standing river waves. It was the inflatable boards that seemed best suited to the river though. I’d never been on an inflatable before and was surprised to find that they were just as sturdy as a hard boards, but had the advantage of being a lot better off when I inevitably plowed into rocks. I’ll probably be using inflatables next time I paddle in the river. In the ocean, a hard fin makes sense, and you’d probably tease someone using a flexible soft fin in their board, but in the river it’s the soft fin that makes sense. Sandbars and boulders are a reality, and soft fins handle the impact so much better.

2

Dressing for the river.

If the plan is to do a long downriver stretch of flat water, or if you’re paddling in the summer, there are better options than your typical outdoor clothing. “Normal” outdoor gear is made for dirt and sweat, but not really made for getting splashed, falling into the river, and fending off freak storms all at the same time. I’ve been working with Bluesmiths for some time now, and they’ve sponsored a number of my ocean projects over the last few years. I was not surprised at all to find that their gear was what I ended up wearing every day out here. Their hydrophobic water wear kept me dry, even on days like this when the weather wasn’t quite sure if it wanted to rain or snow.

3

Footwear

Unless you’re hauling your board out through rocky beaches, in the ocean you rarely wear shoes when you’re on a SUP. It’s different in the river. It’s especially different in the desert. Everything that lives in the desert is designed to poke, slice, or impale you. Wearing shoes isn’t a style choice, it’s a safety issue. A good pair of river shoes will drain water, won’t have loose laces that can snag on something in the water, and will keep you protected if you have to swim through boulders or jump off your board. Olukai is another brand that I’ve been working with, and I asked them to supply us with some shoes for the trip. I found the Nohea Mesh worked perfectly, and was only sad that I had to give them to my brother for this section of river.

4

Waterproof cases

As a photographer whose career has taken him to a lot of rivers and oceans, I’ve learned not to put my trust in a dry bag. I once lost 15K worth of camera gear when my boat capsized a mile offshore, and the dry bag holding my gear took on water after a few hours of being submerged. Now I use hard cases that snap shut. They are sealed all the way around, and getting in and out of them is a lot faster than rolling and unrolling a dry bag. Pro tip: get a case that is bigger than you need. There’s nothing worse than playing Tetris with your gear trying to make it fit into the case when there’s a rapid or huge wave coming. My personal preference for a hard case is SKB Cases, they are lighter and stronger than the other brands I’ve used.

5

Climbing gear

Personally, I wouldn’t go to Moab without taking my climbing gear. No matter what the plan is, I know I’m going to end up using it. Check out Black Diamond, their rock climbing gear is the standard that all the other companies are set against. I like to bring a 70-meter rope for the multi-pitch routes, and a double rack of cams between #.03 to #4. Sandstone is smooth at first, but after a few pitches of climbing hand cracks you will definitely want to have taped your hands.

6

Cameras

I’ve shot with just about every camera brand on the market, and I’ve always found different cameras are good for different things. The cameras I used on this trip were the Canon 5DS and Canon M3. The 5DS is 50 megapixels, and the M3 a solid 21 megapixels. I’d use the 5DS when weight wasn’t an issue, and then switch to the M3 for the river trips, and for anything that required hiking or climbing. In landscapes like this, where the vast desert is punctuated with deep and winding canyons, choosing the right lens can be difficult. I had two lenses that I used the most that I believe translated the depth the best. The first is my trusted 24-70mm Canon L lens. It really works well when you want to show depth but also have people in the image like I often do. You place the person in the foreground, and the background is captured in a natural way like the way that our eye sees the image. For distant subjects, like when I was shooting paddleboarders that were far away, I ended up switching to my 100-400 mm Canon lens. It creates a bit of separation between the photographer and the subject simply because of how far you are from the subject, but it allows you to zoom way in, and it brings the background “closer” to the subject.

7

Sweet setup

This wasn’t my setup. But it was so well put together that next time I do a trip I’m hoping to have a setup that is very similar. My friend Ken Hove showed up, and he had this rooftop tent from Tepui on top of his rig. That left the entire back of his truck open for gear, which he then accessed using a bed slider. I spend a lot of time living out of my truck, and seeing how easily he transitioned from sleeping to driving off made me question my entire setup.

8

Warm clothes

The reason that the desert gets so hot is the same as why it gets so cold. The rock, sand, and lack of greenery doesn’t absorb heat, it reflects it. Once the sun isn’t doing its thing, all that heat disappears quickly. I got this Outdoor Research jacket for a winter trip to Colorado, and I brought it to Moab by accident. I'm glad I didn’t do a better job cleaning out my truck though, because when the temperature dropped I was happy I had it.

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