Charlie MacArthur on Whitewater Etiquette in Aspen

By Hayden Gamble | February 18, 2021 | culture


Sure, paddling your board on still water can be a fun and relaxing activity on a laid-back summer day, but here in Aspen, people are always in search of leveling up their athletic activities. Stillwater SUP-pers, meet whitewater rapids. Charlie MacArthur, owner of Aspen Kayak and SUP Academy (, has been coaching athletes in the art of river sports since 1990. He’s conquered Class IV rapids and podiumed at the GoPro Mountain Games. Here, he dishes on SUPing whitewater etiquette.

DO take a class if you’re new to the sport. Learn and practice your skills—making turns and spinning your tail—on flat water. Classes will teach SUP novices different paddle techniques, how to read currents, surfing up- and downstream, rescue protocol and safety precautions. A swift-water rescue course is recommended as well.

DO wear a helmet, life vest and proper footwear. The ‘basic five’ elements are board, paddle, helmet, life vest and footwear.

DON’T attach a paddleboard leash to your ankle if you’re in rapids. This is OK to do on flat water, but can put you in serious danger if you go under in whitewater.

DO learn the etiquette of the river. Leave your waterproof speaker at home or wear headphones. No one wants to hear your music blasting. #R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

DON’T go unprepared. Mountain weather can change in an instant, and the last thing you want is to get caught in a hailstorm without a rain jacket. Bring extra clothes, food and water always.

DON’T get inebriated before or while paddling. Save the beers for postadventure; they taste better when they’re earned anyway.

DO have a blast! There’s nothing like getting out on the water on a hot summer day.

Photography by: JORDAN CURET