There’s nothing more compelling than to see our sport evolving with fresh riders coming to the scene, totally killing it, sparking true excitement and bringing ‘that cool’ back to SUP. It’s even better when the stoke of “pushing the sport while it’s still in its infancy” comes from a rider with this level of skills and humility!
TotalSUP caught up with Sam Garthwaite, whitewater SUP rider and Coach based in Scotland, shredding on his trusted Indiana Paddle & Surf iSUP, to chat about the build-up leading to these waterfall drops and necessary safety measures.
Hello Sam! You don’t decide one day to just go and jump down a waterfall on a stand-up paddleboard, right? Or do you? There must be a solid watersport background, safety and local knowledge…
No, you definitely do not. My background isn’t that of a typical guy that is dedicated to being on or in the water. I actually never learned how to swim properly until I was in my second year of high school! I had a couple of traumatic experiences that kept me well away from water for a while. Most people I meet that are on the scene and have made a hobby out of watersports, seem to have done it from a very young age and have come from a club background. I, on the other hand, didn’t step foot into a kayak or canoe until I was 24! I started an outdoor education degree at University and that got me hooked. Soon after starting the course, I managed to get a job as a watersports instructor, and from there the volume of time I was spending on the water (during work and days off) was pretty crazy!
Why the extreme? Why dropping waterfalls on a stand up paddle board?
I’d say one of the main reasons is because I love to push myself! It wasn’t one of the first things on my list to do. I paddled whitewater for a few years before the waterfalls and drops became a thing. If I’m being completely honest, the extreme is what I love to watch…and there’s not a huge amount of people doing these things on a board, so my friends and I are kind of in a position where if we want to watch that kind of content, we have to create it. Having the opportunity and being at a point where I can push the sport while it’s still in its infancy and seeing what happens is super exciting. I love the idea of leaving a mark and being respected in the community for what I’ve done on my board.
How did you get into the sport of stand-up paddleboarding?
When I got my job as an instructor, I had only trained and been qualified in canoe and kayak, but within my first month my manager, Adam Burns, told me that I was to get a SUP qualification because it was going to get extremely popular….and it really did! It was brand new for me and the rest of the team, and we all just fell in love with it immediately!
There are other formats than racing becoming more and more popular: endurance paddling, whitewater and freestyle SUP… What’s your take on that and where would you place yourself?
Yeah, I have to say, I haven’t really touched any of the other disciplines outside of whitewater. I enjoy surf SUP a lot (or trying to surf). Racing would be cool to try, it looks like heaps of fun…and I can be quite competitive! But yeah, the bigger all the different disciplines of SUP get, the more chance of it staying around and not being viewed as a passing trend…I’m all for it!
What’s your local SUP scene like in Scotland?
The SUP scene in Scotland is pretty solid right now. There’s not huge amount of people that are committed to whitewater, so a lot of the people that are, are super supportive of each other and have various Facebook & Whatsapp group pages to try and get out together. The community is growing real fast as well!
I don’t paddle that much with people outside of my immediate circle, but it’s always really cool when the opportunity arises. The stoke levels are through the roof when there’s big group of you on the boards.
What are your top locations to SUP in Scotland and why?
I’m not in a huge rush to share the locations that I have been riding recently, because the spots are really special, they’re quiet and beautiful. I’m not possessive over the locations, I’m quite happy to take people there and share the experience…but announcing on the Internet where these amazing places are is just risky business, before you know it you could have a whole bunch of people drinking and littering there.
One location that is already really well known is Glen Etive. That was where I did my first drop on a SUP and the game changed from then on!
When looking at a gnarly spot you “want to attack”, how do you prepare for it?
The preparation can often look different depending on the spot, but there are a few things that I need to check before I ride it. I need to check the depth of the water at the bottom of the waterfall, also to make sure there are no hidden rocks or debris.The next thing would be to look at how the water is acting to determine what is going to happen to me if I come off the board (is the water going to flush me out/hold me in place/hold me down/ pull or push me in a certain direction).
One of the major risks involved with being on a SUP in a gorge, are the undercuts. If you don’t read the water right and you haven’t realised that there is a possibility of undercuts in those areas, there is a chance you could be sucked into and held in small caves or bowls.
There are a lot of other things to consider, but I don’t want to ramble. Effectively though, you just play a game of “what if”and manage the risks with a trustworthy group of paddlers.
Water safety is a massive issue, especially now with the sport having accelerated the way we’ve seen it…
Yeah, safety is constantly changing and progressing, which is always going to be the case with something new…you can never get these things right the first time. Luckily because I work in the water I will always be super up to date with the current best practice and I’ll share that information with whoever I cross paths with beyond that point. For anyone that is not in the same position is me, research is key. Just make sure you’ve done your research before you venture out and have fun!
Indiana paddleboards… Why this brand and you’ve obviously pushed the gear to its limits!
I have to admit, the awesome logo and colours are what pulled me in! I got the chance to try the board from one of my old Outdoor Ed lecturers, and I just thought it was so nice. It had the width and stability that I was looking for from a WWSUP and it was also nice and short and had a bit of rocker. It was ticking all the boxes for me and what I was looking for. My main paddle buddy (and fellow waterfall rider), Cameron Hopkin, alerted me that it was on sale on a certain website, so I just jumped at it! It has not disappointed at all, a real hardy and fun board to ride!
Do you see SUP changing?
100%. I really do think that it’s just going to keep growing. The rate of growth is insane, especially in the last two years or so. I’m just super stoked to be right in the middle of it all so I get to see it through all of it’s developments.
What’s next? What’s in the pipeline?
I want to just keep doing what I’m doing, pushing myself further! I want to ride new spots, I’d like to paddle abroad (I’ve only paddled in Scotland). I’m tempted to dip my toes in the competitive side of SUP too. My most immediate goal, however, is to try and get some kind of sponsorship or ambassadorship…anything that allows me to share what I’m doing on a bigger scale and inspiring more people to look into this amazing sport!
Thank you so much for collaborating on this story – We can’t wait to see your next move. Keep shredding and stay safe!
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