On the SUP downriver between cooling towers, smokestacks and cargo ships
"My stomping ground is the Rhine. And it's between Krefeld and Xanten, in the middle of the Ruhrpott, where the Rhine winds its way through the skyline of industry and power stations. Here, Rhenus is a shipping route, closely timed by cargo ships. Duisburg is home to Europe's largest inland port: the new Silk Road ends there and cargo ships unload their goods, which continue their journey by road. So-called push boats deliver ores, gravel, earth and coal for the neighbouring industry. This industry is also visible from the water through the smokestacks that line the way. From Duisburg downstream, a change slowly comes: trees replace the smokestacks, it becomes green, cattle graze on green spaces and even small sections with sandy beaches invite you to linger.".
The Rhine is therefore dangerous due to its heavy traffic and use, but it also offers experienced paddlers a very charming and unique paddling experience. I am often on the move here - sometimes with like-minded friends from the club or also as part of safety training and guided tours that I offer here. The tour presented here also came about in such a context: paddling with friends who were happy to accompany me to give me their feedback on the new additions to my test centre - two very contrasting hardboards from Lite Venture, both of which could be ideal for a tour on the Rhine in their own way: The X-Ride and the Black Edition Carbon hardboard. More on that later.
Flooding on the Rhine
The agreed tour date is after a long period of rain and the Rhine is still at a decent high water level of almost five metres, but with experience and appropriate caution it should be doable. We decide on the route from the Beeckerwerther Canoe Club in the north of Duisburg to Ossenberg on the left bank of the Rhine. We can expect to see Duisburg's heavy industry with coal furnaces, power stations and also a lot of commercial shipping on a Sunday. Downstream on the Rhine, the landscape becomes very open and green on the Lower Rhine. We look forward to the varied tour and the break on the sandy beach. The weather means well, it will be sunny and warm, only the wind will demand a bit of sportiness from us...
So, in the best weather, we finally head out onto the Rhine. Before we enter the main stream, we wait behind a groyne in the sweeping water until the group is complete. The Rhine welcomes us on the outside of the bend, due to the high water, with big waves and pressure. That's already an exciting start!
Cross currents, sweep waters and eddies
Until now, the river is still easily navigable for everyone on their boards. Then comes the A42 motorway bridge. A mighty structure whose bridge piers divide the stream. The piers create cross currents that change the flow of the water. The stronger the pressure of the water, the stronger the cross-current at the obstacle. If you are unsuspecting or careless here, you risk falling off your board. Here it is important to keep as much distance as possible from the pillars and to observe the current well in order to be able to react appropriately. If you are not sure whether you can handle it technically, you should kneel down to be on the safe side. The cross currents that arise here want to pull us off the board. But we remain without exception steadfast and dry!
Be especially careful and keep your distance from bridge piers: currents are created at every object in the water due to the pressure. The larger the water masses and the higher the flow speed, the stronger the forces acting on the board and the paddlers in these areas.
After this stress test, the Rhine is a little more forgiving. The group has settled in on the boards and the waves. And we can enjoy the river with its exciting industrial scenery in broadband format. After the first kilometres, we take a break in front of an exciting backdrop. Here we also discuss the equipment again and change boards.
How to cross the Rhine properly with a SUP when there is a lot of shipping traffic?
The Rhine is very curvy in this section. The commercial shipping usually takes the curves all the way out in the uphill direction. On the SUP downhill, you choose the inside of the bends to avoid this and to have as few ships around you as possible, which usually works well. So before the bends it is necessary to change sides and cross the Rhine..
So now comes the first of several crossings of the tour. At first it's hard to find a gap between the commercial ships that is long enough. The Rhine is very busy today. Due to the high flow velocity at high tide, the downstream boats reach us very quickly, which shortens our gap. After a long few minutes we get the command to cross. As we start to cross, Daniel rides the narrowest board of the group out of the backwater into the main stream in "choppy water" - and promptly goes swimming. And already the gap to cross is too small! He does the only right thing, keeps calm, paddles back to the shore and waits for a new gap. Shortly afterwards we are complete again.
Stefan traverses confidently in front of a steamer on the Cruzer 14' x 27'5". According to the regulations, he is not allowed to get closer than 50 metres to the freighter - but he doesn't want to, because in case of a fall the currents can pull the paddler under the ship ... When it's close, you have to be able to rely 100% on yourself and the board.
Whow do I calculate the time window when a steamer is approaching?
You should assume five minutes and 300 m of Rhine length, as you are always moving with the current. Through constant observation you learn to estimate the speeds. It becomes critical if there is another boat hidden behind a sighted boat that overtakes and is twice as fast. You have to observe the situation permanently. If the leader estimates that it is not enough, the group has to follow his assessment..
What is the danger posed by ships?
When ships travel upstream ("uphill")against the current, they pull a lot of water through the propeller underneath them, which creates suction. If you get too close, you can get caught in this suction and be pulled under the ship ... Shipping has the right of way and you should never rely on the ship to react. Anything above 50 m from the boat is perceived as a danger. Whoever enters this zone risks his life in the worst case - and in any case the reputation of all recreational paddlers!
Another peculiarity of the industrial Rhine: In the area of the power plants, so-called push boats are anchored. These coal transporters consist of several units that are pushed and are 190 to 270 m long. Due to their shallow construction, the water flows under them even when they are lying down. When lying down, there is therefore a great danger of being pulled under and you should keep at least 20 metres away. When they are in motion, they generate strong waves that pose a risk of falling, especially when the Rhine narrows and the waves bring high pressure with them..
Dangers to SUP paddlers from high water and whirlpools
Vortexes occur in combination with obstacles or the nature of the bottom. If the current meets an obstacle, whirlpools are created, which also form a downward suction. This becomes noticeable when the board suddenly no longer runs straight ahead, but is pulled in all possible directions. Here it is necessary to counteract with the appropriate riding technique or to bring the centre of gravity down - in other words: kneel. At high tide, shore zones and everything on them are washed over. This means that bushes, trees and pasture fences are under water. These are also obstacles for the current and pose a particular danger for the capsized paddler: you can get caught in them and be pulled down by the water pressure. This is another reason why it is absolutely necessary to wear a waist leash, which is easier to reach and release than a leash on the leg.
Basically, paddlers who are on their board have nothing to fear from currents and whirlpools at first. If you fall off your board, you should get back on it quickly or at least be able to hold on to it and make yourself noticed immediately, for example by blowing a whistle attached to your life jacket. This way, the others in the group have the person in sight and can react.
Four Touring Hardboards from Lite Venture with different profiles, from left to right: 1). Stable and good-natured - Cruzer 12'6 in the 30 width, 2.) Fast and precise - BLACK EDITION Carbon 14' x 25'5, 3.) Playful and for touring - X-Ride 12'6 x 29" and 4.) Fast and stable - Cruzer 14' x 27'5 - Stefan Lander's personal favourite for this tour..
Requirements for man and board
Inexperienced SUP paddlers with inflatable "low budget" boards should not do such a tour, because the human lacks the skills to react confidently and the material lacks characteristics that allow fast, precise control.
Especially when traversing, everything has to go quickly and I need a fast board whose behaviour I can control directly. This directness and the better feeling for the current are always better offered by hardboards, which per se lie a little deeper in the water than inflatable boards. The spongy feeling of a cheap inflatable board, the usually short waterline and the braking by bending up cannot be used on the Rhine.
We find that all the hardboards we ride that day work well on the Rhine, although they have different characteristics. The "X-Ride" is a more playful board that is fun in the waves and suitable for lighter paddlers. The completely opposite "Black Edition" is 4.27 m long and with its narrow width of 63 cm a sporty board for paddlers with experience:.
Two board concepts that both work on the Rhine but have completely different characteristics: The XRide (rear) with the light rocker invites more playful riding. The BLACK EDITION cuts through the water and wants to go straight ahead as if on rails.
The Cruzer touring board in length 14 x 27'5 (4.27 m x 68.5 cm) is the most suitable touring board for the Rhine for me. Due to the longer and narrower shape, it makes somewhat higher demands on the paddler's skills, but also spoils with better gliding properties. With a spirited step backwards, the nose can be lifted over most waves and you can move forward quickly. This board is my personal Rhine favourite!.
Stefan Lander has his favourite of the four Lite Venture hardboards for the Rhine Tour: The Cruzer in 14' x 27'5" length suits the conditions best for him. The board conveys stability through the balanced volume and the angular rails. And it achieves playfully fast speed when needed.
Hardboards with different shapes.
I. Lite Venture XRide
12'6 "x 29" (384 cm length, 73.6 cm width)
Optimised for wave, but also tour: the X Ride combines the characteristics for wave and tour thanks to its light rocker, rounded edges and lower volume. With the three-fin set-up and the kickpad, it can be used well on the coast in the waves. Thanks to its length and concave on the bottom, it brings good tracking stability and is also suitable for longer tours. Ideal driving characteristics up to 80 kg. .
II. Lite Venture Cruzer
12'6" x 30"(384 cm long, 76 cm wide)
(427 cm length, 68,5 cm width)
Thanks to its length, this board paddles like on rails. It is noticeably narrower, but just like the Cruzer in 12'6x30, it brings a high level of stability due to the boxy tail. The nose ploughs straight and unflinchingly through the water. In the waves, a little more riding technique is needed to lift the nose. The non-slip pad at the stern supports this. According to the group's assessment, the board best suited for the Rhine.
IV. Lite Venture BLACK Edition
14'0" x 25'5" (427 cm long, 64 cm wide).
A board for experts: this fast touring board made of full carbon is a training tool and day-tourer for advanced riders. The narrow board is demanding in sideways waves and requires good leg muscles and practice. Nevertheless, very stable for this narrow dimension..
Closing the tour
The further crossings go smoothly. Sometimes we encounter waves of at least 150 cm. That is very demanding. But nobody kneels down and the waves are conquered standing up. After a last break on the left bank of the Rhine, on the sandy beach and in the sun, we enjoy the remaining kilometres of our tour.
From now on, we continue downstream on the left side of the Rhine. With enough routine, we can now manage the impressive whirlpools ahead of us. After swapping boards, we also get new impressions of the riding characteristics of the different boards. The commercial shipping comes very close to us now. But it never becomes dangerous. We have the boards and the situation under control at all times.
At the end of our tour, we enter a picturesque bay and really get to grips with the boards. We surf the waves of the boats, practise turns and test the speed. At some point, the power runs out and we look forward to the final shore.
The tour planning
- Group and route selection: Does the group fit together conditionally? Are the people technically fit enough? Which route is realistic?
- Determine the tour leader: The person with the most know-how of the route and the best skills leads the group. There must be no discussion in case of danger.
Determine entry and exit point and organise vehiclesHave a change of clothes ready in the vehicles at the end point.
Weather check: What is the probability of rain, what temperatures and what wind forces can we expect?
Choose clothing according to weather.
Sunscreen, sunscreen and appropriate headwear
Recommended: long-sleeved shirt with high sun protection factor
Rations: Drinks, snack.
First Aid Kit
A SUP tag (a tag attached to the board) is binding. On it must be the name of the paddler, the address and a telephone number, in case the board is found without a paddler to initiate the rescue chain..
Hip leash with quick-release for releasing when the leash at the ankle is no longer accessible due to high water pressure.
Stefan Lander, the author:
I am a water sports addict and paddle pretty much everything: SUP, kayak, also I feel attached to foil and other sports. I run a SUP station with testing and advice at the Elfrather See near Krefeld. I am a SUP instructor on the way to the C licence (as of May 2023). Test dates, tours and courses: www.supkultur.de/termine
Photos: © Stefan Vohl