When Natali Zollinger ended up on a Westwater Canyon rafting trip back in 2004, she was hooked. For nearly a decade, she spent her summers guiding for OARS, but when she saw stand up paddleboards (SUPs) pop on the Colorado River in 2012, it sparked a new love. Now, she’s a professional paddleboarder and recently co-founded RVR 2 RVR to share her passion and inspire people to get out and enjoy their local waterways. We caught her on the phone after a surf session (river surfing, that is) to find out more about what it’s like to “walk on water.” And no, you don’t have to be a pro to give it a shot…
What got you hooked on stand up paddleboarding?
The feeling of being free on my own craft. I like that you can explore, get a workout, and connect with the water on every trip.
What’s the best part about experiencing rivers from a SUP?
Whether you’re going downstream or surfing a river wave, it’s just you and the water. It’s kind of like a meditation. When you’re on a raft you’re just sitting on the water, but when you’re standing on the water it’s this awesome sense of…it’s like walking on the water. I think there’s magic in it.
What advice would you give a first-timer?
Challenge yourself to move around your board. Don’t be afraid to jump around in different stances. And don’t forget to use your paddle! It’s your buddy, so learn how to use it to help you stay on your board. If you’re learning to paddleboard for the first time on a river, get on your knees and get used to maneuvering in the current. When you’re on your knees, you’re a bit lower and have more control.
Tackling whitewater on a SUP is probably daunting for a lot of people. What’s the hardest part?
The uncontrolled chaos of the rapids. You don’t realize until you get on a SUP how powerful the river is. Don’t be afraid to swim. It comes with the sport, so get used to it!
Why should people give paddleboarding a try if they’re on a river trip?
The moment you step off a raft and go on a SUP, you get to see the world a little bit differently. You get to see nature at its front step…birds fly in front of you, fish jump. You can try the little rapids and see what that’s like. It’s a way to go on your own adventure as the trip moves downstream, burn some calories, and move around the river at your own pace.
Do you have a favorite stretch of river to run on a SUP?
Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River. There are some features you have to watch out for, but I just love the big, deep waves. More often than not I can’t stay on them, but if I don’t, I swim and don’t have to worry about wrapping myself on a rock or getting caught in a sieve.
So, even the pros fall a lot?
Oh yeah, all the time. You better be comfortable swimming!