Paddleboard SUP Paddleboarding Washington DC Potomac River

The Potomac River is an awesome resource for kayakers, hikers, and those who like to stand up paddle board (SUP).  Residents from all over Montgomery County, Maryland, as well as Virginia, enjoy what the river and canal have to offer.  If you're near Potomac or Bethesda Maryland, you can easily access the river from the Old Angler's parking lot, or from the Great Falls Ranger Station.  Below is some important information you may find useful if you plan to paddleboard on the Potomac River.

Water Level

Before surfing on the Potomac River, you need to know the water level so you'll know which features are in play.  Click here for a good link to the National Weather Service.   This site will give you the reading at Little Falls, which is a good indicator of what's happening on the Potomac River between Great Falls and Old Anglers.  Specifically, by learning to read this gauge, you'll know exactly what spots are in play!

There are some great resources on the web that tell you what spots on the Potomac River are in play to surf, but click here for a good map that will give you an overview.  Props to Eric Astor for providing this.  This is work in progress.  

Being on the Potomac River on a stand up paddleboard can be very dangerous.  Having good river awareness is critical!  Make sure to do whatever you can to learn about the current, the rocks, and the overall conditions before heading out.   It is also critical that you have the right equipment.  At a minimum, you should have a PFD, helmet, whistle, and rescue knife while on the water.  It is also recommended that you don't paddle alone, and that you make sure to have a float plan (i.e., tell a buddy when you are going back and when you will be returning).  

Before paddling on the flat water of the Potomac River and in the chutes, you should consider taking paddle board lessons.  There are many individuals and companies that provide good lessons.   Learning how to stand up paddleboard usually takes a few days.  If you have a large board, and calm water, you'll pick things up quickly.  If you try and start on a board that is too small, learning how to SUP will be very difficult.  A good instructor will make sure you have the right SUP equipment.   After you've master the flat water, you may want to step things up a bit and go either in the ocean or in moving current.  Paddle surfing in whitewater is a blast, but make sure that when you first begin your instructor explains all of the dangers of your river or ocean.  For more information about paddleboard lessons, check out the Lessons page of our site. 


In addition to the safety equipment above, you'll also need a board and paddle.  When you first begin to learn to SUP on the Potomac River, you'll probably want to get an inflatable SUP.  These types of stand up paddleboards will not get damaged if you hit a rock, and they are easy to learn on.  However, as you get better you may want to get a hard board, like the ones made by Badfish.  These types of stand up paddleboards are much easier to surf the chutes and holes of the Potomac River, like Maryland and Virginia chutes.  

Type of Board

There are two types of boards, inflatables and hard boards.  Each type of board has its own use.  Inflatable stand up paddle boards are great because they are easily transported, and tend to be stable.  Also, they are good for the river because they generally handle the rocks very well.  Hard boards serve a different purpose.  Usually, if you'd like to start learning how to river surf, you should get a hard board.  Hard boards come in different sizes, so you'll need to check out some different options.  Typically, hard "surfing" boards for the river are between 7 and 8 feet, although longer boards will work in bigger waves such as Rocky Island wave.

Wetsuit or Drysuit?
It's definitely possible to stand up paddleboard on the Potomac River in the cold weather!  All you need is the right gear.  Washington, D.C., and Potomac, Maryland, can get pretty cold, but if you're determined you can continue to stand up paddleboard all year long.  You have two choices when paddleboarding on the Potomac River in the winter months, either wear a wetsuit or wear a drysuit.   In the fall and spring you can get away with a 3/2 or a 4/3 wetsuit.  Some paddleboarders prefer wetsuits because they are a bit more flexible, and easier to move your legs.  They also are very buoyant.  Once the very cold months of January and February kick in, if you still want to SUP paddleboard on the Potomac River, you definitely will need to get a drysuit or a very heavy duty wetsuit such as a 5/4.  One of the benefits of a drysuit is that you can layer up under the drysuit, and it's much easier to get off.   Again, it's a personal choice.  Here's a good rule of thumb:  if you want to SUP on the Potomac River, buy a 3/2 wetsuit, and a drysuit.  If you have a few extra bucks, then buy a 5/4 wetsuit also and rotate them.  This way you won't smell too badly either!  Here's  good little video in some cold weather paddleboarding on the Potomac River.    There was ice on the Potomac River, and the water was just over 32 degrees.  Cobra had 3 layers under his drysuit, but his 5/4 wetsuit would have been just as warm.  This video was shot at Virginia Chute, just across from Maryland Chute.  Shout out to Eric Astor and Frank Cook for the video. 

Where To Start Out? 
There are lots of options on the Potomac River to SUP, but here are a few quick tips to get you started.  Two good options are either Old Angler's , or the National Park Service Ranger Station ("Ranger Station").  From Old Angler's, you can just walk down from the parking lot and walk over the small bridge where you'll be put on the tow path.  If you want an easy flat water paddle on the canal, walk to your right and put in on the "wide" water.  There are some awesome rock structures you'll find, and you can paddle for over a mile up the canal. Eventually you will hit a lock, and you'll need to either pull out or turn around and head back.  If you do this paddle in the early morning, it's amazing -- there won't be any wind, and the sunrise is spectacular.  If you want to get onto the Potomac River for a good SUP paddle, then head right on the tow path.  Walk for a few minutes, and take a right when the path opens down the hill.  From there you should head right which is up stream.  (You can head down river, but if this is your first time, head up stream.)  If you paddle for about 10 or 15 minutes, you'll see Maryland Chute on your right ("river left") and Virginia Chute on your left ("river right.").  Both of these chutes are a blast.  At 3.7 to 3.9, Virginia is a legit wave, both flat and glassy.  Maryland Chute is more of a hole than a wave, but is also a blast.   Virginia Chute is a paddleboarding 101 wave on the Potomac -- easy to get into, and you won't get worked playing around.  Maryland chute is more difficult to SUP and paddleboard on, but it's still a boas.  Maryland chute has a ton of water moving and feels like you're riding a bull!  You can also begin your SUP journey at the Ranger Station.  Pull through the guard gate, and take a right into the parking lot.  From there's you'll walk back towards the direction of the guard gate,  and past the bathrooms.  You can walk over the small bridge and you'll be back on the tow path.  Go left which is down stream.   This will take you in the direction of Old Angler's.  If you walk about a half mile or so, you'll see a path that is marked down to the river.  MAKE SURE YOU ARE BELOW GREAT FALLS!  If you take the wrong path you won't be below the falls.  The path will lead you to Sandy Beach.  From the water there you can go to the right or to the left to get out to the river.  If the Potomac River is below 4.2, you'll need to go to the right.  This will put you at "S" turns.  Watch out for the Bermuda Triangle.  This will work you big time on an SUP.  Seriously, it's a nasty hold down of nearly 10 seconds, with a spit after 20 feet or so.  Cobra, Suggs, Nate and Eric have all gone on the ride, as have many others.  Cobra once lost his paddle there.  Anyway, a few hundred yards down from S Turns you'll hit Rocky Island, Wet Bottom, and then Maryland and Virginia Chutes.  Along the way you'll see some incredible views in scenic Mather's Gorge.  If the river is above 4.2, you can go to the left from Sandy Beach and you'll come out right below Rocky Island.  

If you'd like more information about paddleboarding or paddle board lessons in Rehoboth or Dewey Beach  click here.

Also, if you want to paddle surf in the Ocean, take a trip down to Assateague.  Here's the best surf report for Assategaue we've found.  
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