The Green Mountain State has its fair share of lively, lovely rivers to paddle, but few provide the kind of variety, postcard beauty and reliable whitewater as central Vermont’s Mad River. Once the home of the original Mad River Canoe company, and historically popular with whitewater canoeists and kayakers from throughout the region, the river is beginning to attract stand up paddlers, too.
Justin Beckwith lines up to surf a small, ice-riddled wave on Vermont's Mad River.
“The Mad is a wicked good spot for stand up paddling,” says local paddler Justin Beckwith. After nearly twenty years spent mastering the Mad’s moody waters in a kayak, including its most challenging Class 3 and 4 sections, he’s found that stand up paddling is reconnecting him with the same sensations he discovered when he first learned to whitewater kayak. “It’s really magical to be on a SUP...with such great views of the water,” adds Beckwith. “It’s also much easier to plane and you have considerably more speed with a SUP on the river. This makes it easy to get into and surf small waves, cross eddy lines and even carve a little bit.”
Beckwith circles back into a fun cluster of small standing waves in the middle section of the Mad.
When the Mad is running high, at levels that can shape up even midwinter after a good, ice-clearing thaw, countless small waves come to life on the river. Some of these are well-guarded by impressive stretches of Class 3 to 4 rapids, like those in sections of the Lower Mad and within the Moretown Gorge. Other waves wait in isolation along relatively easy-going stretches of the river. Midsummer, when water levels are relatively low, the middle section of the river can still offer a pleasant, albeit shallow, Class 2 run.
“I especially like how close you are to the river with SUP—and how you can feel the water running over your toes,” says Beckwith. “The Mad can also be such a great cruiser run; you can surf a few waves, tour around or just go swimming.”
Thanks to the cooperation of landowners, respectful paddlers, and organizations such as Friends of the Mad River and the Vermont River Conservancy, there is easy access to many sections of the Mad River. It’s characterized by its unique geology, mountain views and a rural landscape along the way. For more information about paddling the Mad River, check out vtpaddlers.net, consult a guidebook or stop by a local shop, which offers SUP rentals, instruction and tours.
Forrest Twombly casually surfs a small, but glassy, standing wave along the middle section of Vermont's Mad River on a warm summer day.
In the heart of the Mad's Moretown Gorge, Beckwith quickly maneuvers into one of many surfable waves.
Taking advantage of an unusually heavy mid-summer rainstorm on the Mad.