The following is a guest article from James Miller, a resident of the Scottish Highlands. Jim is a new Hala Gear Ambassador as of January, 2023. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and incredible corner of the world with us, Jim!
Scotland, a place seeped in beauty, history, whisky and… whitewater SUP??? If you think of Scotland you probably think of beautiful mountains, William Wallace, kilts and great whisky but it is quickly gaining a name for itself as a place to visit for whitewater SUP. (The board paddled in the photos is the Hala Atcha 9’6 on days provided by our ambassadors including a one-on-one waterfall introduction day.) With a huge range of rivers appropriate for all skill levels, from beginners to phenomenally crazy paddlers, Scotland provides the goods.
Because of Scotland’s right of responsible access (right to roam) you have the ability to go and paddle pretty much anywhere you wish, whenever you wish. The only rule you have to be responsible in what you do! I.e. don’t leave any trace, take any rubbish away with you, respect other land users and owners, don't park inconsiderately, etc.
Scottish SUP History
Stand up paddle boarding in Scotland had a tenuous start in its development and if it wasn’t for the vision of Jim Gibson probably would have taken a lot longer to get going. Jim, the national trainer, has been crucial in helping to develop SUP within the country by constantly coaching, training and assessing others while pushing the sport in all elements (coastal, open water and white water). He has SUP'd more first descents than probably most out there could even dream! Now Jim is still coaching and training but is also helping others to push the boundaries and take SUP to its next level. He has been paramount in training nearly every half decent paddleboarder across Scotland.
As a general norm, people think of Scottish Rivers as rocky ditches with lots of rock dodging… they are not necessarily wrong, but equally it has a lot more to it! In Scotland, the Scots welcome and relish the rocks as they provide tight technical challenges (we just try not to fall on them!). Scotland also has many dam release rivers providing deeper quality white water throughout the whole year. But equally most of the non-dam-controlled rivers are commonly referred to as spate rivers, i.e. they become more than rocky ditches when there is rain or snow melt in play. And when they go, they go!
There is always something in Scotland to paddle, even on the driest of days, from grade 0 to grade 5. Nobody in Scotland has been crazy enough to run anything harder than grade 5 on a SUP yet, so probably not worth thinking about the harder rivers right now! But keep your eyes peeled for the future if it happens then we will know!
Our Scottish Friends
The US has close ties to Scotland--not only were America and Scotland joined together for the majority of the last billion years, Scotland and America have always got along well due to many of the American population (between 8-10%) having family ties to Scotland.
Today we have similarities, not only in blood, but also in a joined passion for the development of SUP. Scotland is quickly proving itself to be the hidden gem of whitewater SUP in Europe with more than 300 (known) SUP-able rivers in just 78k square kilometres, in addition to paddlers that are constantly pushing the limits of SUP. So if you are looking for a new country to paddle your SUP or are planning on visiting Europe sometime soon, then check out Scotland--you won’t be disappointed.