Standup paddling on the Los Angeles River is an urban adventure like no other. As with any good paddling adventure, getting to your destination is part of the fun. You plan, you pack and you head out to attain epic glory. Or at the very least, a fun day on the water!

I chose to use a Hala Radito for my most recent outing. Designed for whitewater and expedition paddling, the 10’x34”x6” Radito was a perfect platform for a late season trip on the Los Angeles River. The Radito is equipped with Hala Gear’s revolutionary Stompbox™ Retractable Fin, meaning the center fin on the SUP will retract inside the board upon impact with an underwater object. Having the Stompbox™ on this particular trip proved to be an undeniable good thing given the shallow water and abundance of rocks and other obstacles. The Los Angeles River does have a year round flow, but the volume of water is dependent on snowmelt and winter rain upstream. Since I did the run in late August, shallow water was prevalent throughout my journey.

Los Angeles River, SUP Examiner, Matt Chebatoris, Hala Gear, Hala Radito, MTI Cascade, Merrell, All Out Blaze Aero Sport, standup paddling, los angelesLaunching into the Los Angeles River

I launched near Frog Spot, which is an eclectic, semi-post industrial urban locale on the right bank of the Los Angeles River in Elysian Valley not far from Griffith Park. After exiting the I-5 at the aptly named Riverside Dr., the next challenge is finding a place to park. (Note: There are two sections of the Los Angeles River open to recreational paddling, the 2.5 mile Elysian Valley section and the 2.0 mile Sepulveda Basin section.)  

There isn’t a designated parking area for visiting the LA River, nor is there a developed launch/recovery spot. Paddling the Los Angeles River is about as wild and urban of a paddling adventure as it gets. You know that huge concrete channel wall you’ve seen in countless movies and television shows? Well, after ducking under the fence, you’ll have the opportunity to hike down the concrete channel wall, SUP in hand, as you make your way towards the river.

There is a natural bottom in this section of the river. Normally when writing about paddling on a river it would likely go without saying that the river bottom is natural. This being LA, “natural” is a relative term. The Army Corps of Engineers lined the Los Angeles River with concrete in the 1930s as a flood control measure. As the story goes, the concrete failed to set in a couple of sections due to the influx of water from subterranean springs. Fast-forward to 2017 and there is a micro-ecosystem of foliage and wildlife surrounded by the concrete urban jungle of LA.

After marching down the concrete channel wall I made my way through a mini-jungle of greenery to the river and located a suitable spot to launch. The great thing about having an inflatable such as the Hala Gear Radito is you can simply toss your board into the water and jump in.

I paddled, sometimes hiked, upstream towards Fletcher Dr. before turning around and making a downstream run. Closed toed footwear is essential for running a river and I was glad to have a pair of Merrell All Out Blaze Aero Sport shoes protecting my feet. Designed as a hydro-hiker, the Aero Sport has a mesh upper to facilitate instantaneous drainage, ample toe and heel protection, along with a Vibram hiking tread on the sole. I previously wore the shoes on an exploration of the Palos Verdes Peninsula and they were every bit as home on the river as they were along the rocky coast.

There is an abundance of wildlife populating the river, including numerous schools of fish darting about in the pools of water behind protected rocks. I also came across several Canada Geese, Mallard Ducks, and various herons and egrets. Given the dense undergrowth in the green belt along the bank there was almost certainly a few additional species which spied me along the way.

As I paddled downstream I found a fun little section where the navigable section of the river narrowed to approximately 3.5 ft and required a succession of left-right-left maneuvers to successfully pass. The speed of the river picked up as it rushed through the notch. It was a neat little ride and I ran the sections a few times just for fun!

Board performance

Based on my experience with the Hala Radito, I highly recommend it for paddling on swift moving rivers. The nose rocker easily handles the bumping motion of wave trains. The width provides a generous amount of stability, while the compact length and swallowtail offer the performance and maneuverability needed to successfully run a river. The bright red, yellow and blue deck pad explodes with color and really stands out. Visibility is important, especially when progressing into more challenging conditions and I have no doubt the Hala Radito would be up to the task.

Perhaps the most valuable feature which truly sets the Radito apart is the Stompbox™ Retractable Fin working in tandem with the board’s four unbreakable gummy side bites. All five fins have a shallow draft which enables you to use the board in shallow conditions where rocks can easily destroy a conventional fin box.  

Gear for the Los Angeles River

Paddling the Los Angeles River is an adventure and is not a destination I recommend for inexperienced standup paddlers. The river is fraught with hazards, most of which are unseen, and the water is moving swiftly in some sections due to the narrow width of the navigable channel. While there are sections which, during certain times of the year, it is possible to safely launch / recover a hard board, the river is best run on an inflatable standup paddleboard.

Closed toed footwear is essential. I recommend Merrell’s All Out Blaze Aero Sport for a dedicated, bad ass river shoe to protect your feet. You can paddle in them and comfortably hike over any terrain. The latter is important because you may have to portage your board through some sections due to obstacles.

As with footwear, wearing a foam PFD (not an inflatable belt pack) is a must for running the river. I use the MTI Cascade which is a very comfortable, adjustable PFD packed with great features such as zippered pockets, Z-strap adjustment points and daisy chain loops. If you choose to wear a leash on the river, use a coiled leash with a quick release toggle. Attaching your leash to a SUP leash release belt is the prefered configuration when paddling a river. Alternatively, you may attach your releasable SUP leash to your PFD, provided it is attached in a location which you can easily reach. I used the latter method. If you intend to spend time regularly paddling whitewater, I recommend investing in a PFD designed specifically with whitewater SUP in mind.

Lastly, protect your head and wear a helmet. Most rivers are full of rocks and unseen hazards. The Los Angeles River is no exception. If you don’t have a paddling specific helmet but have a bike helmet and are just planning a one-off trip, wear your bike helmet. Be safe, have fun and live to tell the tale of your epic adventure!   

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For additional information about paddling the Los Angeles River visit: http://lariverrecreation.org/

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Matt Chebatoris

Founder at SUP Examiner
Matt is a former national security professional and lifelong adventurer. He has published material on a variety of topics in the foreign policy arena and founded SUP Examiner™ as a platform to share his enjoyment of the sport with others. Matt resides in Los Angeles with his wife Karen and their tuxedo cat Maximilian.