Wild & Broken

A First SUP Descent Of Utah’s Escalante River

Morgan Tilton

The river’s milk chocolate surface, marbled with whirlpools of whitewater, draped like an infinity pool over the drops ahead. I gaped at my buddy, Dylan Brown, as he bumbled down the first cascade and rocketed backwards off his standup paddle board—which took a 180-spin and smacked the surface, gear faced down. After clambering with the SUP (which was now lodged against a boulder), he finally leveraged it flat, jumped back on and raced down concurrent drops after his paddle. I looked back at our crew of paddlers—Jordan Curet, Morgan Smith and Aaron Kloer—whose lips moved, but the thundering turbulence that bounced off the walls of the canyon quelled any chance of hearing them.

I stood above the chute in belly-deep water and gripped the rail of my SUP so it wouldn’t tornado away. The current’s strong surge meant backing out was impossible. If I released my board and swam to the riverbank the prospect of a gear recovery downstream seemed too risky. I inhaled and hopped back on my SUP. To counterbalance the powerful current, I kneeled and pierced my paddle down and back, along the rail. A split second later, I was bucked off as the board’s nose popped up in the landing. I bobbed to the surface and stole a quick breath before going over drop number two. Submerged and pumped with adrenaline, I kicked inside the huge billow and swam back to the surface. Feet pointed downstream, I leaned back for the third and final drop.

It was

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