Standing Up on Honduras’s Wild Rapids

Mj 618_348_standing up on hondurass wild rapids

Lugging a stand-up paddleboard through the jungle to the steepest, most technical river in Honduras might not, at first glance, seem like the brightest idea. The Rio Cangrejal plummets nearly 900 feet over 15 miles, churning over colossal Class V rapids on its way from the rain forest to the Caribbean Sea. If the waterfall-style drops and narrow labyrinths of towering boulders don’t get you, the jaguars that prowl Pico Bonito National Forest‘s riverbanks may well try.

Despite the risk (or maybe because of it), intrepid kayakers have been running the Class IV and V rapids in the upper section of the river for years, ending their trips in calmer waters frequented by whitewater rafting outfitters. No one had ever tried to make the descent on a stand-up paddleboard. Nobody knew if it would be possible.

We decided to find out.

We based ourselves at the Lodge at Pico Bonito, an eco-resort nestled between the Coloradito and Corinto rivers, and arranged a meeting with Udo Wittemann, a professional kayaker from Germany who has been running trips on the Cangrejal for 20 years. The owner of Omega Tours, Wittemann is regarded as the local authority on the river.

It took most of the 45 minutes needed to drive to the Cangrejal to convince Wittemann that we weren’t going to die. No one had ever run any river in Honduras on a stand-up paddleboard, so we had to negotiate a trial one-mile run along one of the river’s less tempestuous sections. Ken Hoeve, a pro from Colorado, served as a guinea pig while the rest of us sat in a raft. For extra insurance, Wittemann sent his top kayaker, a dreadlocked New Zealander named Simon, to run safety.

Hoeve jumped on his board – the bombproof SuperCharger made by Jackson Kayak – and hooked up his Drift HD Ghost camera to capture what was to become the first SUP river descent in Honduras. The water was warm enough to swim and crystal clear. In one mile, we watch Hoeve hit eight rapids and three high-octane waterfall-style drops. He portaged once, to avoid the aptly named El Diablo rapid, which featured a particularly gnarly rock at the base of a drop.

At the take-out, Wittemann was waiting with his Rottweiler. He shook Hoeve’s hand and invited us back to his place for beer. There, we toasted with bottles of SalvaVida, a local beer that translates as “livesaver.” After a couple rounds, we convinced Wittemann to accept a stand-up paddleboard in exchange for his promise to let more SUPers take on the river. And that’s how Honduras was opened to paddlers.

More information: Cabins at the Lodge at Pico Bonito start at $215 and include breakfast. Half-day guided rafting of the Cangrejal with Omega Tours starts at $59 and includes lunch. SUP excursions are now negotiable.

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