Invasive Species Report
Rubber Riverbugs invade North America

An exotic invasive species from the waterways of New Zealand is expected to show up on Canadian and U.S. rivers this summer. So-called "Riverbugs" are shaped like an "easy chair with pontoons," said Wally Schaber, the owner of Trailhead, an Ottawa-based paddling shop. Schaber was among the first North Americans to notice the Riverbug outbreak, which has jumped from New Zealand to Europe via cargo ship, and is now en route to Canada. In Germany, the infestation has been called "the coolest new innovation to hit the whitewater scene since kayaks got shorter than [eight feet]."

Schaber's Trailhead operation ( is set to become the first North American distributor of Riverbugs, and he expects the hand- and flipper-powered solo inflatables to compete favorably with traditional whitewater species like kayaks and open canoes in the years to come—largely because of their short learning curve. The bugs are easily identified by their miniature raft-like appearance, with twin tubes, a seatbelt and overall lengths of less than five feet. Weighing only 15 pounds and collapsing into a small duffle, Riverbugs are easily transported from river to river in automobile trunks or aboard aircrafts, further proliferating the outbreak. Higher performance Riverbugs can be Eskimo rolled like a kayak, making them capable in Class IV-plus whitewater.

"The bugs are maneuvered like a raft with your arms and legs the oars," explained Don Allardice, a Kiwi riverbugging pioneer and designer of three riverbug models (, in a press release. "You don't go forward—you paddle back and sideways against the current in a maneuver called a ferry until you're in a position to go down the V or slip into an eddy. The end where your feet are we call the stern and the end with your back and head is the bow. This is the hardest thing to learn, looking over your shoulder to drop in or out of an eddy."

If Riverbugs successfully invade North American rivers, Trailhead will be largely to blame. The outfitter is offering free ambassador clinics this spring on Canadian waterways, and hopes to distribute Allardice's Standardbug and Superbug models across the continent. –
Conor Mihell