Do you live for whitewater kayaking? Does the sound of raging rapids send tingles up your spine? Do you live for the adrenalin rush of launching cartwheels and 360 degree flat spins? Does the thought of play holes, surf waves, and deep eddy lines keep you awake at night?
In other words, are you kayak crazy?
Well, crazy or not, the smart whitewater paddler knows that practice, preparation, and the right equipment are essential when confronting serious rapids. And returning home in one piece at the end of the day.
Things happen very quickly on the river, and if you’re not prepared for it–both physically and mentally–you could find yourself in trouble before you know it. But don’t let the risks keep you from trying this fun and exhilarating sport. Just take things slowly at first. Learn the techniques of safe paddling, train for various scenarios, and as you master new skills, integrate them into your whitewater repertoire.
If you’re new to whitewater kayaking–or you’ve been away for awhile–then you might want to sign up for lessons with a qualified instructor. Look for one who’s certified by the American Canoe Association or the Canadian Recreational Canoe and Kayak Association.
Locate a paddling club in your area–these are usually great resources, and many have certified instructors within their ranks. Interview the instructor before signing up for lessons and make sure this is someone you’ll be comfortable working with (there’s nothing worse than a cocky or incompetent teacher). Taking a guided trip is another option, as many of these include basic paddling instruction and equipment rental as part of the package.
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of rolling your kayak, especially in whitewater, then consider taking lessons in a pool where you can practice rolls with an instructor nearby. Just about everyone is nervous the first few times they find themselves inverted in the water, inside a kayak, but after a few successful rolls the butterflies usually go away with increased confidence and boating skills.
If you’re a more experienced paddler and you’re interested in learning new playboating skills, you still might want to take a refresher course or at least go out on a calm stretch of water and practice your roll and stroke techniques. If you’re planning a trip to an unfamiliar destination, you may need a guide or outfitter in the area. And you’ll want to get as much information as possible on the river you’ll be paddling.
Plan For Safety
You should always be aware of changing weather conditions and water levels, hazardous whitewater, safe landing spots, river access to roads and highways, and local agencies to contact in an emergency. And be sure to let someone back home know where you’ll be and when to expect your return.
Always be cognizant of your abilities and limitations, as well as the skill levels of those in your group. Whitewater kayaking has its own set of rules and its own set of demands on the participant.
Experienced paddlers are generally aware of their own limitations, but novice paddlers often don’t have the experience to know when they’re getting in over their heads. This is where an experienced guide might be a wise choice, especially if your new to paddling and you’re venturing into unfamiliar territory.
Train for the unexpected, prepare your trip in advance, and there’s no reason not to have the whitewater kayaking adventure of a lifetime!
Kayak entry — do it right, or you might take a swim
International Scale of River Difficulty
Get to know the classifications of rapids before taking on unknown water
Learning to Kayak
Learn to kayak the right way and be safe and skilled on the water.
Know what you’re getting into before you hit that unknown whitewater.
Whitewater kayaks come in a variety of shapes and sizes
Know the water levels on the river before you float your kayak