A Beginner's Guide To Whitewater Kayaking
Whitewater Kayaking 101: A Beginner's Guide by E. J. Seyer
So, you've decided to take up whitewater kayaking. You probably
have a friend, or relative who has peaked your interest making
you want to take the leap from watching to paddling. Following
your new mentor may not be the best approach to getting started
in whitewater kayaking however. The tendency to gloss over
important lessons is one reason you should learn from a
certified instructor trained to communicate everything you need
to know to get started whitewater kayaking.
Some basic questions you should ask yourself before starting
1.) Can you swim? It's basic, but very important to your safety
and development as a whitewater kayaker.
2.) Are you going to remain interested long enough to make it
worth purchasing all the equipment necessary?
3.) Are you in good enough physical condition to begin
whitewater kayaking? Fitness level is important in how you
progress, but can be worked on before hand if you need to get in
shape before beginning. The sport itself will then help you to
continue conditioning yourself starting with basic lessons.
If you've answered yes to all of these questions, you may begin,
and should start with lessons either at a kayak school, several
day seminars offered by outfitters, or other instructional
training. You can get some good information from books, and
instructional DVD's if you can't find local instructors. The American Canoe Association certifies instructors in the U.S. and
can help in finding instruction nearby.
Whitewater instruction doesn't start on whitewater for
beginners. You should first spend a good part of a day on a lake
or other calm water, just getting used to balancing a kayak,
using paddles, and getting accustomed to sitting in, or on top
of a kayak until you feel comfortable. Even indoor classes in
swimming pools are preferable to jumping in head first. These
are used to prepare you just spending some time in a position
you are not normally in, and getting you used to the tippy
feeling you may get in some kayaks.
Before leaving the still water of the pool or lake it is
important to learn how to do a wet exit. This basic maneuver is
essential, and will help you gain the confidence that will keep
you from being overcome with panic, the first time you find
yourself upside down in a river. A more advanced maneuver to
right a capsized kayak without exiting is the Eskimo roll. For
people who are fit enough, and learn quickly, a one day session
may be all that is required to begin whitewater kayaking, but to
master this technique requires practice.
Now that you've got your feet wet so to speak, a nice training
float on a river with minimal whitewater is a good next step.
Many outfitters and trainers offer this kind of trip for
beginners; these trips have enough whitewater to keep you
interested without scaring you away. They use stable sit on top
kayaks for these trips, and are a good first river trip for
If you have decided that whitewater kayaking is for you after
these first few prerequisite steps, you may want to start
looking to buy your own equipment. Talk to experts in your area
who know what types of waters are available locally. This should
help in your equipment buying decisions. Making good choices up
front will enhance your entire kayaking experience.
The best way to know what you want before you have to lay out
the cash is to rent equipment the first few times, or go on
guided tours that include equipment so that you may try it
before you buy it. Many retailers have proving grounds nearby to
let you test drive kayaks, before you buy. Do not skimp on
safety if you are a beginning whitewater kayaker. A good
Personal Floatation Device, helmet, and wet suit are very
important to your safety and enjoyment of whitewater paddling.
By now you are immersed as it were, in your new hobby. You've
taken the classes, learned to wet exit or roll, gotten some
paddling instruction, and can maneuver fairly well on low class
rapids. You can now hit the river, stream, or creek, but let's
not over do it. Knowledge of whitewater classifications can help
you to not get in over your head. There are several different
scales on which rapids are rated. The International Scale of
River Difficulty is probably the benchmark for this, but there
are others. Be careful because they contain some ambiguity
because of the constant state of change that takes place in
rivers. The scales describe whitewater general characteristics,
but at any given time these characteristics change. River flow
from rain or snow melt, changing conditions on the banks such as
fallen trees, can change the degree of difficulty dramatically
in a short period of time. The following is a general overview
of whitewater conditions, but again, see the International Scale
of River Difficulty to accurately rate a river at a given time.
Class I - EASY - Fast water with visible obstructions.
Class II - NOVICE - Rapids with small drops, and eddies easily
Class III - INTERMEDIATE - Moderate rapid, big waves, and back
eddies. You should have some experience before taking these
Class IV - ADVANCED - High waves, whirlpools, strong back
eddies. All safety equipment is required on these rapids, i.e.
helmet, PFD, and spray skirt. These rapids should not be paddled
alone as a group rescue may be required.
Class V - EXPERT - Long violent rapids. Only the most
experienced, skilled, and fit paddlers should attempt these.
Obstacles that cannot be avoided, powerful whirlpools, and
strong back eddies make these rapids extremely dangerous, and
rescue will be difficult even for the most skilled, highly
Class VI - EXTREME - Unrunnable rapids. Attempt at your own
Concentrate on the first 2 class types of whitewater for the
first few months, as you develop your skills, you will be able
to tell what type of waters you can safely navigate and enjoy
your new hobby as your skill and confidence levels increase.
E.J. Seyer is a paddling enthusiast and the publisher of http://www.my-kayak-and-canoe-world.com, an online resource on
kayaking and canoeing, related gear, accessories and paddling