Whitewater paddling is, admittedly an adrenaline sport. Once you obtain the tools and learn the techniques to make you feel safe on the rapids, it is all you think about, and you do become addicted, at least in a sense.
Whitewater Paddling and American River Rafting is also about gaining access to remote locations, enjoying nature, and pushing yourself. There is also an intensely avid whitewater paddling community to support you along your journey… and, make no mistake, it is a journey.
Accessing the Paddling Community
There are people who build their lives around whitewater paddling, camping in remote locations, and seeing the country from the river. You may think to yourself, “I’ll never dive off a waterfall nose first in a kayak,” but, before you know it, that is exactly where you are at. According to one website, here are a few tips to help you get started
1) Start locally by finding and whitewater paddling club. Find out meeting times and from a webpage or local message board and show up to a meeting to talk to paddlers first-hand about their experiences. Most enthusiasts will be eager to share their stories, and, while it can be intimidating approaching a new group of people, just remember that clubs often set recruitment goals which means you will likely be treated like royalty from the moment you arrive.
2) Seek out the advice of an instructor from a local college or intramural competitive team. These guys live and breathe competition and racing, so they know all about techniques and best equipment. They also teach for a living, so many will be happy to profess their knowledge to you.
3) Take lessons. Associations and outfitters alike routinely offer group and tailored lessons from pros and trainers. For a fee you can sign up and take as many lessons as you think you need, then just hit the water and practice what you have learned. Expect to cover topics like the wet-exit, learning to roll, and gaining comfort and familiarity with your gear.
4) Of course, outfitters will want you to buy something, but you don’t need to feel pressured as they will be just as happy to rent equipment. Some shops even have a try-before-you-buy policy, and many rec parks and schools may even let you borrow equipment if you agree to return it in the same shape it was in when you borrowed it.
Paddling Buyer’s Remorse and Practice Makes Perfect
So you have borrowed and practices and taken lessons. You have just dropped $1,000 on a pair of kayaks, paddles, racks, and life vests. You drive to the lake and get the kayaks in the water. You are admittedly nervous as you try to get in, and you wobble as you get inside. Your partner pushes you out a little deeper, and you attempt to make an adjustment despite your training, shifting your weight incorrectly and promptly dunking yourself in the cold water below.
You instantly doubt your purchase and your ability to take on what has suddenly amounted to the towering endeavor or learning whitewater paddling as you struggle to gain your composure in front of a clearly concerned crowd that has gathered on the beach.
When your trainer leaves your side, stay calm and remember your lessons. Better yet, find a “training ground” of your own. Training is best done with a partner, who can help you to work out your weak spots. A pool, a tranquil like, or a lazy river bend all make great locations for practice. If you are having a hard time with rolls, work them out here. If you don’t feel comfortable getting in and out of a kayak, practice them here. Pretty soon, such concerns will become the second nature.
And speaking of rolls, it is one of the biggest challenges new paddlers face. According to one site, the roll is the single greatest accomplishment toward being comfortable on the river in all types of flows. However, depending on your athleticism, body control, comfort level at being upside down in the water, and flexibility it can take days or even weeks to master.
After you master the roll, you are on to the combat roll, which you will, no doubt, employ during class V and VI rapids. At this point, you will likely know how to roll by feel, but many references suggest bringing a pair a swim goggle while learning the technique, as it helps to see the boat and the waterline when you are first starting out.
American Whitewater Association Guide
As you practice over and over again, you will move from rolls and combat rolls to ferrying, eddying out, and surfing. These techniques will form the building blocks that you will use to take on running whitewater kayaking of any scale.
The next step, naturally, will be to consult the American Whitewater Association for a list of rapids near you. It is recommended that your first trip down the rapids be with a group of paddlers. As some will be more experienced and some less experienced, it should be an adventure for all. The goal, of course, is for all paddlers to feel comfortable and safe.
The guide is all online and covers rapids class I through VI in every state. This is a valuable resource not only for its listings, but the site also gives river descriptions and the most recent known hazards along the waterway. Whether you are looking for class II or class VI rapids, you will find them on this comprehensive site.
Whitewater Paddling Wrap-up
It is what you do when you find the rapids that will determine what kind of whitewater kayaker you will be. After all, whitewater paddling is a lifelong progression. and you can’t learn everything in a training session. The river has its own lessons to teach.
But once you’re fully hooked, it will change your perspective on paddling, rivers, and life. Just remember to start slow, stay safe, enjoy the journey, and “stay in the flow” for Whitewater Paddling and American River Rafting.