Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater Kayaking

What is whitewater kayaking?

Whitewater kayaking is kayaking in an enclosed vessel in a river with turbulence and using a paddle that has two blades on either side.

What’s the difference between whitewater and flatwater kayaks?

In general. whitewater kayaks are going to be a lot shorter and have a lot more of a planning hole, like a surfboard, and less of a keel, like a sailboat. In whitewater scenarios, we want to be as maneuverable from side to side and be able to change our angle quickly. Whereas in a recreational kayak, usually, your main concerns are speed across the water and stability. 

How to roll a whitewater kayak?

When you see a whitewater kayaker in a video, it looks like they’re using their paddle quite a bit, but, counterintuitively, it’s all about the hips, the movement, and the coordination between your core strength and your lower body, and transferring energy from your hips into your knees and your legs, and driving the kayak underneath you. There are all sorts of different methods and techniques that you can use to accomplish the roll but at its very foundation, it is this movement that takes place in your hips and your lower body. 

What are the different types of whitewater kayaking?

We have six different classifications of whitewater. Class one, which just implies moving water. Class two, which is a few ripples, small waves, nothing that even a beginner in the sport couldn’t accomplish safely. Class three, now you’re starting to talk about having to have some level of skill to make it downstream still in your kayak. Then again, the risk level of not making it, of having to come out of the boat and swim to shore is still relatively low. Then we go up to class four, where again, it’s more difficult to navigate. And also that comes with an increased risk and danger of actually not hitting the line, and not staying in your kayak. 

There are oftentimes rocks in the rivers, there are strong currents. And so, at that point, you need to be more of an advanced kayaker. And sometimes that takes months, if not years in the sport to get to the level of class four, which would be almost like getting to a black diamond on a ski hill. And then we’d start talking about class five kayaking, which is more akin to backcountry skiing, double diamonds at a resort. We’re starting to talk about the extreme of our sport, where it’s extremely turbulent. There are a lot of rocks in the river. There are incredibly strong currents that your life jacket might not even help you float. In some cases, your kayak is going to get sucked down below the surface. You need to be an expert to run class five. 

Is it harder to whitewater kayak when you’re overweight?

Whitewater kayaking is such an amazing sport because it allows for a full spectrum of body types to get into the boat. Some boats accommodate larger individuals, and boats that accommodate little kids. It’s a tremendous opportunity for people of all body types, and all ages to enjoy these natural spaces because the river, it’s the river we’re using. We’re utilizing the river current and the river is pulling us downstream. That being said, there are all sorts of opportunities to be as physical in the river and to push yourself to the very limit of physical exhaustion. And then there’s also the type of rivers that can accommodate someone who’s never paddled in the river but can get in the whitewater kayak, feel comfortable, and float down the river and see these beautiful places.

How should my kayak fit?

Your kayak should fit comfortably. A lot of times we’ll sit in the river for hours at a time. And so you want your kayak to fit so that your legs don’t go to sleep. The primary objective for any first-time kayaker should be just to be comfortable in your boat. Now, when we start thinking about actually being able to maneuver the kayak as well and as precisely as possible, we want the kayak to start to fit like a ski boot, and anybody who’s been skiing knows that fitting a ski boot is this balance between comfort and pain. It is just like fitting yourself in a pair of ski boots, except, instead of just your foot going in, it’s your whole lower body

Why do people whitewater kayak?

Is the ultimate expression of freedom, a great way to get exercise, to breathe deeply but to be in a place that is so beautiful. And so you’re engaging with this incredible natural and powerful space. And while just, you’re filling yourself full of endorphins from the experience, from the speed of the river, from the splash of the cold water in your face, from the sight of this beautiful riparian vegetation, forests all around you, also going over a waterfall is an incredible rush of adrenaline.

How long should my whitewater kayak be?

Your whitewater kayak should be as long as you need it to be. This means that different kayaks are made for different types of rivers, and different goals in those rivers. If you’re trying to go fast and trying to cover a long distance, you’re going to want a kayak that’s much longer, much more voluminous, has a lot more volume, a lot more spaces, a lot more comfortable. If you’re trying to engage with the river, doing play maneuvers, surfing on a wave. A lot of times you’re going to look for a kayak that’s a lot shorter. That looks more like a surfboard. Might be as short as even five and a half feet long. So you’re looking at anywhere between five and a half feet and 13 feet long. 

Where can I learn to whitewater kayak?

So the best places to learn the whitewater kayak are in places with a river that has clean water, warm ambient temperatures, and an instructor that is qualified by the ACA or any number of other governing bodies across Europe, and South America, making sure that you have someone with you that knows what they’re doing, that can give you those foundational elements of a good, solid, safe start in the sport. But also, the venue is extremely important. Clean water, warmish, as warm water as possible to make it comfortable when you’re learning how to roll, go upside down, swim a lot, and then also, warm ambient temperatures, to just enjoy yourself and then spend as much time in the water as possible. Certainly, trying to learn how to kayak in the middle of the winter when it’s snowing and when it’s extremely cold is going to be a lot different than learning how to kayak in the middle of the summer when it’s a hundred degrees out and the only thing you want to do is get in the water.

How to pack gear in a whitewater kayak?

Packing gear in a whitewater kayak is all about the kayak that you choose for the particular river. When you pack the gear in the kayak, you want to put it inside a waterproof dry bag, so that your sleeping bag comes out nice and dry. Your food comes out and it’s not all mushy with river water, and your camera is still functioning too. So, it’s a combination of the space inside your kayak, and then packing the gear into those spaces inside of a dry bag.

What are tips for controlling a whitewater kayak?

Controlling a whitewater kayak is all about practice. The best place to practice is the place where you’re the most comfortable in the river. And for a beginner paddler, oftentimes the best place to practice is going to be in flat water, either in a lake or in a pool. And that’s a place where you can really focus on what your paddle strokes do to the kayak, and not worry so much about the currents coming in, and making you feel tippy. You just want to start in a place where you zero in on how your body position affects the kayak, how your strokes affect the kayak, and how your hip tilt affects the kayak. The best tip for controlling the kayak is just a lot of practice, initially in flat water. Once you become a class three paddler, the best place for you to practice your skills is going to be in class two or below, because that’s the place where you can forget about the stress or the excitement, and you can focus on your paddle strokes and your body positioning.

How long should my whitewater kayak paddle be?

Your whitewater kayak paddles should be six inches taller than you are, depending on what sort of whitewater kayaking you’re doing. In a play boat, you’re going to want to paddle that’s shorter. In a river running kayak, where you’re just taking strokes and trying to go downstream as quickly and efficiently as possible, you’re going to want a longer paddle.

What does it mean to portage a kayak?

Portaging a kayak is the ability to carry your kayak overland. And we’ll use that to get into a remote river that has no road access, or we’ll use that to get around sections of the river we don’t want to kayak because they’re too dangerous. After all, we’re too tired. But portaging a kayak is quite simple, putting your kayak on your shoulder and walking your kayak overland, as opposed to actually paddling your kayak across the surface of a lake or a river.

How do you go over a waterfall with a whitewater kayak?

There’s no need for instructions. You just get in the boat and gravity does the rest. Now to go over that waterfall, not get injured, and have the best chance for survival, there are some techniques and they’re not all the same. And they differ depending on what waterfall you’re running. 

How do you scout a river before and during a whitewater kayaking trip?

Before a whitewater kayaking trip, we can use several different resources, from topo maps, and satellite imagery, to word of mouth, to guidebooks. And as more information, you can gain about a potential river, the more prepared you can get for that particular river. Once we get on the river, we use what’s called boat scouting to move downstream. And that’s because in most rivers and especially those that don’t have a road or a trail right next to them, the only way that we can know what’s actually in the river is by floating downstream. And so we’ll float downstream and navigate the river as much as we possibly can until something called a horizon line forces us out of our kayak, and makes us walk down the bank of the river and examine the river from that point. We utilize what are called eddies along the side of the river to stop, get out of our kayaks, examine the river, and see if it’s possible to continue to paddle downstream. And we continue with that sort of maneuver down the river. 

How often should I drain my whitewater kayak?

You don’t need to worry too much about having a little water inside your boat. It’s inevitable. It comes in through the spray skirt a little bit. The kayaks aren’t meant to be dry. They’re meant to have a little bit of water come in, so you don’t need to be too worried about it. 

How to choose a whitewater kayak?

So there are several different companies. There are many different models of a kayak. The best way to choose your whitewater kayak is to get out there, to have your first experience with an instructor at a place where you can try some different kayaks in different sizes, and different models, each different company has its sort of outfitting that makes the kayak more or less comfortable for certain individuals. 

What to bring whitewater kayaking?

The only mandatory pieces of equipment for whitewater kayaking are A, and your helmet. B, your life jacket. C, your spray skirt. D, your paddle. And then the kayak itself. And then from there, it’s all about creature comforts. 

How do you stay in contact when you’re on the river?

Being on the river and going out into these corridors is losing contact for a little bit. And sometimes in rivers, you’ll still have cell service, but in the best rivers, in the beautiful wilderness scenarios, you’re gonna lose contact with cell towers. And at that point, you can bring some of the available Satcom devices. Devices like the Garmin device, and others like the SPOT device. And those are two-way messaging service that seems to work well, as opposed to sat phones, which also work well, but in general, they’re much more costly.

Is whitewater kayaking dangerous?

Yes, whitewater kayaking can be extremely dangerous. But whitewater kayaking can also be incredibly fun, and incredibly risk-free, on a perfect day with warm temperatures, good friends, and a river that’s well within your ability. Whitewater kayaking offers everything from the simplicity of a picnic in the park, to something that’s more akin to skydiving, in the big waterfall kayaking that you oftentimes see on the internet. Is a very niche sport, but comes to the forefront of pop culture and into the public perception because it is so jaw-dropping to see someone come over a waterfall that’s a hundred feet tall, but it's also the most peaceful experience that you can have.

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