5 Questions Beginner Whitewater Kayakers Ask
4-minute read + 17-minute video
Most people hesitate to try whitewater kayaking because what they usually think of are the daredevils throwing themselves off waterfalls and other equally risky situations!
The reality is that most whitewater kayakers get into the sport for entirely different reasons. While, yes, you need a sense of adventure, whitewater has benefits that can help you in every other paddling environment.
Whitewater kayaking teaches you paddling skills, safety skills and confidence you can take with you anywhere. It also teaches you how to read a river and respect its current. And…it’s a ton of fun!
Aqua Bound Ambassador, Ken Whiting, talks about these benefits and answers the top five questions he hears from beginning whitewater kayakers in this video:
1. “Is whitewater kayaking for me?”
Are you game for adventure? Comfortable with water? Reasonably fit? If you’re all these things, you definitely should consider whitewater kayaking.
Ken gives a helpful illustration: If flatwater kayaking is like biking on a paved trail, whitewater kayaking is like mountain biking. It takes an adventurous spirit and has some inherent risk.
But just as there’s a whole range of mountain bike trails and levels of difficulty, there’s a wide variety of river difficulty. It depends on how far you take it.
He says, “I’ve been more hurt in 10 years of mountain biking than I have in over 30 years of whitewater kayaking.” Obviously being a water sport, there’s always a risk of drowning. “The best way to arm yourself is with information—knowledge and practice in that environment.”
What about your age? Ken has taught people from younger children to those in their 70s how to whitewater kayak. Age isn’t an issue as much as fitness level and getting on water that’s appropriate for your ability.
2. “Is whitewater kayaking dangerous?”
Of course there’s a level of risk—we’ve already touched on that. Any outdoor adventure sport carries risk (driving your car to work every day carries risk!).
There are very easy ways you can choose to mitigate that risk, though:
- Get instruction from a certified Whitewater Instructor. The ACA (American Canoe Association) certifies instructors all over the world. If you can take a multi-day course, you’ll have a chance to practice over and over in a short span of time.
- Don’t push your limits. Don’t look for an adrenaline surge, but the joy of getting on the water in beautiful places that few people get to see. Back to the first point, getting professional instruction gives you the tools to know what you can handle.
3. “Can I get trapped in the kayak if I flip?
A whitewater kayak is designed to feel snug. It looks as if you’re pretty well entrapped in there.
If your kayak is too small for you and if your skirt’s rip cord isn’t left out, then it’s possible you could get trapped. But those are two mistakes you have control over.
If you end up in the water, you have a great deal of incentive to get out of your kayak! Gravity will also help you pull yourself out. Getting trapped is very unlikely if your kayak fits you and your rip cord is on the outside as it should be.
When you’re learning, always practice wet exits until you’re comfortable with them. That takes a lot of the fear and uncertainty away. If you get professional instruction, you can be sure wet exits will be covered.
4. “Do I need to learn how to roll a kayak?”
It depends on why you started whitewater kayaking. If your goal is to gain some new skills and confidence, and you plan to stick to Class I and II rapids you don’t need to learn a roll.
If you want to pursue whitewater kayaking and tackle bigger waves and holes, run challenging rapids in a variety of rivers, then yes, a confident roll is a must.
“Next to your helmet and life jacket, your roll is one of the most important safety elements of whitewater kayaking,” said Ken. You’ll be more buoyant in your kayak, stay warmer and have much more confidence on the water once you’re proficient with the roll. When Ken was learning he would practice 100 rolls at a time!
5. “How do I get started whitewater kayaking?”
The best way to get started is with an introductory course, preferably one that lasts for several consecutive days.
Besides ACA courses and instructors as mentioned above, you can look for a local whitewater paddling club. Chances are they’re very open to welcoming beginners. Some of the members may be certified instructors already, and you’ll have friendly folks to learn from and practice with.
Some areas offer pool courses. This is an easy environment to learn and practice your roll and other skills you’ll need on the river.
The bottom line: If you’ve always wanted to try whitewater kayaking, you can! Get professional-level instruction (whether formally or from a kayaking friend) and get out there on some local rivers and give it a go.
(Photos courtesy of Mat Willder)
Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]
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