Don’t Say This to Beginning Whitewater Kayakers…

whitewater kayaker

(photo courtesy of @levelsix @jlitzphoto)

Whitewater kayaking is a different animal than flatwater kayaking. River levels, water hazards and varying degrees of rapids make it complex and demand respect in a different way.

Here we bust common misconceptions beginning whitewater kayakers are sometimes told, with help from our friends at

“You won’t have any fun until you can roll.”

Other skills come into play before learning a roll—like basic strokes to control your kayak. Just being on the water is fun—especially for beginners. Gaining confidence in gentler currents and smaller rapids first makes learning the roll easier.

When it’s time for a beginner to learn to roll, take a class, hire a coach and practice from all starting positions. Read 9 Myths about Rolling a Kayak.

“Someday you’ll be good enough to kayak alone.”

Many kayakers love paddling solo, others advise against it for safety reasons. So there’s different opinions on this particular statement. In The Experience of Kayaking Alone, the author writes, “…the danger of kayaking alone isn’t less for experienced kayakers, but the risks are better understood and accepted by the paddler.”

The bottom line is the need for experience—in kayaking, in reading rivers, in rolling, etc. And when you kayak with others, there’s always someone to help if you run into an emergency situation.)

whitewater kayaker
(photo courtesy of @levelsix @jlitzphoto)

“You can only run something blind once.”

Even expert whitewater kayakers like Ken Whiting advise always scouting a major rapids sections before heading down it—even if you’ve paddled it dozens of times. You want to know about potential hazards that may not have been there the last time—like fallen trees—before you begin.

“Beginners shouldn’t run anything blind. Faithfully duckying along behind a more experienced paddler doesn’t teach much about reading current, identifying obstacles and creating a strategy if the newbie never gets out of their boat for a new perspective” says kayaker Kalob Grady.

“Don’t worry about how your gear fits until you get serious.”

Using a kayak or paddle that isn’t the right size for a new whitewater kayaker in the beginning will go a long ways to de-motivating that paddler for future kayaking. On the flip side, a good fit means better performance which means more confidence…right from the beginning.

“Do it for social media!”

As Paddling Mag editor, Kaydi Pyette, writes, “Reality beats Instagram every time.” People who want to learn to whitewater kayak so they can have epic social media posts are doing it for the wrong reason. They may end up with an epic image here and there, but motivation needs to be so much deeper than impressing others.

“Paddle hard!”

Instead, be more specific. Teach them the hows and whys of paddle strokes so their understand and technique is developed. And then encourage lots and lots of practice.

“Everything will be fine…”

If this is said due to laziness in teaching proper kayak skills or due to starting beginners on a river that’s above their level—no. Take the time to instruct, demonstrate and provide adequate practice at the right pace and on the right rivers.

A bad first experience can mean the end of whitewater kayaking for that person. A great first experience will whet their appetite for more.

whitewater kayakers

(photo courtesy of @jay_siemens)

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