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Best way to learn how to Whitewater Kayak


Original Post
Seth Bleazard · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2018 · Points: 275

I did an easy class 3 whitewater rafting trip this summer. The guides told me about kayaking, and I got interested. Anyone know the best way to learn how to kayak?

John Ryan · · Poncha Springs, CO · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 170

Don't. "Yer gonna die"!!!  Sorry first time I got to do this. I personally have many stories of near death experiences on water, crashing boats, sinking boats, destroying boats, losing boats, getting hit by boats, etc.
Assuming you have better luck/behavior on the water I'd take a roll clinic which are often offered by universities in the relative safety of a swimming pool. 

bruno-cx · · my sprinter · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 5

Hook up with a local club, many of them have programs that start in the winter to help new kayakers prepare for winter.

Señor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

You asked for the best, not the cheapest: Otter Bar Lodge

I learned to WW kayak there and the entire experience was fantastic. 

rockhard · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 65

Get a kayak and go for it

Andy McQuillen · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 55

Learn to roll in a pool, lake, or pond before you head to moving water.

James Reed · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 10

+1 for Otter Bar or something like it.  Also try paddling an inflatable kayak called a ducky on some easier whitewater, Class 2-3, see if you like that.  If that's fun for you, go for it.  Been whitewater paddling 35 years, and I'm not that old (50 yrs).  One of the funnest things you can do.  Also one of the most dangerous.  Rivers never let up.  If you are in a bad place, the river never let's up.  Get a good roll and good safe paddling partners, no jokers or wannabe's.  They are always a liability on the river.  Take a class at an outdoor adventure center.  Progress slowly.  Take a swiftwater rescue class.  You will see things from a kayak that no one but kayakers (or sometimes rafters) will see.  A circular rainbow in the mist from the lip of a 40 ft waterfall, exploding waves 15 ft high as you carve across the face in the Grand, an otter pulling a steelhead from a river at the lip of a big drop...  One of my top 3 sports.  Right up there with powder skiing and surfing killer waves.  A reaaally good day of climbing a big feature might compare.  Rivers are magic.  

Mark Andes · · Golden, CO · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 26

You don't list where you live.  So depending on location it could be really easy or kinda hard.  Winter is a rough time of year to start kayaking....just ask me I started kayaking in the last fall/winter about 16 years ago :-)

Clubs are possible but you don't want to get that "club boater" stink on you.  What I did many years ago was, step 1 buy all the gear (which for winter includes full dry gear).....step 2 take a weekend clinic at the NOC (Nantahala  outdoor center in NC, probably last classes of the year going on now or over with, which is what it was for me) step 3 go on BoaterTalk.com (which I hear has recently undergone a bit of a renewal) and find people.

Señor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10
James Reed wrote: +1 for Otter Bar or something like it.  Also try paddling an inflatable kayak called a ducky on some easier whitewater, Class 2-3, see if you like that.  If that's fun for you, go for it.  Been whitewater paddling 35 years, and I'm not that old (50 yrs).  One of the funnest things you can do.  Also one of the most dangerous.  Rivers never let up.  If you are in a bad place, the river never let's up

This, in bold above, is why I quit kayaking. My instructor, who was a world class expedition boater, died in an accident in S. America where he was pinned into a cave and eventually died not of drowing but of hypothermia. Nobody with him could get in there to help extract him, even though they could yell to each other. And he couldn't swim out. The Chilean government actually turned off a dam upstream to help get his body out. I figured if that could happen to him it just wasn't worth it for me. 

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 400

Make sure you find a good ROLL model.  har har har.

garrett knorr · · fort collins · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 60
Señor Arroz wrote:

This, in bold above, is why I quit kayaking. My instructor, who was a world class expedition boater, died in an accident in S. America where he was pinned into a cave and eventually died not of drowning but of hypothermia. Nobody with him could get in there to help extract him, even though they could yell to each other. And he couldn't swim out. The Chilean government actually turned off a dam upstream to help get his body out. I figured if that could happen to him it just wasn't worth it for me. 

With my (almost) complete lack of knowledge of white water, I feel this case is an outlier. Similar to the story of the climber who fell and died because their gear sling caught on a rock, asphyxiating them. Another comparison is that people are some million times (?actual number?) more likely to die in a car crash than from an airplane crash but people are more afraid of getting in a plane than a car. 

My point being that, there are much more rational fears in white water kayaking (and life). It's best to not let these fears get to you. With that being said, everything is a personal decision and everyone should make decisions that let them sleep at the end of the day.
Andrew Rational · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2018 · Points: 10

I grew up in central Idaho, in a boating family, and am still a very regular boater. Usually in an oar raft or semi-whitewater canoe these days, but the number one thing to learn for any swiftwater boating is how to read the water, and how it will affect the boat, and how to move the boat in relation to it. Some of it can be pretty counterintuitive, and you always have to work with the water, because you can only very rarely overpower it. You have to learn to work with it. Go sit on a rock and just watch a big rapid for a few hours. Note where things go, and how it changes. Then go swim a few smaller rapids wearing a good life jacket, and try to self-rescue. Start with a riffle, and move up to class 2 and then 3. They will fuck your shit up, and you will really understand what you are up against. Try to swim one with a big wave train. Your body/instincts will tell you, almost uncontrollably, to breath at the crests of the waves, not the troughs, and you will get a mouthful of water every time. Obviously, have an experienced safety boater with you when you do this. I’ve swam twice, unplanned, in two big water class 4s, once in Hell’s Canyon, and once on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, and it sucked. I was able to self-rescue in HC (good thing since I was rowing the boat) but I had to be fished out on the MFS.

As for actual physical skills, a solid roll on both sides is key, as are a solid eddy turn and peel out. A solid eddy turn and peel out are critical in a kayak: they give you time to rest and re-assess, and observe. A roll should be a rarely needed skill, if you are reading the water well, and resting, and observing, and planning.

Edit: and I know far more skilled boaters who have died boating than I know skilled climbers who have died climbing.

Señor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10
garrett knorr wrote:

With my (almost) complete lack of knowledge of white water, I feel this case is an outlier. Similar to the story of the climber who fell and died because their gear sling caught on a rock, asphyxiating them. Another comparison is that people are some million times (?actual number?) more likely to die in a car crash than from an airplane crash but people are more afraid of getting in a plane than a car. 

My point being that, there are much more rational fears in white water kayaking (and life). It's best to not let these fears get to you. With that being said, everything is a personal decision and everyone should make decisions that let them sleep at the end of the day.

He's not the first person I knew who died in whitewater, FWIW. Just to put it in perspective, I surf really big waves. I rock climb. I freedive and scuba dive. I don't mind being around great white sharks. But there was something about the relentlessness of moving river water and a couple scary experiences of my own that made me decide that it just wasn't worth it for me. I'd never tell someone else not to do it or that it's not a great time. It's fantastic. Just didn't make my risk-reward cut. 

Klimbien · · St.George Orem Denver Vegas · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 480

Agree with most of what has been said. I only add this, once you've got your roll down and you want some lower risk, high reward fun, take your WW kayak to the ocean and find a place with small surf that offers sets that allow you to get out past the break line w/o getting pummeled and surf  the ocean waves. Spend some time to find a beach with a sandy  bottom for obvious reasons (and don't forget your helmet just in case). Great way to take an "intermediate" step which can be difficult for many people to go from the controlled environment of a pool or lake to a river with moving water. A roll in river that is moving quickly with rapids is what I'd call a battle roll, and just like many people who fall in love with climbing at a gym....sometimes, stay at the gym, never making the transition to outdoor climbing. The ocean is not a controlled environment, but as long as you start small, and *slowly* work your way to bigger waves, it can be a much less stressful environment. In the ocean its easy to pull, very little consequence playing in water where small children feel safe, but sometimes, in big rivers, pulling can be worse than the last option. Buy good shin guards. My friends laughed at me at first....until we all went and did the Salmon in Northern Idaho. Also if you buy a boat, make sure that you've tried a few before making the plunge. Totally worth even renting first b/c I can't stand the small play boats, but love steep creeking boats.

Señor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10
Klimbien wrote: Agree with most of what has been said. I only add this, once you've got your roll down and you want some lower risk, high reward fun, take your WW kayak to the ocean and find a place with small surf that offers sets that allow you to get out past the break line w/o getting pummeled and surf  the ocean waves. Spend some time to find a beach with a sandy  bottom for obvious reasons (and don't forget your helmet just in case). Great way to take an "intermediate" step which can be difficult for many people to go from the controlled environment of a pool or lake to a river with moving water. A roll in river that is moving quickly with rapids is what I'd call a battle roll, and just like many people who fall in love with climbing at a gym....sometimes, stay at the gym, never making the transition to outdoor climbing. The ocean is not a controlled environment, but as long as you start small, and *slowly* work your way to bigger waves, it can be a much less stressful environment. In the ocean its easy to pull, very little consequence playing in water where small children feel safe, but sometimes, in big rivers, pulling can be worse than the last option. Buy good shin guards. My friends laughed at me at first....until we all went and did the Salmon in Northern Idaho. Also if you buy a boat, make sure that you've tried a few before making the plunge. Totally worth even renting first b/c I can't stand the small play boats, but love steep creeking boats.

Great advice here. Totally true that playing in a WW boat in ocean surf is a much more relaxed experience than even Class III whitewater. 

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20

Having a reliable roll is a must. In my ACA L4 Instructor certified opinion it is a very good starting point for WW kayaking. Surprisingly, you might pick up a lot of boat handling skills while trying to learn the roll.
See if there is WW community where you live, they usually organize pool sessions for fun activities - roll practice, kayak soccer. They might even have spare boats for you to try - boat size and fit are quite important.  It is possible local Universities/Colleges might have kayak pool sessions as well.
Stay away from inflatable kayaks - the only thing they will teach you is horrible skills, it will take you a long time to get rid of them.

Another "fun" activity is WW SUP - where you try to balance your way through rapids on stand up paddleboard. It is most definitely a spectator sport ;)

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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