Need some advice

So I have been paddling a Disco 164 now for months now most every weekend with a buddy and we are really looking at doing a river run. We live in Southern California so weather is not an issue (still in the low/mid 70’s everyday) and keep paddling better and better through the fall and will keep it up this winter. While we are improving, the problem is we are in water that is not that rough, (Ocean Back Bay) some wind, some chop and some tidal current but nothing like we would see on a river with say Class 1 or 2 rapids.

My question, how do we practice for something that we have never done? We figure to try this when it’s warmer after spring, maybe May/June/July/August 2007. This gives us plenty of time get what we need for the boat and be in top shape to try this.

We have good PFD’s, paddles, etc… and both are very good swimmers but that’s about it other than desire.

Any help would be really cool of you all!!!

Work your way up
Pick a river that is primarily quickwater or Class I. If there are Class II rapids, that’s OK so long as they are short and straightforward. This gives you an opportunity to practice basic moves like eddy turns, peel outs, and ferries. Also, you can both experiment with maneuvering the canoe in current to find out what works and what doesn’t. Just be sure thew water is deep enough so that your paddles can get a bite. Don’t try extended Class II until you feel comfortable in moving water. A lot of it is just learning to read current and anticipate the timing and strokes needed to make the canoe go where you want it to.

If there is an outfitter nearby that offers classes, both of you should take it…it is well worth it.

And don’t worry about bashing a few rocks…the Disco is a pretty forgiving boat.

Good luck!

A ww helmet saved my life. Helmets are great for keeping on sunglasses and hat if you swim


– Last Updated: Nov-05-06 7:39 PM EST –

I get through a lot of screw-ups because I kneel anytime the waters not flat. knees wide, use them to keep canoe upright.
Realize you will paddle sideways , backward, or have the paddle used as a rudder 95% of the time as you are "picking your line", and the paddle will be used for forward propulsion the other 5%.
Learn to read the water. Rivers rocks show similar pattern to rocks in tidal pools or at the beach. Recognize the little swirls and eddies for what they are. Most capsizes I see are caused by unseen rocks.If you look at this shot you will see this is mild cl.1, but there are about 5 visible rocks and probably 200 that will make you happy you're kneeling. Oh yeah then there's the tree...
This shot is my 12 year old son Aaron picking a line. Note the swirls right at the bottom of the photo. Have fun,cl. 1 and 2 is a good time.

But what do we do if…
we do not have a river or fast water to practice on?

I always paddle on my knees, even on flat water, just the way I learned and feels best.

Should we just practice different moves? STOP quick, turn right/left, back paddle, etc… just get in sync?

Again, we do have lots of time before we try this and we want to be ready. We think an overnight is the most we should try for a first time. Just figure we would go one day, camp and finish the next.

Good call on the helmet. Do we need special ones or will my snowboarding helmet work?

hard question / easy answer
Q: But what do we do if we do not have a river or fast water to practice on?

A[smartass version]: Move.

A[nice version]: Dunno. Moving water in a restricted channel with numerous obstructions would be really hard to emulate in the environment you describe.

Most rivers have slower-moving portions that are good for beginners. I did my first white-water on a class II run, but I was a last-minute substitution, was with a group of experienced paddlers, and I lived to tell about it, although I tipped over a lot and swam alot.

“Follow me” is the best practice, but apparently you don’t have any rivers to follow anyone on.

Would I be correct in postulating that you’re planning to take a trip somewhere far from home to do your first whitewater and with the hope that your inexperience won’t put you at the mercy of some rural law enforcement search and rescue team (as seems to happen every year)?

you nailed one right
Practice, particularly communication. I have issues with left and right when I’m tandeming ww, and wrote ‘left’ and ‘right’ on the thwart to help me out. Communication is critical. Bow man has better visibility, but needs a mouth in the back of his head. Learn communication and practice quick response. You’ll do fine and yes, you probably will move.

daggermat is right on
the money. Communication is vital. In order to get ready for moving water RedcrossRandy and I would do slaloms. The Canunut and I would set up a series of bouys and practice “english Gates” which was a series of drills to manuever trough the bouys. We would practice at doing it fast because in moving water you have to be prepared to backpaddle like crazy if needed, then to work like a team to get the boat over to a different line.

communication in WW

– Last Updated: Nov-06-06 7:33 AM EST –

I always read how important communication is when tandem paddling whitewater. I agree completely but wonder if anyone else enjoys and employs the silent communication method.

Before geting into solos, my buddy and I used to tandem paddle class II and II+ with barely a spoken word between us. All communication was through what was done and not what was said.

Reading each other as well as the water is a very satisfying and peaceful experience. It is also a good way to raise the excitement leval and challenge of paddling mild to moderate whitewater.

And as an added bonus, it can make for a couple of practiced and confident swimmers as well!

This is a good question
and one that comes up fairly often in canoe classes. When you don’t have a local instructor then try books and videos to get you started.

My advice has been to purchase a copy of “Paddle Your Own Canoe” by Joanie and Gary McGuffin. It is a wonderfully illustrated guide to all the strokes and manuvers we routinely use in tandem and solo paddling. The book is on which usually offers the best price. I’ve re-read this book numerous times and I’ve never found anything in the book I didn’t like. I even bought a canoe, Nova Craft Supernova, designed by Gary McGuffin.

The use of bouys as pointed out above is a good way to measure your progress. Just use the book as your “textbook” and set up your own class. Take one manuver a day and practice it. The one I encourage you to spend the most time on is the forward stroke. It’s at the heart of all the manuvers.

Another good reference is the video “Drilltime” featuring Bob Foote, Wayne Dickert, Kent Ford and Karen Knight. These are four of the preiminent instructors in the country. It features solo playboating, but the strokes are the same and the eddy turns and peel outs are the same, and there are numbers of scenes using the bouys. The video is available at

I buy the fishing location bouys from They are nesting so you can cary a dozen in your canoe without a big mess.

And, for your first whitewater road trip I’d encourage you to spend it at one of the Bob Foote/Karen Knight clinics that are held in California and Oregon. Their website is and They are here in Virginia every spring for canoe and kayak clinics, and instructor training courses, and they are delightful people who love sharing their knowledge of paddling.

One of my favorite instructors when I went to Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina was a fellow who grew up in the farmlands of Northern Missouri which has a dearth of whitewater rivers. He and his buddies taught themselves how to roll a kayak in a farm pond before any of them had even seen whitewater in person.

good luck and happy paddlin’


Drilltime and Solo Playboating

Solo Playboating

Both have many good flatwater exercises as noted above. You will have to adapt them to tandem.

Any time I’ve been involved with whitewater instruction it started with flatwater exercises like those in the videos.


There is no substitute for getting out on moving water.

Nor is there any substitute for good instruction.


Find a club that paddles rivers if you
can’t afford the Knight/Foote clinics. And ditto on the books, videos and practice.

silent communication

– Last Updated: Nov-06-06 12:27 PM EST –

is beautiful, but first time around, you'll need to talk. My son and I have a few sections we run weekly, and as long as water level is consistant, we know where we're going and talk is minimal, and I "read his paddle" . A beautiful feeling. One river that's rarely up to snuff but awesome when it is has only one line, so "yeah man" and "beautiful" are about all we need. Stretches that are sneaky and offer choices require both are input. Soloing just requires me asking "how'd you manage that?" Some shots taken by "eckleson" who joined us this past saturday.

take a paddling vacation
Go somewhere you have always wanted to visit and canoe or raft with an outfitter. One or two trips downriver should equip you with enough skills in identifying hazards and lines that you can try it on your own on I and II rapids without too much anxiety.

Once you do new runs on your own, scout your run ahead of time to identify lines and look for any unexpected things like downed trees. THen just go for it. But do be very careful about water levels when you go out on your own. Class I can turn in to class III very quickly at high water levels!

One other thing, do not get discouraged. It will take a few tries to leanr to control your boat in moving water, and you WILL go downriver sidways or backwards or maybe even beside your boat while learning.

Someone suggested books

– Last Updated: Nov-06-06 3:49 PM EST –

Check out the maneuvers that are illustrated in the better paddling books. In particular, learn how to make the boat go sideways and backward. Being able to go sideways can be a lifesaver, and being able to back-paddle in a controlled fashion is far more difficult than paddling forward, but it's one of the handiest skills you can have (slows your speed in current, and allows back-ferry movements around obstacles or to cross the channel). Both of these can be practiced on flatwater, so practice-practice-practice.

Now, once you hit that river, the first thing you want to do is pick some of the first mild chutes or riffles you come across to try out your new skills on, as well as the stuff that can only be done in moving water, like ferrys (front and back) and eddyline crossings (including eddy turns and peel-outs). Communication is key, but once you and your partner have decided what to do, your respective paddle strokes need to be fairly automatic.

None of this is going to be "automatic" for quite some time, especially with two of you in the boat. You are going to make mistakes, so expect and accept that fact. The #1 rule is don't get mad at each other!

that’s the fun

– Last Updated: Nov-06-06 6:08 PM EST –

as long as you don't get killed.Still all giddy over our "airborne" maneuver a few months ago, now that the bruises healed.

Those are all real good ideas. I do have the book reccomended and read it all the time. Now I just try to teach the things in it that I learned to my paddling partner.

Communication-If I am correct, with him at the bow, he can see best, should he make the calls? Do I follow his lead?

Yes, we will have to travel to mid/northern California to try this (Angels camp, Truckee, American, Kern, etc…) but we don’t know just yet.

Where would you suggest?

We do have our signs for each other but I can see where it may not be loud enough on the moving water.

The classes and clinics suggested may be our best bet.

Again, thanks everybody and if any other info comes to mind, let me know.


is important. I try to “read” my sons paddle, sometimes unsucessfully. If he yells something that I don’t hear but notice him cranking away on one side, I know we need to head opposite. Likewise with him braking or backpaddling or steering “front wheel drive style”. When we’re in the quick stuff and I’m unable to hear, he’ll throw an elbow out to show direction.Have fun. Whitewater is a blast and will also allow you to appreciate the flatwater more, if you ever paddle flatwater again.

Check around for paddling clubs.
There are none around here in Southern Oregon so I checked out the Web and found one in the Portland area that was giving classes on moving water and whitewater. I just drove up for the weekends of the classes. Being in a class sure helped because I got to watch and talk to other paddlers.

good photos
especially the paddler standing and paddling…and btw, is the fisherman with that cigar standing in a canoe? Jes’ curious:) That Dumoine is one nice looking tandem. What material is it?