Practical whitewater schools

My friends and I are looking into whitewater schools and clinics for the coming summer (as outbreak conditions allow). We are in West Michigan and so far, we’re looking at possibly going to Madawaska Kanu Center or trying to get into the Three Rivers Club clinics in PA. NOC down south is also highly recommended.

In looking into these things, it occurs to me that there are different ways to skin a cat. Realistically, I don’t see myself owning a boat with 4 inches of rocker. We are 300+ miles from any real Class III water. I have no issues trying to learn on a Class III, but what I’m looking for will be primarily used on Class I-II in boats with mild rocker.

For more context, while I’m amazed at Tom Foster’s video, it occurs to me that those techniques (carving onside circles) can’t be easily applied to a 15-16 foot boat with 1.5 inches of rocker.

I want a course called “Whitewater skills for flatlanders with compromise canoes”

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I don’t really see what the problem is. Whitewater skills are best learned in a whitewater boat, but the basic skills are good in any boat. Edging, boat control tracking etc.

So some of this stuff will be something you have to work harder for in a boat with less rocker. But they are nonetheless good skills.

One of the more entertaining things can be watching long boaters who have never done any whitewater their first time in a tidal race or strong current. There is usually a disproportionate amount of swimming involved. You can spot the ones who also have WW under their belts immediately.

Full reveal, I was one of them my first time in a tidal race. Happened to get some WW time between that and the next one, made all the diff in the stuff I could handle without swimming. Can’t say that attainment was ever my strong suit, as I went by the standing wave yet again, but no one had to rescue me.

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There’s no problem, just trying to pick a school and it looks like a minimum of 8 hours of driving, so I’m looking for the best fit…

The NOC course is really oriented towards class II. If you take the one week course, the last two days are spent on the Nantahala which is really a class II or II+ river with two class III rapids (the last of which you could walk if you wanted to). I think I would lean towards the place with the nicest accommodations because a week on the river can bang you up some. Glamping over camping, this time.

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Check with Trey Rouss or Scott Farity of The Power of Water in East Lansing:

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I have experience with all of the individuals and institutions you mentioned except for Madawaska. I have heard good things about Madawaska from people I know who went there. But who knows when and if Canada will open the border to Americans. I doubt it will happen before the middle of next year.

Organized or formal whitewater canoe instruction options have become quite a bit more limited in recent decades with the enormous popularity of kayaks over canoes. In the 90s Nantahala Outdoor Center would have several intermediate and advanced open boat clinics each year but I doubt that is still the case. I have participated in at least six multi-day clinics at NOC in both whitewater kayak and canoe and private instruction with a number of their staff. But the last time was around 5 years ago and was private instruction with one other open boater. You would have to check with them to see if they still offer clinics for whitewater open boat instruction. In the past, if they did not have at least 5 people sign up for a clinic, the clinic was cancelled.

Private instruction might be a good option, especially if you have several individuals with similar goals to share the expense. The Nanatahala River is excellent for whitewater instruction because it offers reliable and consistent flows throughout most of the year, being a dam release river. Its approximately 8 mile length offers many Class II rapids and a couple of Class IIIs as mentioned. Private instruction would also perhaps allow a bit more flexibility in timing and the duration of time you want to spend there. The river runs every day throughout most of the season so you could plan to stay in the area as long as you want.

Another facility on the Nanatahla that you might look into is Endless River Adventures which was founded by Ken Kastorff and his wife. ERA has historically offered whitewater kayak instruction, usually in a private instruction format rather than organized clinics, although they have occasionally offered clinics. Although they are primarily known for kayak instruction, when last I was there they did have on staff an excellent whitewater open boater, “Red” Ashton, who was available for private instruction. ERA is just down the road from NOC.

I have also been a member of the Three Rivers Paddling Club in the Pittsburgh area and know most of the individuals in that club that have been involved in whitewater instruction. Every year, traditionally the first week of June the TRPC has had a weekend clinic called the “Slip Clinic”. It is held on the Slippery Rock Creek north of Pittsburgh and they have hooked up with a nearby farm that has a campground that offers cheap accommodation and meals. The Slip Clinic is a two day affair and it less formal than NOC clinics but the club has some outstanding open boaters who offer excellent instruction. But the Slip is not a dam release river and the quality of the experience can vary with what the water level happens to be on the given weekend. The Creek is an outstanding and scenic Class II-II+ run that becomes a Class III at higher water levels. But west Pennsylvania might be a rather long drive for a two day clinic and it is by no means certain that there will be a Slip Clinic this coming Spring. If you want more information regarding this option, contact Bruce McClellan at the Three Rivers Paddling Club.

My wife and I also took private instruction with Tom Foster which was probably the best overall instructional experience I have had, but Tom stopped offering private instruction years ago now.

One other option you might look into is the Spring clinic held by the Missouri Whitewater Association on the Saint Francis River in eastern Missouri near Fredericktown. The Saint is another outstanding Class II-III run but is once again rainfall dependent so water levels are not assured. And there is no way of knowing whether or not there will be a Spring Clinic this year. This is once again a two day affair that is somewhat informal. The Saint would probably be a bit farther drive for you than western PA but still quite doable in a one day drive.


Great idea. You will learn from people with skill. You will learn to focus on rescues and dressing for immersion. Taking classes are a wake up call. Great to have Class III skills and paddle Class II.

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I have friends who have attended Three Rivers Paddling Club clinics and they’ve all been happy with the events. There is also Rivesport in Confluence, PA. Depending on your skill level, Riversport will probably have you on either the Middle Youghiogheny River (Class II) or the Lower (Class III.) Good people.

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Pblanc pretty much has it covered. I took an OC1 week at NOC not long after I bought the
Rival & found it useful. I did have experience though paddling a MR Explorer tandem in CIII+ (Lower Yough, etc.) before. Most of the skills in a beginner class cross over to your boats & home waters. Reading water, eddy turns, ferrys, cross strokes, & simple surfing all work well in non- whitewater specific canoes.

You would want to talk with Trey to see if he & Scott teach OC1/OC2 single blade. I don’t know if that is their thing.

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Even before the virus complicated everything, there seem to be fewer ww canoe instruction options than there used to be, many having switched to kayak, but you might try inquiring by phone at Rutabaga in Madison WI, and Bear Paw Adventure Resort on the Wolf River in White L. WI. They both used to have WW canoe instruction and may still offer it if social distancing etc. can be maintained. Also, there used to be an operation called Wolf River Guides run by a guy named Mike Wild in Langlade/White Lake WI who I took a few days instruction with and would recommend - if he’s still in business. I don’t know where you are exactly, but if you can get around that lake easily from where you are, it might be a closer option for you than some other places.
The Arkansas Canoe Club has a weekend clinic they hold annually on the Mulberry R. which has attracted some of us and seems to have been satisfactory for those who I know who have attended. That might be worth looking into as well.

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We are right near the carferry dock in Ludington, so those might be options. It’s not significantly faster and definitely not cheaper than driving around but it is much more relaxing. It’s a shame nobody runs clinics in the western UP, which would be our likely tripping destinations once we are coached up.