whitewater terminology questions

First some background: I just took a Sierra Club ww course a couple of weeks ago (awesome!) and then spent a group evening on the water with Anna Levesque (also awesome!) and now I am SO ready to go out and tackle some ww. Next on the agenda is a roll class. I have a river runner that I like a lot (Prijon Performance), but Anna has me thinking about playboats already. Actually, more of a river running playboat, as I never intend to do aerial moves or anything really impressive. So…

When ww kayaks are described in terms of their “looseness”, “bounciness”, “sharpness”… what does that mean?

Also, the Riot ww kayak website is a total mystery to me. They refer to “larger paddler / low CFS” or “lighter paddler / high CFS” and such. I have no clue… I mean, obviously I know what lighter and larger refer to, but why are they linked with CFS and how do I know if my local rivers are high CFS or low CFS? Probably dumb questions but I’ve got to start somewhere.

By the way, if I don’t respond right away, I’m not ignoring you; I’ll be out of town and will check back here Sunday evening. Thanks in advance for your help.

Donna :slight_smile:

Misc Terms…

– Last Updated: May-13-06 5:35 AM EST –

Looseness and sharpeness are diametrically opposed. The angles of the chines connecting the sidewalls to the hull bottom determine this. Higher chines from bottom with more obtuse angles will be forgiving or loose because these allow the current to slip under better. The trade off is that on a standing wave, or doing a fast turn, you'll feel a certain amount of slipage. A "sharp" chine, closer to the hull bottom, will effect very pronounced carving on turns or on a wave. However, for someone who is not very experienced and conscious of their edges, the sharp chines can get caught in the current and cause a flip. Generally speaking, someone new to the sport should look for a more loose/forgiving chine design.

CFS means cubic foot (of water per) second. Generally, the higher the CFS, the more challenging run can become (although in some cases higher CFS can obscure rapids and flattened them out). Higher volume boat relative to the paddler's weight makes it more forgiving. If you go back to the above description on chines, think of where the chines will be for lighter or heavier paddler. With a lighter paddler, a boat will float higher and the chines further up and thus likely to trip on. Heavier paddlers will sink the boat more. The chines will be in the water more where the current can mess with it. Also, volume will effect where the bow and stern sit relative to the water. A heavier paddler will sink the boat boat more and put the ends closer to the water. This increases the chances that one end or the other can get submerged in the current leading to "endo" or "stern squirt." This is the stuff of "play" if you are skilled enough to do these moves consciously. If it happens inadvertently, it will be the cause of a capsize.

"Bounciness" relates to the relative volume of the boat (for a specific paddler) to the length of the boat. Volume spread over a greater length can help "even out" those rapids. However the same volume on a shorter boat will make the boat more bouncy. (Think of a cork bobbing entirely up and down in rapids as opposed to stick going down the same rapids.) Bouncy boats will likely have other features to take advantage of and/or promote more bounciness. The ends may be lower and the top deck may actually have scooped out features. The purpose is to be able to easily bury an end in a hole or wave. The scooped features will promote the diving until increasing volume near and around the cockpit (and paddler) defeats the dive. At that point, the boat will literally and forceably pop out of the water. This is great for folks who like to aerial moves in playholes/waves. A short bouncy boat is what makes one the new "ultimate" play move -- (end over end) looping -- possible.

A river running playboat is a good compromise for someone wanting to get into some playboat moves but still have length (some where between 7-8') and volume for foregiveness on more challenging water. If were looking at the Riot Site, then I would suggest that the Booster series is a great example of a river running playboat. I would recommend staying away from sub 7' foot boats which are more intended for bounciness and pop. Not what you're after as someone new to this. The Riot Air is an example of a boat that you would not want at this stage of your white water paddling.


good response sing…

– Last Updated: May-13-06 8:20 AM EST –

To add to what you wrote on looseness...

Looseness is a term thrown around to refer to the ease of which a boat releases from the water. This is most notable while surfing on a wave or in a hole. A loose boat will more easily begin planing on the water when surfing and when flatspinning the boat will not have a tendancy to stick to the water. When surfing a planing hull boat, it is like you are paddling on ball bearings as it is a really great slippery feeling as the kayak moves and spins almost independant of the grip of the water. It's pretty apparent when flat spinning various boats how loose a particular boat is on a particular feature. Some boats actively require strong strokes to spin while others you can just sit there and engage alternate edges without a single paddle stroke to spin (clean spins).

Good explanation
River running playboats are a popular item right now and most manufacturers have one. A partial list is:

Riot Booster. Mentioned above and one of my favorites. Easily available used.

Jackson Fun series. Also a good choice. Not as expensive new as some.

Wavesport EZG. A tweaked version of the EZ. The EZ is also a decent choice and there are lots of used ones out there.

Dragorossi Pintail. Most expensive new and more challenging to paddle. Good choice if you want quality outfitting and are a fast learner.

Pyranha Seven-O

Liquid Logic Cross River

Your other choice is a river running creek boat but you won’t be able to do much in the way of playing.

Recommend you paddle with, and
think in, loose associations. Like the Harveysburg Paddling Club. A looser association can’t be found outside the writings of madmen.

Whole new dictionary

Your question only scratches the surface. Go to Asheville, NC (closest ww kayaking mecca to your neck of the woods) and on any Thurs. eve. just listen to the conversations in any of the local pubs. The effects of water, gravity, aeration, geology, lumber, alcohol consumption, patched equipment and general surfer-eze becomes an entirely new melange of words describing just how to run a line (devolving into the speech now) hazzards to avoid, or the best war stories of kayaking carnage using adjectives/verbs like maytagged, chundered, worked, gnarly, circ-ed, donkey flip, blunts, peel outs, split-wheel and on and on and on and on.

Just to get a taste go to boatertalk.com or npmb.com to get a sampling without travelling to Asheville, Boulder, Stowe, etc. Also a little less smokey in front of your screen as compared to the pubs.

See you on the water,



Gone? You still owe me beer…
…for delivering Doug’s boat.

Don’t make me put you on double secret probation.

(As far as “looseness” goes, I’ll whisper what that means at the Village Wine Cellar.")

my son used a new term
a couple of weeks ago. “STOP!!!”. I burst out laughing, then thanked the kevlar strips on my canoe. We use “left”, “right” “rock” “sh##”, and will never use “stop” again. We “peeled out” yesterday, with a canoe no less. Also “messed up” though not seriously lauching off the side of a rock. My ww canoe has a fair amount of “rocker” and a good deal of “flare”, allowing it to change direction easily and keep my son somewhat dry.

Thanks, sing
Glad you answered. I was thinking you would probably know about this stuff. Another question about CFS, can the same river vary between having high or low CFS depending on water level, recent rains, etc.? If I understand the concept, that would be true. If not, I need more clarification.

Dr. Disco
Some of those are under 7’ in length. Would they have too much bounciness (or other characteristics) that would not be good for a novice ww paddler?

I like the look of the Riot Boosters. The Cross River looks interesting but might be too short for what I want. Not that I’m buying anytime soon, but I’d like to make up a “test paddle” list - there are some demo days happening around here pretty soon.

Okay, that does it!

– Last Updated: May-14-06 8:22 PM EST –

You're on double secret probation for that remark! (And you probably didn't even know you were a member of the Harveysburg Paddling Club.)

President Pro Tem For Life
Harveysburg Paddling Club :)

Village Wine Cellar
is good, or we could have a party at Ronzo’s and drink his beer if you still have the key. Your call.

Donna :slight_smile:

cfs varies dramatically
Local river was 290 cfs 2 weeks ago, borderline runnable, technical finding a way through the rocks, then went to 250, which is too low to run. Yesterday it was 4000 cfs, which made for a powerful river, large standing waves, some big holes, yet some spots smoother, yet more powerful than if it were flowing 1200, due to flooding. That’s the beauty of rivers, they are different all the time, for the most part. Also why I sail in the summers, because decent ww is hard to find July and August around here.Check American Whitewater website, ng?s sites to track streamflow on all sorts of rivers and creeks.Your local paddle shop may have links as well on their website.


– Last Updated: May-14-06 9:03 PM EST –

A river is typically considered either high CFS (big water) or low CFS (technical water) and that really doesn't change much based on rains and water levels. (Note: this doesn't mean that a river's difficulty and paddling characteristics do not dramatically change at different levels. It's just that rivers are usually considered to be one or the other as a general rule of thumb.) Typically the rivers out west are considered high CFS rivers (think Colorado River) as are some of the rivers in the southeast. The midwest is typically known for more technical "rock garden" style rivers which would be considered low CFS. As I see that you're in Ohio, I would guess that most of the rivers around you would fall in the low CFS classification. Heck in all of Wisconsin there is probably only a couple rivers (one of which is the Menominee River) that could be classified as high CFS.

My son went to Antioch, so my
probation can’t last longer than a normal co-op assignment. And for Antioch students, there may be no such thing as a normal co-op.

Oops, should have posted
the link to our web page:


I’m very proud of the Mission Statement. I wrote it myself, using the Dilbert mission statement generator as a resource.

I need to update the list of people on double secret probation. Rick, I’m not up to date. Who’s in, who’s out? Rick is Secretary of the club - he keeps track of all the violations - and there are MANY.

Anyway, back to the topic. Thanks schizopak for the CFS explanation. And thanks to everyone else here who has contributed to my ww education. I’m sure I will think of more questions.

You couldn’t…
…get a high Ohio River if you dumped a ton of

grass in it.

American Whitewater Site
will become more and more interesting to you as get more into white water paddling. The site gives info and CFS on most white water runs in each state.

The data are compiled by folks who know these rivers in the various stages of flow. Usually there is a suggested minimal CFS and maximum suggested CFS to run a particular river. At below minimal, you will end up with a very boney run that you will have to drag or carry your boat around certain features. At above maximum flow, you may a river that is over flowing it’s banks. The usual eddy out places may be gone. And fast outside turn on a bend may now be flowing into a stand of trees for a death trap, etc.

Here is the listing for Ohio:



i used trees
for new eddying out spots saturday, including the crucial take out. Also had a paddle-up picnic table for lunch .

I have often heard
people reference the American Whitewater site. This time I bookmarked it and will start watching the levels. Up until now, I’ve always depended on others to tell me if the water levels are too high or too low. Need to start doing those things for myself. Looks like the site has LOTS of good info and pictures too.