Whitewater Yakin' beginner

I am a 20 year old college male. I have significant experience recreational kayaking, but would like to get into whitewater yakin’. I am willing to spend the money to take classes and do what it takes to become better trained and informed in the area of whitewater. For you pros, what steps did you take when you were just beginning and what should I do? Any help would be appreciated!


Take Lessons…

– Last Updated: Feb-01-05 6:38 AM EST –

either by joining a club or with an outfitter. Lessons in the beginning is really a good idea to know not only the equipment you're dealing with but the hazards of the river. Also, you'll get try out different equipment and find padding partners.

Zoar Outdoors on the Deerfield has a pretty good reputation and the Deerfield is a fun river. I would also strongly recommend joining either Boston AMC ww paddlers or NHAMC ww paddlers. Both clubs run classes and practices during the season. NH AMC runs a big weekend white water school in April -- a really fun time. I suspect this year's dates will be announced soon.

While I started with NHAMC and enjoy still paddling with the group, I think Boston AMC has incredible resources for its club. I mean they actually have a boat house to store equipment out in the Concord/Sudbury area and loaner equipment that are relatively new stuff (not old displacement boats like Dancers and Corsicas but planing hulls from Riot, LL, etc.).


Right now
See if you can find any pool classes in your area. Working on strokes and learning to roll in a pool is a lot easier than trying it for the first time in the water temperatures we get during spring runoff.

Most classes will supply boats, but for anything other than a pool you’ll need your own paddling clothing for cold water. Start to become familiar with the clothing options – wetsuit, drysuit, paddle jacket vs. drytop, etc.

If you don’t already, start to do some stretching. Flexibility is a huge asset.

You can start to learn about river dynamics and safety. A great, easy-to-read book is “Kayak” by William Nealy.

the way i did it
keep in mind, this is what worked for me - it may not be for all.

i have never taken a class. luckily, a friend was able to teach me to roll in an afternoon, and i ran a class III run the next day with another beginner friend. It was definitely challenging, but by jumping right in I was able to progress quickly. the lessons that are offered locally seem to move extremely slow. if i had just tried to learn with them, i would have spent a lot of money and spent the entire 1st summer as a beginner. IMO a rolling clinic is worthwhile if you don’t know anyone to give you pointers, but after that you should just find a river with other boaters on it. free advise from other paddlers is often just as valuable or more valuable than expensive advice from a “class”. don’t just bomb down the river, but try to make ferries, eddy turns, and surf waves. flip a lot, roll a lot. ask lots of questions to better boaters - they will almost always be more than happy to give you pointers (yeah dude, just jump in that hole an’ give 'er)

Again, not knowing anything about your personality or where you plan on boating makes it hard to realy judge the best plan of attack for you, so this advice may be completely off.

Not recommended.
Very few people can do this. I’ve only known a couple. They were both competitive swimmers who also played water polo. Strong, young, talented athletes. If that is you, fine. If you are like most of us it makes more sense to get competent instruction in strokes, rolling, safety, and river reading. Some of this can come from experienced fellow paddlers. But jumping into a class III river with another beginner is just asking for trouble.

find a club

– Last Updated: Feb-01-05 11:00 AM EST –

and get some lessons. Most likely if you are a college student, I would suspect that your university has a paddling club, and that there is a network of students already doing pool sessions, trips and training. Get hooked in with these folks and try to learn all you can from them, but formal lessons would never hurt from a top rate white water outfitter/school.
Also if you find a club you might find someone to loan you a boat and some gear until you have some of your own.

Excellent info…
great stuff so far, keep it all in mind. As mentioned, not everyone is cut out for the “jump right in” approach, and whitewater can be dangerous. Always begin paddling with more experienced paddlers who know how to deal with “dicey” situations. Instruction is always recommended. If you are unable to take a class right now, go out and buy the video “Breakthru!” it will give you some great pointers and will help you prepare for classes and practice. There are other great resources out there, but Breakthru! is a great video. Have fun!

respectfully disagree
most people around here do it this way - from all athletic backgrounds. hell, i can hardly even swim. there are others on the river to help out and teach, just informally instead of through an expensive class. i’ve seen others go the class route, and never progress beyond advanced beginner for years. maybe the classes around here just suck though.

Our Classes
A group of us teach in community education in a pool during the winter. In 6 evening sessions you learn just about everything basic that you need – strokes (including video analysis), safety and simple rescues, bracing, and rolling. In the Spring we take students on the Huron River (class I/II) to learn basic river running. This is followed by a trip to Slippery Rock Creek in PA (class II/III) and the Lower Yough (class II/III+). All the river trips are with a group of experienced paddlers including at least one ACA whitewater instructor. This seems both fast and efficient to me and safer as well. Don’t know about the classes in your area.

sounds like you have a good program
i think around here, most paddlers are just really good about teaching newbies on the river, so “official” lessons aren’t as important. i got so much advice in my first couple weeks of paddling that I soon felt very comfortable in III+, and I’ve seen many locals progress to class IV-V in just a couple seasons because of the support on the rivers.

roll, roll, roll your boat
The most important thing you should focus on is a bombproof roll. Most of the dangers inherent in kayaking involve coming out of your boat. When you are out of your boat, you’re exposed to cold water, dangerous current and rocks(in whitewater). A bombproof roll will give you confidence and better boat control.

the good thing about lessons
or good instructors is that it teaches good form. A high brace executed poorly can lead to a dislocated shoulder. Not using your torso to paddle will lead to sore arms and poor technique. Good river reading ability and the ability to hit your lines or eddies is something that comes with experience but instruction can help accelerate this process. Of course a good swift water rescue class is of great value as well. I think a person can become an excellent boater without classes, but it depends on the skill and generosity of that person’s paddling partners.

A working roll is a good first-season
goal, but it is ok to go ahead and develop paddling skills on class 1-2 and even a little class 3, as long as you have group coverage and the water and air conditions are ok. I did not develop an effective combat roll until my third season in C-1, and if my club had insisted that I stay off trips until I could roll, I would either have gone solo (which I now do all the time), or I would have quit.