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Whitewater Kayaking for Beginners

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • edited by: Cheryl Gabbert • updated: 4/26/2010

Whitewater kayaking is an extreme outdoor sport. It calls for a great deal of skill, tenacity, and courage from the kayaker. But learning to successfully navigate churning rivers in such a small craft can be a thrilling adrenaline rush and a great test of physical strength.

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    Learn Kayaking Basics First

    Kayaking Whitewater kayaking can become an addicting adrenaline-pumping source of joy to outdoor enthusiasts willing to try and align themselves with the furious forces of nature, in a craft that will likely be smaller than they are. Never begin an introduction into kayaking in whitewater, or even a moving river for that matter. Although kayaking is a blast and a great upper body workout, this outdoor sport is inherently dangerous, so you should learn from the experts first.

    Get used to the feel of a kayak. It has you seated with your torso out of the opening in the middle of this covered canoe, which is what the Eskimos have used as a means of travel, in the far reaches of the Arctic, for a very long time. Your legs are spread straight out in front of you under the front covered section. Your feet have adjustable footrests that aid in balancing and maneuvering. Kayaking Basics explains that there are essentially four different kinds of kayaking and thus; four different kinds of kayaks designs. That little tutorial might give you an idea about which type suits you best, depending upon the type of water bodies you have where you live. But if you’re reading this, you will likely already be interested in the exciting prospect of whitewater kayaking.

    You want to learn how a kayak maneuvers and the principles of paddling in still water such as a pond, a lake, or a pool. But the first time you ever get into a kayak should be on land, so you can adjust the seat and footholds, and try rocking it a little with no risk of sinking in the drink. Practice getting in and out too. The same goes for the paddle, adjust it before you’re out on the water for optimum comfort and performance. To do this, rest it on your head parallel to your shoulders. Your hands should be placed on the paddle so that your elbows are both at a 90 degree angle.

    Do you happen to be into geocaching with your GPS? If so, there are plenty of opportunities to combine these two activities, which you might just find doubly rewarding. Geocache Vancouver Island for the Spectacular Scenery will explain more of what that is all about. Sea-kayaking up there would be an adventure you wouldn’t soon forget.

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    Whitewater Wonder on a Kayak

    Mild Waters When you think you’ve got enough experience handling the calm water, you still have to learn techniques that will help you manage dangerous and unpredictable rapids, along with the treacherous rocks that lie beneath and actually create those conditions. Rapids are rated, kind of like climbing routes, or even ski runs are. Class I are the easiest and Class VI are the absolute pinnacle in danger (unrunnable really, although phenomenally talented kayakers are always pushing past the envelopes in river/creek running).

    Finding a school, a guide, or someone you trust with a lot of experience to teach you is how you should learn on a river that has only a few class II or III rapids to begin with. Use your search engine to find one near you. Tipping is likely, so you’ll have to know how to roll that kayak of yours to get it right side up again. That’s not something you can learn by reading, you need someone there by your side with the know-how and the means to rescue you. One of the best resources, chock full of great information, videos, and all things related to kayaking is at Kayak Session. You will find it very helpful.

    When you’re looking to buy a kayak, it is recommended that you go to a store specializing in this outdoor activity, although you can find them in your bigger sporting goods store chains too. Just do your research to find the most suitable and durable craft for your purposes. has a useful feature on their site that assists you in finding the right one for you. Plus, there are all sorts of reviews on the Internet for most of the models available.

    Once you’re initiated and hooked on this sport, you’ll feel like a modern day Ulysses. Just as he navigated the treacherous waters between the hazards of Charydbis and Scylla in the Strait of Messina, you and your tiny craft can successfully shoot a white-capped rapid between boulders on one side, and a boat-sinking swirl on the other. It’s a synergistic thrill indeed. Just adhere to the learning curve and work your way up slowly to more challenging waters. It’s all about staying safe and having fun.

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    Kayak Session Online: The International Whitewater Website