Kayaking—it’s a fun recreational activity, a great way to enjoy nature and participate in an outdoor activity that builds lifelong skills. However, kayaking doesn’t end there. Kayaking can be an extreme adventure sport called whitewater kayaking. Whitewater kayaking evokes scenes of treacherous water and a small, plastic boat bobbing up and over the churning waters, and it’s quite an intense water sport.
So, what sets whitewater kayaking apart from regular kayaking? Whitewater kayaking is when you navigate a river in a decked kayak, and it includes several styles. River running is one of the most popular forms, where the paddler follows a river and paddles the rapids as they travel. Creeking is another method, that involves steeper, smaller, and more technical waterways that you maneuver from point A to point B with.
Now that we’ve got the basics of what whitewater kayaking is, let’s learn the basics. It’s a challenging and intense sport that is anything but easy, but can give an adrenaline rush like no other.
In order to learn how to whitewater kayak, you should already have a good background with regular kayaking. Depending on your skill level, it would be wise to seek out proper training and know-how from instructors or join a local group. Nothing beats real-life practice—but with this guide, you’ll know if whitewater kayaking is for you!
Where did kayaks first originate from? The answer would be the northern Arctic regions by the Eskimos thousands of years ago. They figured out that caving pieces of driftwood, using whale skeletons to construct the frame of the kayak, as well as animal skin to create the body of the kayak was a great type of boat to use when travelling. They were mainly used for hunting and fishing sea animals.
The sport of kayaking didn’t come around until the 1800s, created by the French and Germans. In 1931, Adolf Anderle travelled down the Salzachöfen Gorge in a kayak, and many believe this is how the sport of whitewater kayaking started.
In America, whitewater kayaking (and kayaking in general) advanced and grew more into the athletic sport we know today. This is thanks to the advancement of fiberglass and aluminum materials used for creating kayaks.
By the time the 70s came around, the sport of whitewater kayak really took off. Whitewater rafting was gaining popularity across the world and the media was incorporating it into visceral media like movies and books. That same year, Whitewater kayaking was included in the Olympics hosted in Augsburg, Germany.
Following the leaps of interest in kayaking, the boats started getting more stylish and eventually were made from plastic, to create more accessibility and ease of access within the kayaking sport. Today, kayaking is something anyone can participate in—kayaks are made in different colors, shapes and styles. With more accessible designs and being built lighter, they are perfect for a family trip or summer vacation. However, the competitive world of whitewater kayaking has grown as well. There are competitions taking place worldwide and showing the skill and strength it takes to maneuver through the harsh rivers that the competitions are hosted in.
Types Of Whitewater Kayaking
There are five different types of whitewater kayaking, with the following three being the most popular:
Riverrunning is one of the most practical and artistic forms and is the basis of all kayaking. More of a way of enjoying kayaking than competing, riverrunning definitely has everything needed for an adrenaline filled adventure. The other types of kayaking we talk about below have evolved mainly due to the challenges of riverrunning and different types of competition.
Riverrunning complies to all aspects of kayaking—working with the river rather than against it, expanding your navigational skills as well as your skills with paddling.
Creeking can be extreme – It is usually performed in specialized kayaks that are designed to withstand the extreme environment that creeking takes place. Designed with improved mobility and allowing the paddler to avoid fast approaching river obstacles, creeking is a daring sport that only skilled paddlers attempt.
Slalom is a specialized competitive form of kayaking that is a part of the Olympic Games. Athletes will race from one section of a river to the end as fast as they can. There are 18 – 25 “gates” in each race—two colored poles hanging from wires-that must be passed through with varying levels of difficulty. If you touch or miss the poles, time, or points will be added to your final score.
Pro level slalom competitions have specific length, weight, and width requirements for the boats. While lower level competitions allow plastic boats, higher level competitions require boats to be made from kevlar/fibreglass/carbon fiber in order to be lightweight and travel faster.
Tips & Techniques
Learn to Use the Rocks
While rocks may look dangerous and scary to new paddlers, the pros know they are just an added level of difficulty that will make their time in the water more exciting and level up their skills. “Boofing” is a technique of timing your stroke, thrusting your hips in a forward motion that helps you maneuver the rocks and give the help to lift the boat forward.
While kayaking, you can have a moment of doubt and panic that you can’t control your kayak or get scared with the speed and aggressive force of the water. You need to practice keeping calm and staying focused, as this will a huge part of your successes in (and out) of the water. Kayaking takes full focus, and keeping it cool will help when making spur of the moment decisions.
Learn to Read the Water and Rocks
What does “reading the water” mean? Simply put, it’s understanding the current and flow of the river, so you can navigate it easier and with more speed.
It will take time and experience, and really, you’ll always be learning new things. Look at how the current turns off the rocks and the size of the waves it creates. You’ll need to learn how to estimate the flow, how your kayak will handle the water, the obstacles you’ll face and how to manage it all.
When starting out, you’ll go slow and steady, which is how you should start out with most sports. Knowing when to hold back and when to speed up is essential to all aspects of kayaking.
Ready for Rescue
When whitewater kayaking, you’ll always want to keep your safety kit and rescue gear ready and readily accessible. Kayaking can be dangerous, and you’ll need to know what you are doing and have the resources at hand in case something goes wrong.
Ready to start your journey into the world of kayaking? The best way is to find a local instructor or group and learn the ins and outs of kayaking. You’ll learn everything you need to know, meet new people doing the same thing as you, and could even get your start in local, national and international competitions.
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