Whitewater Kayaking 101
Whitewater kayaking is a thrilling activity that also comes with an element of danger – and that’s part of the thrill. If you approach it right and make sure you’re ready to ride the rapids on your kayak, it can be both safe and fun. Getting started with whitewater kayaking means making sure you have the ability, the equipment, and the knowledge to take on the water.
Whitewater kayaking is physically demanding, so it’s important that you’re in the best possible physical shape before you set out. There are levels of whitewater – from easy to incredibly difficult, and the rougher the water the more strength and endurance you will need to get through. If you have medical problems that could pose a problem during this kind of activity, check with your doctor.
Swimming is also an important part of whitewater kayaking. Even the best kayakers can land in the water sometimes, so it’s important that your swimming skills are up to the task. Whitewater is difficult for even strong swimmers.
Preparing for the Water: Understanding Classifications
Whitewater is classified by the level of difficulty and danger involved. For those who are coming from kayaking lakes and wide smooth rivers, it’s important to understand the difference.
Whitewater is categorized by classes: I (easy), II (novice), III (intermediate), IV (advanced), V (expert), and VI (extreme/exploratory). Those new to whitewater rafting usually start with Class I and II rapids as they learn the basics of maneuvering through fast-moving water and around obstructions.
Class III and Class IV rapids involve much more turbulent water, and there are levels within each of these classifications. It’s important to know what kind of water you will face before getting in the river, and make certain it’s within your abilities to handle safely.
It’s important to take your time becoming comfortable with each level of rapids before moving on to the next level. It takes multiple trips to learn how to maneuver through obstructions safely.
The Right Equipment
Whitewater rafting is only as safe as your skills and your equipment. Even if you have a kayak already, a whitewater kayak is different from those used on flat water or a sea kayak. Early on, you may use rented equipment, or it may be provided when you take classes or group tours, but eventually you’ll want your own whitewater kayak.
Whitewater kayaks are generally shorter than other kayaks, a maximum of 10 feet in length, and they have a tighter cockpit to help keep the rider inside the boat in rough water. The bottom is rounded, and the ends turned up to allow easy navigation through obstacles.
Safety equipment is also an important part of whitewater kayaking. Basic safety gear includes a personal flotation device and a proper helmet to protect kayakers from a fall into the water. Most whitewater kayakers will use flotation bags to prevent too much water from entering the kayak and to keep it afloat and riding high in the water. Spray skirts are also an important piece of equipment to keep water out of the seat of the kayak.
Gearing up properly before you attempt a run on the river will make sure you stay safe and enjoy the water.