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How to Start Whitewater Kayaking – 4 Simple Things You Must Know

Have you ever wondered how to start Whitewater Kayaking? Whitewater Kayaking can be an impressive but intimidating sport. Waterfalls and powerful currents can be dangerous for those that don’t know what they are doing but can be a natural playground for those that do. Our sport is one of the best ways to get out in nature and to places that few others will ever see. The best way to get into the sport is to start on the flat and work your way up.  Although you could throw yourself down some easy sections, you will be putting yourself in danger without proper instruction. We would recommend first joining a club to get the basics and then getting some coaching to bring up your skills. Once you have a solid foundation you will meet like-minded people and paddlers that will take you under their wing and out on rivers. The paddling community is an amazing group that will look out for each other and there will always be people who will help you out.

 

Why would you want to get into whitewater?

What’s wrong with paddling on the flat? Floating on the lake with a beer in one hand and a rod in the other.

Now, that may be a paradise for some, but for those looking for a bit more adrenaline or adventure in their life, there is no better sport than whitewater kayaking. Whitewater opens you up to a new realm of kayaking, where you work with the water to explore remote places or to put a grin on your face on your local spot.  There are so many different types of whitewater kayaking too. Some paddlers prefer to throw tricks in their local hole, while others prefer to drop off huge waterfalls. The most common form of whitewater kayaking though is river running, where you get on at the top of a run and paddle downstream, navigating the river to get to the take-out. This can take you through some of the most stunning spots and will allow you to experience places that few others ever will. To find out more about different types of kayaking, check out our article here.

How to get started

How to Start Whitewater kayaking:
Paddler: James Lankford. Photo: Tom Clare

One of the best ways to start whitewater kayaking is to find your local club. A club is a great way to experience the sport at a low cost to yourself and get some guidance and supervision for the first time you get out on the water. Clubs are full of like-minded people, who like nothing better than to get out on the water.

Joining a new sport can be intimidating when you don’t know anyone or anything. You may feel out of place and out of your depth. By joining a club, you will be immersed in the sport with a group of people in the same position as yourself. Often there will be other first-timers there, or the club will be full of those who are just starting out in their paddling journey. Clubs are full of experienced paddlers who love to pass on their knowledge and expertise to the next generation, no matter the age and experience level of the paddler.

The benefits of clubs are to get you into the sport safely and at an appropriate pace. You will be surrounded by other people who can encourage you and give you tips on how to improve and this will be huge for your progression. It is really difficult to understand what you are doing wrong when you are starting out. Paddlers often start out going round in circles, but with others watching over you, you will be safe and be on the river in no time.

Another benefit is to try the sport before you commit to it. You will save a lot of money by trying the gear and seeing what you like first, rather than buying everything and hoping for the best. Kayaking can be fairly expensive when you are starting out, but once you have the gear it will only cost you gas money to get to the river!

Use the time at the club to get in as many boats as possible and try new gear, this will allow you to understand the different types of boats better and build a base knowledge of what to look for when you start to buy your own gear.

 

Start out on the flat

How to Start Whitewater kayaking: Flat Paddling

Paddler: Del Read – Photo: Tom Clare

Whatever you do, DO NOT just throw yourself down a whitewater river. Fast-flowing rivers can be dangerous to those who do not know what they are doing, and it can be a lot harder than it looks to navigate even the lowest grade rivers.

Instead, spend some time on the flat, on your local lake or flat river. This will enable you to learn the basics, how to paddle forwards, edge control and even rolling. By building up the basic skills you will build a solid foundation that will allow you to progress much faster than if you start pushing yourself too soon. Once you have built up a base knowledge and skill set, you can find experienced people to guide you down your first river.

 

Get yourself a coach

How to Start Whitewater kayaking: Kayak Coaching

Paddler: Del Read – Coach: Matt Brook – Photographer: Jack Grace

Investing in a good coach can accelerate your paddling journey. This goes for any level of kayaking, beginners and experts alike! An experienced coach will be able to identify areas for improvement and look after you whilst you are on the water. You can do group coaching, river trips or private lessons, depending on your goals, experience and preference.

The benefit of a private lesson is that it can be tailored to your current skills and weaknesses. A one-on-one lesson will allow the instructor to identify and focus on weak points in a safe environment. This also gives you more confidence as you are being looked after by an experienced individual, which will allow you to push yourself and progress much faster than in a group environment.

A group course or trip will allow you that time with an instructor and combine it with an opportunity to meet other paddlers at a similar level and experience to yourself. This is a great way to meet like-minded paddlers and progress as a group, with everyone is encouraging each other.

You can find coaches online through google, American Canoeing Association (ACA) if you are in the US, or British Canoeing if you are in the UK. One of the best methods though is to ask your local club or paddling shop for recommendations.

 

Get involved in the paddling community

One of the best parts of whitewater kayaking is the community. Everybody looks out for each other on the water and there will always be someone to lend a hand. Kayakers are often happy to take beginners or less experienced paddlers down runs and often all you have to do is show up and ask.

When you are first starting out, join one of the many facebook pages in your area. Just a quick search on facebook should bring them up. These pages will have boats for sale, announcements of events and other paddlers organising river trips. One of the best things you can do when starting is to actively participate in events and the community. Go join a river clean up to meet new people, or ask any questions on the page – there may be one or two people who will act immaturely but 99% of people are more than happy to help out.

What gear should I use?

How to Start Whitewater kayaking: Surfing
Paddler: Matt Brook – Photographer: Jack Grace

As we mentioned above, one of the perks of joining a club is getting the opportunity to try out gear before you buy. Kayaking can be expensive when you start, but once you have the gear you’re set. We definitely recommend borrowing club boats when you start out but if you do want to get your own, go to a kayaking shop for advice.

You don’t need to buy new gear, used is generally a lot cheaper and, trust us, it is a lot easier to accept the scratches on an old boat than hitting a new boat with shiny plastic on rocks. That said, if you do buy used gear, get someone who knows what they are looking for give the gear a look over to make sure that it is suitable and in good condition.

When you are first starting out, the first good investments are a solid helmet (worth buying new), a dry top or other outerwear to keep you warm, and a PFD/BA (Personal Flotation Device/Bouyancy Aid). It may be tempting to jump straight in and buy a boat and paddle, go ahead if you have the means, but good gear will look after you as you start out and you will learn what boat and paddle you like as you get more experienced. We have added a few links to some good beginner gear, please note that these are affiliate links and we will get a small percentage, at no extra cost to you (Also note that these links are based in the US and you may not get an accurate item if you are from a different country). Before you buy, it is well worth going to your local kayak shop for some personal advice and to support your local business.

 

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