Whitewater Kayaking: Everything You Need to Know

Kayaking is a popular pastime activity for millions here in the US and across the globe. The autonomy, plus the fact that you enjoy Mother Nature in its most natural form, is refreshing. It is always about you, your boat, your paddle, and the water. The experience is phenomenal. But suppose you have been into flatwater kayaking for some time now, and you are full of admiration for whitewater kayakers. In that case, it is your time to throw yourself into whitewater kayaking.

Indeed, with the right tips and tricks, kayaking in rapid waters is not beyond you. Whitewater kayak expeditions are terrifying and adrenaline-fueled. The waters are unpredictable, and, sometimes, your movements are not predetermined. That is not the same as flatwater kayaking that is easy and comparatively more passive. It is an incredible way to give yourself a new challenge.

So, if you are looking into a means of venturing into paddling in rapids without any eventuality, this article is for you. We will highlight everything that you need to know about whitewater kayaking.

But first things, first!


What Is Whitewater Kayaking?

We can define whitewater kayaking as the adventure of riding a kayak down rivers and streams with varying water grades. While whitewater kayaking is a beauty, paddling in rapids gives you an entirely new dimension of kayaking.

Due to the unpredictability, every move gives you a new challenge. Unlike flatwater, whitewater gives you several features to play with. You can surf a wave, play in a roll, and drop into a waterfall. Of course, the fun increases as you continue to learn and improve.


7 Kayaking Terms You Should Know

Without a doubt, it is impossible to learn whitewater essential kayaking techniques without knowing the terminologies involved.

The following terms will help you understand whitewater kayaking better;

  1. Strainer

A strainer is a point of obstruction in a river. At these points, only a limited amount of water can pass. And just like your ordinary kitchen pasta strainer, a river strainer has holes through which water can pass, but large solid objects cannot go through. Therefore, do not expect your vessel or you to pass through a strainer.

  1. Eddies

Normally a river is supposed to move downstream. However, natural rivers have sections that move upstream. These sections are known as eddies. They are slower and calmer. Notably, you will find the perfect spots for stopping and taking a break. Also, eddies are incredible points for scouting for upcoming rapids.

  1. Holes

These are relatively deep sections of a river. Characteristically, water at the surface flows upstream while water at the bottom flows downstream. The process creates a non-evaporative hydrologic water cycle effect. Seasoned kayakers occasionally use some holes to showcase unique tricks, skills, and maneuvers. Such holes are generally safe and fun. However, it would be best if you stayed on the lookout for dangerous holes.

  1. Eskimo, Kayak, Or A Strong Roll

You can call it an Eskimo roll, a kayak roll, a Strong roll. It is a maneuver or trick used to right a capsized or overturned kayak. You can successfully implement an Eskimo roll using the necessary body movements or using your paddle. To do this, lift the torso towards the water surface and push the hips towards the kayak’s right side.

  1. Rapids

These are fast-flowing sections of a river. While they are more prevalent in younger streams, you cannot rule them out in older or bigger rivers. These points are relatively shallow, straighter, and faster. Some rapids are dangerous, and you need to be careful around them.

  1. Play Spot

Play spots are favorably stationary sections of the river. These could be standing waves, stoppers, holes, and eddies. Once you are good enough with whitewater kayaking, you could use these sections to display special skills and techniques.

  1. Artificial Whitewater Kayaking Courses

While many impressive kayaking destinations consist of natural rivers, there are artificial courses as well. Artificial courses are special sites often restricted for commercial use or competitions. They consist of concrete watercourses through which water is diverted or pumped to form a whitewater river. Interestingly, you will find one or more stretches of rapids along the river.


Classification of Whitewater Kayaking Locations

Notably, whitewater courses have grades or classes. The classification depends on the difficulty level of the location. The grades range from 1-6. How but each grade offers slight variations in between. For example, you will find easy grade II rivers and difficult grade II rivers. The most recommended kayaking locations for starters are grade I and grade II rivers.

However, the grading is dependent on water flow, meaning that grades can change from time to time. During the rainy season, the resultant increase in water flow will most likely increase the grade. Again, it is critical to note that different sections of a river can have different grades.

The grading is as follows;

Grade I- Easy

Class I rivers have very small waves. They have nearly no obstructions along the way, and if there are, they are small and easy to avoid. Such rivers have little to no risk, and you can easily swim to the river bank for self-rescue. Any beginner can try out their skills here.

Grade II- Novice

Novice course ways have interestingly rapid waters. However, the course ways are pretty wide, and the channels easy to locate. Occasionally, you will need to dodge rocks, medium-sized waves, and other obstacles. They only have a maximum of class II rapids, which makes them relatively safe.

Grade III- Intermediate

Unlike class II kayaking spots, class III rivers have less predictable and irregular rapids. The waves are bigger and more challenging to maneuver. Opt for close boats when kayaking in grade III whitewater sections. Water will easily fill your kayak if you try out with an open vessel.

You can only adventure into class III routes once you are comfortable with making complex maneuvers. Whitewater paddling in grade III spots will include controlling your vessel through tight passages, super-fast waters, and near ledges.

Grade IV- Advanced

Beginners should never try out grade IV routes. They have rapids that are intense and powerful.  At the advanced level, survival is dependent on maximum precision and concentration. A small mistake can be fatal. Notably, at this level, large, unavoidable dips, waves, and constricted passages are the order of the day. So, there is a lot of pressure, and you need the skill to make fast maneuvers.

Grade V- Expert

The trail gets worse at the expert level. At this level, the rides are longer, obstructions more, and rapids more violent. The routes are more demanding in precision. You will treat you to steep drops, holes, steeps, and congested chutes. Since the waves are long, large, and unavoidable, you need to tackle them adequately.

These tracks have very few or no eddies. The implication of this is that scouting is nearly impossible, and rescue missions are a nightmare. You need extensive experience, reliable rescue skills, and the best whitewater kayak.

Grade VI- Extreme

The challenges at grade VI courses are extreme and unbeatable. They are the most difficult and dangerous whitewater kayaking river class, and only daredevils can attempt them. Only 2% of kayakers worldwide can attempt these courses.


Types of Whitewater Kayaks

It is vital to look into the various types of kayaks before we delve deeper into other parameters. Kayaks are generally divided into the inflatable and non-inflatable types. But when we narrow down to suitability for a watercourse, kayaks fall into flatwater and whitewater kayak types.

Further down, flatwater kayaks include recreational, sit-on-top, inflatable, touring models, while whitewater kayaks comprise playboats, creek boats, river runners, duckies, and old school kayaks.

We will only discuss the whitewater kayaking models in this article. Each type is ideal for specific functions and water conditions. Ideally, you need the right vessel if you want to be successful in whatever kayaking mission you put your site on.

A.      Playboats

If you thought you could use any kayak to surf and run over waves and rapids as you see on your screen, you are misguided. An example of a kayak that you cannot use for making those exciting river runs is the playboat. As the name suggests, these vessels are only ideal for playing.

Playboats are ideal for taking to a spot on a river, staying right around that spot, and playing. You can take them on the spot with a hole or standing waves and play around the spot. If you plan to use your vessel for running over rapids along the river, desist from purchasing this type of boat.

You will find them fun to play with if you already know of a place with waves and holes. If you would rather spend your gym hours on the water, playing on playboats is a perfect activity. They are fun and enjoyable.

They are about6-feet long, which makes them the shortest models you will find on the market. Many people will find them too short and inconvenient, particularly if you are more than 6-feet tall.


B.      River Runners

River runners are 7-8 feet long, which makes them slightly more spacious than playboats. The longest models go up to 9 feet. In turn, they are more comfortable and spacious enough to keep your hiking gear. The name comes from the fact that their size and design allow quick and easy navigation of high-flow waterways.

The shape of road runner kayaks is nearly similar to that of a recreational boat, often used on flatwater kayaking. Their size gives them a moderate displacement hull.

While longer versions are the real deal for more spacious water bodies, you will sacrifice maneuverability and precision. Basically, they are water runners and may not be so efficient for complex kayak tricks. Shorter versions exist, and these will allow you to perform a few tricks and aerials. Arguably, the river runners are the most versatile models you will find for paddling in rapids.


C.      Creek Boats

The creeker or creek boat is your ultimate vessel for creeks, which means it is pretty ideal for narrow waterways. At 7.5-9 feet long, they are nearly equal to river runners in size. However, take pride in a high-volume displacement hull.

These types of kayaks also feature strong rockers. Significantly, this feature helps to keep you above the water when paddling a creek boat. The strong rocker also helps to prevent the boat from diving. Such a feature gives them the ability to withstand drops.

The handling techniques are perfectly unique in creek boats. And because of efficiency in handling these vessels, you will find them ideal for technical settings. However, paddling them in large, fast-moving water bodies is cumbersome. It features characteristics that make them vulnerable to strong waves and currents.


D.     Long Boats or Old School Kayaks

Made around the late 80s to early 90s, these are the oldest kayak versions of kayak available. They are over 9 feet long and will often go up to about 12 feet. The large size provides you with sufficient space to store your gear.

These are your ideal sports whitewater kayaking boats. They are fast and great for technical terrains. Besides, strong paddlers who are into competitions or who want to maximize their speed down a stretch will find long boats exemplary.

They feature relatively flat bases, giving them planning hulls rather than displacement hulls. The planed hulls are credited for their superior speed. However, you will need more effort to turn these vessels, unlike models with displacement hulls that are easier to turn. Since they are difficult to turn, perform tricks and aerials, you cannot play with them.


E.      Duckies or Inflatable Whitewater Kayaks

If you are new to whitewater kayaking and looking for a relatively cost-effective way to test your skills, duckies are a great bet. They feature wide bases and unbeatable stability. They are also soft and pretty comfortable. Besides, their large sizes ensure that they can haul a lot of gear.

They are cheaper than most hard-shell models, hence quite affordable for people who do not want to invest a lot in kayaks. Finally, inflatable kayaks are perfectly easy to use.


Key Takeaway

Beginners and intermediate whitewater kayaking enthusiasts will find the adventure too thrilling. Many people will also find it too breathtaking to throw themselves into the waters. But paddling across waves and holes can be fun and addiction.

However, the key to ensuring that you master the right skills for kayaking in whitewater lies in your ability to choose the correct vessel for what you intend to achieve. Your success also depends on your ability to choose the right waterways for your skills as well as the right life jacket and other essential kayaking wear.

We bet that you are now prepared to take your first shot on whitewater.