FAQ about Whitewater Kayaking Instruction
What to Expect in Beginning Whitewater Kayaking
Beginning whitewater kayak instructional programs can consist from several hours to over a week of instruction. We recommend a minimum commitment of 2-days back to back for best retention and practice time. We have found that a 4-6 day progression is best for most folks as it really allows ample practice & improvement, for both the simple/intimidating skills (wet-exits and edging) as well as the complex concepts (eddy turns, ferries, & river reading). Kayaking is NOT a hard sport to learn, and has a pretty fast progression after day one.
Rolling… Everybody always asks about rolling the kayak so here it is.
Not every instructional program teaches rolling Day-1 some programs teach it before anything else others wait till you have a day or so under your belt on of balance before they teach the roll. Current Adventures teaches rolling in their 5-day fast track classes, in privates & in group classes at our on-site pool. We have found that rolling is an individual thing some people get it immediately (less than 4%), most people take 2-4 lessons to get it figured out, some people take longer. Rolling is important to kayaking BUT is not critical to day-1 or day-2 in a kayak. Learning a partial roll prior to day-1 can actually hinder your learning of other skills if you are more focused on whether your roll will or will not work. There is a lot more to kayaking then righting yourself, learning balance & boat control will help keep you upright. Rolling is a “fix-it”, you roll when the river has given you negative feedback because your balance is off or you miss read a current. That being said of course you should learn to roll, but since rolling can take a bit of time to learn and isn’t what kayaking is all about, we recommend you go out and try kayaking first & see if you like it. If you have a great day on the water kayaking then you will feel more determined to spend your time in the “dunk tank” with an instructor learning to ROLL.
Here is what to expect: Day 1
- Wet-Exits (how to get out of the kayak when it flips)
- Learn to turn your boat “Sweep to Stern Draw Stroke” .. so when it goes off line you can turn it back
- Learn how to build a little momentum “Forward Strokes”
- Assisted Bow Rescues… so that if you flip you can avoid swimming by getting assistance from the instructor, this helps you learn more effectively since you are able to get right back up and continue with the drill or practice.
- Basic Edging – Yep, putting your boat on edge rather than flat seems funny but in current, you lift your edge away from the oncoming current to balance until your boat is fully in one even speed of current
- Basic Eddy Turns or Peel Outs – This is learning to stop on the river after a rapid or leaving the calm shoreline to enter a current. The transitional current between the two areas can be tricky to stay upright in but by putting your edge, paddle strokes, and some simple angle concepts together you will be able to stay upright in a mild current.
- Basic Ferries – This is learning to get from point A to point B across a wide span of current without moving down river. You will use this skill endlessly as you get better from avoiding an obstacle as you leave a calm patch of water to learning to surf.
Other skills may or may not be taught Day 1 but these skills listed above with some practice will allow you to get on & off the endless conveyor belt of the river. They will allow you to maneuver around and hold your balance day-2, 3, & onward you will continue to practice these skills because these are the foundation for running up to the hardest of drops.
5 Recommendations on Day 1
- Get nose plugs (this will make the underwater part way more manageable you may decide to wear them everytime you flip but for practice and learning it makes a difference)
- Bring an extra layer (day one you WILL get wet. If you are prone to cold, throw in an extra synthetic layer that you can put on after the wet-exits)
- Muster up the courage… don’t be shy on the practice of the underwater part. The more you practice the “wet-exits” & “Bow Rescues” the more confident you will feel to try the other parts of kayaking.
- Remember to look around, enjoy where you are, some of what you will be doing will be intimidating or even a bit scary but it is supposed to be FUN, laugh at yourself you will feel better.
- Plan to have a really hearty Dinner & soft bed for the end of the day, you WILL be tired & hungry. The better sleep you have before day 2 the better you will process all you have learned.
Here is what to expect Day 2
- You will practice practice practice all the skills you learned on day one. Progressively getting into more powerful currents but with lots of backup safety from your instructor. Some practice may be unintentionally like “wet exits” & “Bow Rescues”
- You will expand on the eddy turn to include “S” turns (going in and out of eddies), & may begin expanding your ferries to learn to initiate a surf.
- You will learn basic safety & directional signals, along with what to do if you swim a rapid.
- Basic River Reading… your instructors will point out features to you so that you can start to anticipate like where an Eddy (calm patch) might be or how to identify a hazard.
- Running Rapids… Let the ADVENTURE BEGIN… YEP, you will get to run rapids which to YOU will seem HUGE. You will put the eddy turns, peel outs and ferries to the test navigating around features on the river, stopping after a drop, and leaving to run another rapid.
3 Recommendations for Day 2
- Ask your instructor about your boat adjustments, your instructor can help you dial down the boat to fit you better. Day-1 if you are a bit loose in the boat it doesn’t make too much difference but you will have better control of your edge and thus balance if you are fit correctly. This is also a good time if you were uncomfortable in the boat to have them help you adjust the boat.
- Try a “Bow Rescue” in current, Yep it’s a bit scary but you will build confidence in yourself if it goes well and if it doesn’t… did we mention swimming is part of kayaking :O) you are now officially part of the swim team.
- After this class you should consider signing up for a roll session now you have the basics on balance and boat control it is time to learn to roll!
Here is what to expect Day-3 & 4
- PRACTICE you will practice practice practice all the skills you learned on day 1 &2. A bulk part of your practice will be moving down river reading water, running rapids, catching smaller tighter eddies, making 2 part moves a ferry into an eddy or eddy hop from on spot to another.
- Your strokes added to so that you learn to widen your turns with a stern draw glide. Basic draw strokes like bow draws and side slips may be addressed, to help tighten your turns or adjust your angle mid rapid (these you will get more in-depth practice and critique on day 5-6)
- Basic surfing, you will begin to learn the fine art of Angles, so that you can go out of a eddy onto a wave.
- Basic attainment.. climbing back up a rapid will be practiced this is useful later so that you can get back up to someone stranded, retrieve a lost paddle or get back onto a fun wave.
- Basic bracing, you will learn this more for your own safety, so that you don’t accidently learn to brace in a way that can cause a shoulder dislocation. (further practice of this comes on days 5-6)
- We will encourage you to practice your roll if you have one & give feed back. In small group sizes rolling instruction may be incorporated into the class to begin the next step of self rescue.
4 Recommendations for Day 3-4
- After Day-1 & 2 start the process of learning to roll, it is handy to have a pool roll for this class because you can practice it with instructor feedback.
- If you have caught the bug, this a good time to buy yourself a drybag to carry lunch in. You will be eating away from the vehicles on most of the rest of your paddling. We also recommend you bring lots of smaller snackable items rather then a super heavy dense lunch you won’t get food coma as badly and if you need a snack you will have one.
- Consider asking your instructor or the folks in your local shop about basic gear PFD, Helmet maybe a drytop if it is cooler weather or water conditions. These items will make you more comfortable on the water and keep you from forgetting sunscreen or your nose plugs since you can leave them on or in your gear.
- Ask the local shop or your instructor about local clubs or meet up groups to get involved with. Most folks after day 4 are able to go out with more experienced paddlers on their own easy class II adventures.
- Get contacts of other folks in your class, they may be game to share costs on taking a private lesson or roll class. They also may be interested in going down to the park and practicing basic skills or sharing a ride to the river. Kayaking is a individual & group sport.
What to expect Day 5- 6
- PRACTICE all the skills you learned on day 3 & 4. We like to say you can make class III moves in class II water without the consequences and we mean it. All the skills learned up till now will be applied in more complex moves as we progress downriver through lots of class II rapids.
- You will learn to river read in more detail so you can identify tiny eddies, different jets of current, waves, holes, what a pillow is on a rock, where hazards might lie.
- Development of bow draw stokes, side slips & bracing so you know when, and where to use them (continued practice will be needed with these) Basic boofing will be initiated so that you can begin to lift your nose as you go over a steeper wave or hole carrying your momentum forward.
- We will begin to discuss 3-dimensional paddling, learning to use a feature to your advantage to get across a current, around a hazard or into an eddy. Kayakers are lazy, the river is moving downstream, waves can push you across, eddies & whitewater can slow you down we like to use these currents to our advantage.
- Mind over matter will be focused on to make you ready for more demanding water. Looking where you want to be, not giving up till you have reached the critical eddy. Safe but intimidating moves will be made in front of obstacles, across waves or turbulent water where your focus on the move rather then the consequences will develop your confidence.
- Rolling practice for folks who have a roll, lots of it in all sorts of conditions.
- AND SO MUCH MORE!!!
Recommendations for Days 5-6
- Taking this class after you have learned a pool roll, and after you have gone out to practice with other experienced paddlers can give you the most out of this class. This will allow you to really gleen as much as possible from the instruction you will know what is or isn’t working.
- Ask your instructor about Gear, they will have good recommendations on where to save $$ and what to splurge on some gear is worth the splurge it will save you money in the long run.
- Join a demo program to test out boats & paddles, if you have specific boats you do like or ones you haven’t tried you can request to try them when you take classes. Its time to start looking for a boat, check and see if your instructional program has any deals or discounts for students on boats. Find out when they sell their used boats or when New boats may go on sale. NOTE: Do NOT by a skirt till you buy a boat, this is a common mistake folks make different boats have different cockpit sizes, a good demo program will loan you a skirt.
Further Instruction When to get more?
Instruction often times is looked at as something you get in the beginning but don’t do once you have the basics. However smart paddlers take advantage of an occasional private lesson or focused group class to up their skill set so they can continue there progression into new and interesting water. Here are some good reasons to take another class….
- You need roll work your roll isn’t working as well as it once did. Either in a pool or out on the water.
- You want to learn to do a specific skill that seems to evade you on your own like – Boofing or – flatwater play moves
- You want to delve into a NEW type of kayaking like – Slalom or -Playboating
- You want to step it up into harder water and want a assessment on how to do this
- You want to be guided down a new hard run that you have been wanting to do (this usually means you have had some recent instruction as the instructor will want to make sure you are ready to step it up)
- You want to finesse and style the run you are paddling not just get down the run.
- You have kids that want to learn to kayak
Instruction is available at ALL skill sets through Current Adventures our advanced instructors have been teaching for more then 15 years cummulatively our staff has over 100 years worth of instruction. We offer group classes, private lessons, focused classes for advanced paddlers on gates, rescue, playboating, or creeking, and we offer trips which are instruction based on a variety of rivers including the Trinity, Carson, South Fork American, Rogue, Colorado (Grand Canyon), and many others.