We all make mistakes when we start learning something new, and that’s okay. Kayaking is no exception either.
Let’s take a look at a few common kayaking mistakes. Most of them apply to new paddlers, however a friendly reminder for experienced professionals as well.
Be Excited but Not Overconfident
Entering the kayak and holding the paddle for the first time can be super exciting. It’s absolutely a must to enjoy the moment, but you should not be overconfident. Listen to your coach or guide, they know the best and protect you from a major mishap. Even if you know the basics, the local guide understands the water body much better than you: the route you are taking, depth of water, speed of the flow. In a burst of overconfidence, many new beginners go all out instead of paddling in the flat water when they start learning. Avoid it at all costs.
Pick the right Kayak
If you had a Kayak that was only good enough for still waters, you need an upgrade. Whitewater Kayaks are usually expensive, so you need to be sure of your newfound passion before investing. You can go for the rented ones in the beginning, but we strongly recommend getting used to a single Kayak as you become sure of the control and balance.
You’ll also need to check that you’re Kayak is eligible for which level of Whitewater. There are a total of six grades. If your Kayak is marked functional till Grade III, then you’ll need to upgrade before moving on to the next difficulty level.
Start in an artificial Whitewater course
It’s always better to practice in a simulated environment before moving on to an actual one. At the courses, trainers will guide you through it, and you’ll learn the basics of maneuvering the Kayak in rapids. There is not much risk involved in accidents either. Nothing unexpected will pop up while you’re moving through the rapids, the likelihood of which is high in natural environments. Once you’ve gained confidence in the course, you can move on to moving rivers and streams.
You need to be physically fit before you take up Whitewater Kayaking. While upper body strength is the key, stamina and lower body strength also matter. Your feet need to be powerful enough to steer the Kayak through obstacles while maintaining balance.
A lot of physical resilience is required to paddle relentlessly upstream and to stay afloat in case you get separated from your Kayak. If you’re someone who gets exhausted soon, engage in regular comprehensive cardiovascular workouts and build your stamina before getting into Whitewaters in your Kayak.
You cannot run out of breath while trying to make it through rapids.
Talk to local experts
Before stepping into an unfamiliar moving river or stream, speak to the local Kayakers who’ve been through that course multiple times. They’ll caution you about the sweepers and strainers that you’ll encounter along the way so that you’re prepared to maneuver through them in advance.
Unlike flat water Kayaking, wherein you’ll be dry most of the time, Whitewater Kayaking involves you getting drenched all the time. While crossing the fast-moving sections of the river, you’ll endure splashes of water on your face and all over your body.
So what you wear matters a lot. You can’t wear clothing that absorbs water because that’ll make you sick. Go for quick-drying fabrics like Nylon or Polyester instead of cotton. Wear short pants instead of full ones. The upper body gets exposed to fast-moving water all the time, so wearing a full-sleeve rashguard top or moisture-wicking T-Shirt is a must.
If you’re going for Whitewater Kayaking in places that have low temperatures, then you need to wear woolen socks beneath your booties to keep you warm and a jacket or vest to keep your chest warm.
If you’re Kayaking in a place that has heavy rains, you need to wear a rain jacket on top of the T-Shirt. Paddling Gloves are also a must while Kayaking in cold conditions else hands will get numb. Also, your ears and head need to be covered all the time while Kayaking in low-temperature conditions to avoid catching a cold.
Wear the Gears
Make sure you have a quality protective kit and gears before you go out to paddle. Whitewater kayaking may look harmless and straightforward, but many common muscle injuries may occur if you are not careful. Even the most experienced paddlers end up making these stupid mistakes and have to deal with surgeries. The three most essentials accessories are PDF (Personal Floatation Device), helmets, and spray skirts. They are life saviors in rapid river water. Choose the right size of the paddle. Beginners should use fiberglass paddles as they are lighter and easy to handle.
Avoid the Wobble
Kayaking is similar to driving a car, you need to stick to your lane. Sounds weird? Well, It’s not. Driving zig-zag and turning your steering wheel for no reason is a sign of a bad driver. Most new paddlers end up making this mistake; they wobble left, right, and center. Wobbling from edge to the edge means you are never in control and end up inviting trouble. Moreover, it also affects your speed. The smoother your kayak is, the better the paddling experience will be. Once you start to enjoy the flow of kayak without wobbling. You have become a pro.
Here are a few points to keep in mind before you upgrade to the Whitewater Kayaking from Still Waters:
Don’t skip grades
Grade I & Grade II might seem less engaging, but skipping them is not an option. If you move directly to Grade IV, you’ll never learn the basics properly. Even the pros making the transition from Stillwater to Whitewater don’t skip the grades even though they have the option. It’s a process that everyone has to follow.
Hone your swimming skills
The chances of flipping over, getting separated from your Kayak are high in Whitewaters. So you have to be comfortable swimming in Whitewater so that in case you get separated from the Kayak, you can keep yourself safe until help arrives.
Steering and Powering the Kayak
Understanding the Paddle angle is the most crucial aspect of kayaking. It doesn’t matter if you have the perfect set of paddles unless you know how to use them efficiently. Most beginners use a horizontal angle while paddling and end up exhausting themselves quickly. Experts will tell you to keep the angle vertical since it allows you to generate more power and retain the right balance.
Good kayaks know how to use minimum strength and gain maximum momentum. They use fewest strokes possible, unlike beginners, paddle like crazy. The sooner you learn the techniques, the better it will be for you. The knowledge of steering at the right angle also helps avoid joint muscle strains that are part and parcel of kayaking.
Drink a Lot of Water
When you are in the water all day long. It’s pretty common to not hydrate yourself enough. Do carry your favorite water bottle and make sure you drink plenty of it during your trip and bring a lifestraw. Dehydration is never good, especially when you are under the sun for hours; it can make your feel dizzy and spoil the fun of kayaking. Don’t neglect the drinking water. It’s the best drink to have while kayaking.
While it’s great to learn from your own mistakes, it’s even better to learn from others’ mistakes. Most experienced paddlers and coaches have learned the common mistakes the hard way. In this age, when information is available on voice command, it’s criminal not to take advantage of the wisdom that is out there on the internet.
Kayaking is great fun. You just need to take care of important aspects and avoid making basic mistakes. Make sure you dress for the occasion. Kayak clothing, including dry suits, padding gloves, footwear with good grip, and solid sole not only make you look cool it also makes the experience worthwhile.
Flatwater Kayaking is fun, but only until you experience the thrill of the rapids. It’s a different level of adrenaline rush. The moving river is a cruel master. It’s unpredictable, and there’s a new challenge waiting for you when you least anticipate it.
But to even start thinking of doing Whitewater Kayaking, you need to completely comfortable in your Kayak. It needs to become a part of you that you can maneuver in any direction you want. You need to have complete control of the Kayak when you’re rushing through moving rapids. You have to become used to moving your weight inside the Kayak so that you can lean it and corner it with ease. When going into the rapids, you can’t go unprepared.
If by any chance things go wrong while kayaking, which they will time to time. Do not panic, stay calm, take a deep breath, and listen to the instructor. With all the knowledge and protective gear for kayaking, you will be safe. Remember, rivers are a friend of Kayaks, you just need to use the paddle with love.