Willerup Brothers | Trip reports | Our friends
I can think of three main branches of kayaking, namely sea kayaking, white-water kayaking, and kayak polo. (Other interesting branches exist such as "snow kayaking".)
Since I am mainly into white-water paddling, let us focus on that.
Once you have decided to get into kayaking, you will very quickly want to learn the eskimo roll. This looks difficult to the uninitiated but it is actually quite easy - at least in quiet water. Most people can be taught to roll a kayak by spending an hour or two in a swimming pool. However, it takes a lot longer to be able to execute a so-called combat roll which is managing to roll up when your are in the river. The first few times people get tipped over in a rapid, most don't even try their roll even if they have practiced it in the pool all winter! The instinctive move is to get the hell out of there and punch out, or wet exit, which means pulling the spray skirt off, exiting the kayak and swimming next to it. Then you probably wish you *had* tried to roll because swimming can be fairly scary - it is hard to move around obstacles, and you may get pulled under water frequently and just generally get beaten up by the river. But if it is your first trip you are probably in a mellow river, and swimming won't be too traumatic.
My brother and I think guides and courses are totally soft - you get a much better experience trying things out for yourself. As an example, I will never forget the first time we went caving: we ventured into Goatchurch Cavern on our own. It is a pretty easy cave where lots of school kids go (with guides) but because we were on our own we had a really nervewrecking experience. Not having a guide to tell you where to go really makes you think for yourself, and also gets the adrenaline flowing when you squeeze through a little crevasse that may be the right way out (and may not get you completely stuck). We have taken many friends into the same cavern since but they are not having the same adventure we had. Anyway, for kayaking I tried the same thing. I went up for a kayak demo day on the South Fork of the Payette river. The dude from the shop fit me in a kayak and off I went. I got completely munched in the first little wave and had to be rescued to shore by some other paddlers. I decided that as an exception I would accept a bit of tuition to learn some basic technique such as the eskimo roll. I guess if you don't have any friends who can teach you the basic tricks of the trade, a course may not be such a bad idea after all.
So, I'd recommend taking a beginner kayak course at the local kayak club or outdoor center or whereever you can find it. They will teach you the roll, some paddling technique and some rescue methods. One way of finding a course is to find your local river shop, and ask them. Then buy a kayak and some gear and head to the river!
In the beginning, I just showed up at a popular put-in for an easy river (Banks at the Payette river as it were). Don't paddle alone, but ask someone if you can go down with them. Be honest about how reliable (or unreliable) your roll is so they know how closely they should keep an eye on you. Most people don't mind. I met almost all of my regular paddling friends that way.
Don't buy a wet suit.
This is a pretty important bit of gear for kayaking. When you get a boat at first, don't spend too much time finding the right one because if you get inoto it, you will be buying lots of new boats as the latest designs come out. All the kayakers I know have at least two boats and often a couple of old ones they don't use. The boat you need depend on the types of river you will be paddling, and on your paddling style. The trend for the last few years has been shorter boats with flat bottoms. A short boat can go vertical more easily which is good when you get more experienced and play boating. The flat bottom enables the kayak to plane on waves which allows you to spin it around. As a beginner these features these features makes the boat more unstable and harder to control. But, hey, you may as well get used to it!
For difficult and big volume rivers, most people use a round bottom boats with bigger volume than the play boats. Also if you are doing self-supported overnight trips, you need a big kayak that has room for camping gear in the back.
In the States a new kayak cost about $900 (all models cost more or less the same) and you can get a used kayak that is not too out-dated for $150 and up.
|Perception||Without the spray skirt, the kayak would fill itself up with water very quickly. Not much to say about it except get some Aquaseal to glue up the little holes that appear after extensive use.|
|The paddle is also a pretty important bit of gear, although not essential! Many people that have "grown out" of their local river, hand paddle it for a bit of extra excitement. Don't buy one that's too cheap or one that's too expensive. The cheap ones fell too heavy and you will very quickly want a better one. The expensive wooden ones with graphite blades are a delight to paddle but the price won't prevent them from disappearing or braking. In only three years, I have lost a paddle and broken three, including a $350 wooden baby (I broke it in my living room, showing some mates how strong it was!!!). I prefer a $200 mid-range graphite paddle. Also for wilderness trips, you need a spare paddle in your boat just in case. A really cheap break-apart paddle does the job.|
|Stolquist||Life jacket is a must. Unlike most lakes and seas, rivers will actively pull you under and without a life jacket you are pretty likely to drown should you swim through a big rapid or a nasty hole. Just get one that fits and, if you want, looks cool. It is also really handy to have a little mesh pocket for stuff.|
Unlike sports like climbing and biking, a helmet is not optional in kayaking. It is easy to imagine the consequences of being up-side-down in fast-moving river full of rocks. Also, on some rivers that are very fast and shallow it is very wise to have a face guard on the helmet unless you have good dental insurance (I always wear face guard on the North Fork of the Payette).
|Warm weather clothing|
|Cold weather clothing|
|Fleecy top||Patagonia expedition-weight|
|Biners and prossiks|
If we add up the gear for a warm weather paddle, it looks like it takes almost $1500 to get outfitted in new kit. The easiest way to shave off the initial expence is to go out and buy a used boat - or a bundle of boat, spray-skirt and paddle. Then if you get into it you can get some proper stuff.
As you can see from my kayak log, I have mostly paddled in the north-west of the US - mainly in Idaho. In fact, well over half of my river trips have been on the various forks of the Payette river, north of Boise. So perhaps I am a bit bit biased when I say that Idaho is a brilliant place to paddle. Here is some info on Idaho rivers.
Rafters like big rivers with lots of volume, and have made rivers such as Nepal's Sun Kosi, Chile's Bio Bio, Zambesi in Africa, and the Colorado in the US known. These rivers are not necessarily the best kayaking rivers. I certainly prefer the smaller more technical rivers which have more opportunities to play as well.
So, don't necessarily listen to rafters when you are deciding where to go on a dream kayak trip. A notable exception is if you are on your own and looking for people to paddle with. If you are experienced you can hook up with commercial rafting companies for some safety kayaking. When I was on my own in Mexico, I did that in Jalcomulco. Great way of meeting other paddlers.
Whatever you do, don't go to our home country Denmark expecting white-water action!