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When you think of whitewater kayaking, what pops into your head?

A lot of people jump to the conclusion that whitewater kayaking is a dangerous, adrenaline-filled sport, consisting of scary rapids, big waterfalls and intimidating rocks.

This is far from the case . . . whitewater kayaking is so much more! When I think of this sport, I begin to daydream of all the beautiful, scenic places that I get to experience in my kayak (which otherwise wouldn’t be accessible); I think of each and every one of the amazing people I have met who share this same passion; and, I think of the positive and fun aspects that kayaking gives me to improve my health and fitness . . . these are some of the main reasons I paddle.

The next question is usually, “How do I start?”

There are many avenues that people will go to learn how to kayak: they will teach themselves; they will have their friends teach them; or, they will get professional instruction. Here are some of the benefits and draw-backs:

Good – Low cost
‘Not so Good’ – Slow progression; potentially dangerous

Taught by friends:
Good – Low cost, fun
‘Not so Good’ – Slow progression, friends push too hard, potentially dangerous if friend isn’t safety conscious

Professional Instruction:
Good – Fast progression; work at your own pace by being pushed just enough, fun, safe, immediate feedback
‘Not so Good’ – Cost
To find professional, quality instructors and coaches you will want to see credentials. You can feel pretty confident that if your instructor is ACA (American Canoe Association) certified you have found that knowledgeable professional coach. To find kayak schools near you visit

Once you have ‘fallen in love’ with the sport of kayaking (which isn’t hard), the next step is finding the correct gear. Here is a list of essential pieces of gear:

Boat: I suggest a kayak in the category of a ‘River Runner’. A river runner has length to maintain good speed, edges to learn good paddling habits and techniques and stability to help keep you upright. My favorite River Runner is the Jackson Zen.

Paddle: Look for a used paddle . . . most beginners lose their first paddle on a swim. Make sure to get the appropriate length for your height and a 30 or 45 degree offset (blade angle). Most paddles are “right handed paddles” so just remember that if you’re left-handed you will just learn how to paddle with a right handed paddle.

PFD: Personal Flotation Device (life jacket). I recommend buying your PFD brand new. When buying a used PFD, you never know the history behind it or how ‘used’ it’s been.

Helmet: Your head is one of the most important spots on your body to protect ~ SO BUY NEW! It can be a pretty expensive purchase, but they last a long time and are one of your most important pieces of gear.

Sprayskirt: Your sprayskirt keeps water out of your kayak, so you’ll want one that seals pretty well, yet is easy to put on your kayak. Most sprayskirts are made to fit most boats, so are pretty universal.

Outerwear: Depending on where you live, you will want the gear to keep you warm, dry and protected ~ if your rivers are cold another good purchase is a drysuit. Just remember that you want to stay comfortable on the river . . . always dress for a swim!!!!

Layering: Layering is just as important as your outerwear. I enjoy fleece layering in the winter and lighter layering like rashguards during the summer

Footwear: Last but not least . . . shoes!!!! Footwear is so important when it comes to boating, for a few reasons – You need to get the appropriate footwear to fit into your kayak; you need to get a pair of shoes that are comfortable to walk to the river in or portage around a rapid; you need footwear that will hold up to being wet all the time; you need footwear that will stay on your feet when it comes your time for a swim.

So, here are the first steps in becoming a whitewater kayaker . . .First, you need to learn the basics (I recommend instruction) in a safe and comfortable setting; second, you need to get the gear that will allow you to paddle in the conditions around you; and third, you need to just go kayaking. Time on the water is essential to improving your skill! Most importantly, only paddle the level of whitewater that you have fun on . . . if kayaking gets scary for you, back off and step (or paddle) back to where you remember it being fun!

AND REMEMBER: Kayaking is for all levels and all ages!