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Backpacker Magazine – May 2011

The Manual: Learn How To Paddle Whitewater

Learn how to ride rapids, and you'll open up a new way to explore the outdoors.

by: Michael Lanza

Master the low brace whitewater kayaking move. (Supercorn)
Master the low brace whitewater kayaking move. (Supercorn)

You’re floating along smoothly until you reach a stretch of whitewater. Before plunging in, follow these steps:
>> Pull to shore and suss out any rapids rated at the upper end of your ability or that you won’t be able to see on the approach.
>> Look for hazards that may flip you or pin you underwater, like a downed tree across the river (aka, a strainer) and any boulder with a large wave piling up on its upstream side (signaling a hydraulic that can trap you).
>> Break down the run into individual moves, and ask yourself whether you can pull off all of them in succession.
>> Consider the consequences of getting ejected. Do the rapids flush into a gentle pool, for example, or over a giant waterfall?
>> Learn to recognize and turn into eddies—stretches of calm water usually found along riverbanks, but also sometimes on the downstream side of large boulders. When the current below a boulder “smiles” at you (looking like a ‘U’ to the boater), it usually indicates a safe eddy, but a “frown” signals a dangerous recirculating hydraulic, which can trap you.

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Jul 01, 2011

Suss - figure out. In this context it means "scout", or look at to determine where the hazards are and what your line will be prior to entering the rapid.

Recirculating hydraulic - A strong water current that is folding back over on itself. Because the water is flowing back into the same position (because of some kind of a void, behind a large rock for example) it can take you and/your boat back into the same position. These are extremely difficult to escape and can kill people.

I agree with Lucky. Get experience from experienced folks, don't just read about it.

Jul 01, 2011

If you're really interested in running rapids, take a course. It's actually very easy to have a major accident. Proper training will teach you how to handle yourself in the river. Also, there are great swiftwater rescue classes out there that teach invaluable skills!

Jul 01, 2011

Can someone give a bit more instruction for us newbies? Need definition of few words: suss? recirculating hydraulic?


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