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White Water Tips ‘n’ Tricks #3

A quick look at getting through waves and holes…

hit em straight

Whilst working in a rafting company, I often found myself working as a safety kayaker for groups of inflatable kayaks. I’d teach them everything they needed to know about safety on the river, briefly show them how to move their boat around and then offer them one piece of advice for running rapids:

Keep paddling and if you see a white line, hit it at 90 degrees.

This one massively over-simplified statement seemed to work well at keeping the clients upright. As people progress further in their paddling careers, they learn to use features like diagonal waves to move around on the river. However, in the beginning, it’s often just about getting from A to B the right way up.  Stoppers (holes) and waves can be pretty tough to contend with, but generally, the advice holds true.

Often, small waves will have little effect on a boat’s direction, as long as the paddler keeps moving forwards for stability. As they get stronger though, diagonal waves – those that are at an angle to the flow, can push you off line and move you around more. So far, I have found that hitting them head on has worked well, allowing me to punch through them without being moved sideways. To get through them, you need to paddle at 90 degrees to the white line of the wave. I like to build momentum and use one last stroke on the upstream side to try to lift my bow over the wave. I then reach over the top of the wave with a downstream stroke, which helps to pull my boat through and offers support.

It doesn’t take long for paddlers to realise that ending up sideways in a hole will often end in a side-surf. Great for freestyle, not so good for river running… Again, the same rule applies – if you have to punch through a hole, hitting it roughly dead on will often see you through. 

Hitting features head on, Hvita – Iceland

One trick that’s also worth knowing, is that it is possible to get through holes backwards as well sometimes if need be. In the past I have found myself accidentally turned sideways on above a stopper, about to hit it in a side surf. Turning round, so that the boat hits it head on, yet backwards with some downstream momentum has allowed me to get away with making a mess of it! Again it’s about being decisive – seeing the problem and quickly doing something to rectify it. In this situation it doesn’t matter whether the boat faces upstream or downstream, as long as it hits the hole straight, not sideways.

This video illustrates my point pretty well, with me ignoring my own advice on the Upper Seti, Nepal:

2 things have happened here. Firstly I’ve followed the curve of the corner, aiming my boat left to go round. Also, I didn’t see the hole in time to react fast enough… The boat goes in sideways and the outcome is inevitable – side surf. Ideally, I would have gone round it in the first place. Had I hit it dead on with some forwards momentum, my chances of getting through it would probably have been higher.

WHITE WATER TIPS ‘N’ TRICKS #1 – Look Where You’re Going


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