Go OutsideMountain Mama: Learning to kayak—in winter

Mountain Mama: Learning to kayak—in winter

Dear Mountain Mama,

I’ve been bitten hard by the whitewater kayaking bug. I want to advance quickly, but the only local kayaking schools I’ve found don’t offer beginner classes until June. Only advanced classes are scheduled for April, classes for which I don’t have the requisite experience.

I don’t want to wait until June. Postponing kayaking classes translates into months when I could have been training, practicing, and advancing, but wasn’t.

My ultimate goal is to paddle the Upper Gauley. At my age, time is of the essence.

Do you know of any places within a reasonable distance to get a head start?


Bitten by Whitewater Bug



Dear Bitten by Whitewater Bug,

There is a reason that most kayaking instruction starts in June – the spring water is cold and the rivers run high. See the white stuff in the photo above? That’s snow and ice floating on a local beginner run. The water temperatures plunged into the low thirties. Beginners enjoy paddling more when they aren’t fighting hypothermia, and often that means waiting until the warmer months.

But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck watching kayaking videos and reading manuals until June. Hands down, the best way to get a jump start on your kayaking progression is to nail both your onside and offside roll. Go to the local pool. Take rolling lessons. Commit to going weekly.

Once you have your roll down, create rolling challenges for yourself. Attempt a roll and purposefully fail it three times before allowing yourself to roll right-side-up. Do sets of twenty rolls in a row. Take a break for two minutes. Roll twenty more times. Then perfect your offside roll.

Having a reliable roll to depend on will allow you to push the envelope of your paddling when you do get on the river. You will have fine-tuned your balance points and will be willing to flirt with the edges of your kayak. Unlike other beginner paddlers, you’ll have no qualms trying new moves because you won’t be worried about flipping.

If you’re still keen to get on a river before June, consider contacting your local paddling school and inquiring about private instruction. While the prices will be considerably higher, one-on-one instruction will allow you to progress quicker. Instruction will be tailored to your skills and willingness to take risks, and more hesitant students won’t slow you down. Most full-time kayak instructors return from their Southern hemisphere gigs sometime in March or April and are happy to pick up extra work.

Bitten by the Kayaking Bug, as much as you’re itching to get on hard whitewater, savor your journey there. Many expert kayakers I know lament that they no longer get an adrenaline rush from paddling easy whitewater. That means that have to keep pushing their limits on rivers where a mistake could result in death or injury. Some of these paddlers have stopped kayaking in search of the same rush from a new sport like kite surfing or stand up paddle boarding.

The best part of kayaking is getting outside and having fun while you’re on the river. Don’t miss out because you’re too focused on an arbitrary benchmark.

Paddle On,

Mountain Mama


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