First Strokes: Best Gear for Beginning Boaters

So you want to paddle with the pros? First, you’ve got to learn the basics. Use this beginner-friendly gear to boost your learning curve and keep you safe on the water.

Gear Bowls
clockwise from top left:
WRSI Current Helmet
The Current was developed by a nonprofit organization in conjunction with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University. The goal was to address the issue of helmet slippage during extreme whitewater. To fix this problem, the engineers created a retention system that is fully integrated throughout the helmet, so if the strap stretches in the front when you enter the water, it cinches the helmet down on top of your head. No rotation, no slippage. In addition, the Current is made of four layers, an outer shell, a layer of foam, an inner shell, and another layer of foam. The construction disperses any impact between the various layers. The nonprofit Whitewater Research Safety Institute sells the helmets at cost in order to protect a wider range of boaters.

Merrell Waterpro Ottawa
You’re going to have to portage. Carrying your boat around difficult rapids is just a fact of life when you’re learning how to paddle. So you want more protection than the typical boater booty offers. The Waterpro Ottawa offers as much protection as a trail running shoe, but in a waterproof, quick dry package. It has long been a favorite with rafting guides who have to carry big rafts (and sometimes clients) over rugged terrain.

Pyranha Karnali
Technically, the Karnali is a creek boat, designed for paddlers running tight slots and steep drops, but ironically, this boat for advanced creekers is ideal for beginners. Why? Because both creekers and beginners want the same thing: stability. The Karnali is super easy to roll, with softer edges designed for a forgiving and predictable ride, and its large volume means there’s plenty of room for easy wet exits. The stable, predictable platform that’s designed to give creekers confidence in uncertain conditions does the exact same thing for beginners on relatively tame whitewater. You can grow with this boat, which will help build confidence in your early days and provide stability and speed when you start running steeper whitewater.

Astral Buoyancy V-Eight
There are two reasons beginners don’t like wearing PFDs. They’re not comfortable, and they’re too hot. Astral addressed both issues with their newest PFD, the V-Eight, an entry-level vest designed for recreational boaters that’s constructed with a mesh liner and egg shaped foam, both of which allow air to move between the vest and the paddler. The back is also cut higher to fit above the outfitting of recreational boats, which typically have high seat backs.

Jackson All Water
You’re just starting out in the sport and you’re not sure what kind of water you’re going to find yourself on. One day, you might want to paddle a lake, the next you’re paddling some class II whitewater. The All Water is the boat for those schizophrenic early days when you’re learning the ropes. The boat features a drop-down skeg so it will track well in flat water, or you can pull the skeg up and slap on a skirt to run class II-III whitewater. A hatch in the hull allows you to store gear which opens up the possibility of overnight trips, and the soft edges make it surprisingly easy to roll when you’re ready to take that step.

Places to Go, Things to See: