My First Time: River Kayaking

July 24, 2012

Want to know what it’s like to fly through the rapids while river kayaking? Check out this beginner’s guide.

Mike Stewart

I laughed when I heard the message on my answering machine. It was my best friend, Maggie. “I just bought a kayak, and I want you to buy one, too.” Two days later, it was my turn to leave her a message. “OK, got the boat. Let’s go!” It’s not that I’m particularly impulsive—or persuadable. I had been talking about getting a kayak for a few years, so I could explore the clear, trout-filled creeks and lily pad-laden ponds I’d loved as a child.

I was almost 60, after all: Why put it off any longer?

So Maggie and I donned our life jackets, grabbed our paddles, and started floating and gliding our way through easy-to-navigate lakes and streams near our homes in Eastern Pennsylvania. Our big, recreational kayaks were forgiving—not tippy and quick-turning like the ones you see the pros maneuvering down rushing rivers, dodging boulders, squeezing through tight sections. We were conservative, fair-weather boaters, and that was OK with me.

But after a couple of seasons of this, I wanted more—more adrenaline, more challenge, more thrill. So I signed up for a group trip with some easy whitewater sections through my local outfitter. My boat lumbered through them like a big clumsy barge, while other paddlers in their sleeker crafts moved as elegantly and easily as a raft of ducks. I wanted to learn how to go around rocks instead of over them. But how? For that, I knew I needed instruction.

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