A Word on Paddling Whitewater Alone

Paddling Tips
Green Kayak Waterfall
Victoria Ohegyi

It’s 2020, and group sports are canceled until further notice. One thing that appears to be acceptable is paddling nearby rivers. Since whitewater is our bread and butter, we asked our core CKS Team for their thoughts on paddling whitewater alone.

Jake Castle, CKS Online Buyer

There are two sides to every coin. Class II is easy to do by yourself, but an experienced kayaker can still run into risks, especially as we head into spring and runoff season. Class II runs can easily become Class IV-V gnar at high water, and sadly, it’s very hard to self rescue on either flush drownings or getting caught on a strainer. For historical information on accidents on Class I or II runs, check out American Whitewater’s database.

I suggest boating Class II / III runs you are very familiar and confident with. Because the truth is: every rapid is just a rapid if you hit the line every time. And it’s a helluva lot easier to hit the line if you know the line.

If you’re going to paddle alone, think of current water conditions and what you’re used to, and also how familiar you are with that run. Familiarity is key.

Jake Castle

Bobby Kuepper, CKS Online Customer Service

Paddling alone will definitely put hair on your chest, but my advice is that it’s all relative to your comfort zone. One man’s solo class III is another woman’s class V (see Nouria Newman’s solo descent).

I hate to be the one to say it but: playboating does not count. Downriver solo paddling in a whitewater setting with actual risk causes you to pay attention, be present, and focus hard. I used to paddle class III+ alone, and often it was the highlight of my evening. I would run from the Railroad Bridge down through the BV play park and it was perfect for recharging my batteries.

There is a great Hammer Factor episode about soloing class V. If you swim, you die. The ultimate commitment and it definitely puts it on the line. Jeff West died soloing the Stikine, which is a multi-day class V. Something to remember: if you do get into a situation, you could potentially put a SAR team at risk during your rescue.

Robert “Bobby” Kuepper

JR Jennings, CKS Online Coordinator

Paddle in your comfort zone. If you’re pushing yourself on Class IV, then stick to class III or below if you’re alone. But it is all a matter of safety. I will paddle a Class V rapid if the consequences of messing up are low. For example, a rapid that ends in a big flat pool is safer than one that continues right into the next rapid with no exit point.

Basically it boils down to this: if I am 99% sure I can make all the moves together then I will opt to run it. If I am 90% sure, I will not run it.

JR Jennings aka #boywonder

To paddle solo, be overly confident in making all the moves and NEVER get cocky. Know your ability and make sure to be overly safe. Kayaking is not dangerous if you have the proper equipment, knowledge, self-awareness, and precautions. 

Want more?

Listen to Hammer Factor’s podcast from today. They discuss this topic at length with a kayaker who is actually a doctor.

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