Aeon's Top 10 Reasons Why the Dagger Nomad Stomps the Stouts
Posted: 02.08.2019 by
The Dagger Nomad has been my most trusted chariot on every stout I’ve stepped up to
because of its responsiveness, forgiving nature, and reliability.
By Aeon Russo
The Dagger Nomad has been my most trusted chariot on every stout I’ve stepped up to
because of its responsiveness, forgiving nature, and reliability. The Contour Ergo
outfitting makes me feel as if the kayak is an extension of myself and the impacts are
way softer than you could ever imagine. When I drop in, the Nomad gives me the
confidence I need to turn off my mind and tune into the flow.
Top 10 Reasons Why the Dagger Nomad Stomps the Stouts
1. How smoothly it transitions to vertical. All you need to do is relax, plant a
stroke, and tuck up when you’re about to plug ‘er deep.
2. The flying boof-plug. When I discovered that this was a move that was
feasible because of the versatility of the Nomad, I started seeing lines that I
never before thought possible. You can roost a 60ft boof, soar like an eagle,
and then bring the bow back down to vertical. Don’t believe me? Check out
#4 and #7. Try doing that in a different boat.
3. Just enough edge while maintaining the perfect amount of displacement in
the hull. This stability makes stout entrances seem effortless and turning a
corner feels as smooth as linoleum covered in butter.
4. Reconnects feel like they didn’t even happen. Bouncy drops like #6 seem like
they would be beastly hits, but the Nomad skips off of them like an Alaskan
leopard seal escaping a polar bear.
5. The perfect amount of rocker for running the big boys. It seems like the
motto for newer creek boats is the more rocker the better. This is not what
you want when you fire up a frothy stout. You want to take it deep when you
hit the LZ. The Nomad has the perfect amount of rocker that will take you to
China while still giving you the glossiest resurface you’ve ever experienced.
6. It deals with whatever entrance that lies between you and total ecstasy.
Whether it be a munchy hole, an intimidating series of drops, or an epic seal
launch, the Nomad will drop into 4-wheel drive and take you straight to
7. How quick and easy it rolls. I have about a 60% success rate at holding onto
my paddle on drops over 50ft. Being in the Nomad means that the only thing
I need to get back to hair-side-up is my hands.
8. It is the most predictable creek boat on the market. You don’t want to be
questioning what you’re trusty steed is going to do when you’re scouting
your line. I know exactly how this boat will react, no surprises. You look, it
9. The best outfitting ever. The Contour Ergo is the perfect combo of comfort
and safety. It locks you in but you still feel like you’re in a NASA engineered
lazy boy. My outfitting stays exactly where I like it, even on the heaviest of
10. The most forgiving boat. Period. Whether my sidewall crashes into a rock at
the lip like on #3 or I piton a move in the entrance like in #1, this boat gives
you a presidential pardon so that you can still indulge in the sweetest of pleasures.
It remains stable and strong in the most adverse moments and I
know it can deal with any unexpected surprises I might find along the way.
6 PADDLING DESTINATIONS TO TAKE YOUR PADDLING TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Posted: 08.22.2018 by
6 PADDLING DESTINATIONS TO GET YOUR GAME ON
Don’t worry … there’s no detention at these summer schools if you don’t get it right. Only dunkings. Beginner, intermediate or even advanced, if you want to take your paddling to the next level—be it canoeing, whitewater kayaking or touring—a trip to paddling school is in order. Expert instructors will find nuances you didn’t even know you had, and have you stroking in the right direction in no time. But don’t settle for just any school. Head to one of the following destination schools, which can boast the best paddling pedigrees on the planet.
OTTER BAR LODGE, CAL-SALMON RIVER,
FORKS OF SALMON, CALIF.
ONE OF THE MOST PRISTINE PADDLING LODGES in the country, Otter Bar sits on the banks of Northern California’s Cal-Salmon River. After navigating the one-lane road up the river, you’ll be greeted by owners Peter and Kristy Sturges, as well as their staff of top-notch instructors.
Otter Bar is known for its prestigious kayak school, which conducts weeklong classes from April through September. Beginner to advanced classes are held on the free-flowing Cal-Salmon and nearby Klamath, both federally designated as Wild and Scenic waterways.
This year the school celebrates its 37th anniversary, and two on-site rolling ponds and a variety of gin-clear river stretches ensure you’ll emerge light years better than when you arrived. You might even be lucky enough to have Peter’s son, Rush, a popular whitewater filmmaker, as your instructor if you can catch him when he’s not gallivanting around the globe.
Off the river, relax on private beaches, frolic in swimming holes along the Salmon, or jog or bike a network of trails crisscrossing the mountainside. There are even yoga courses to help summon your inner paddler. “Our concept is simple: Keep it small, personable and first-class,” says Peter.
Deluxe amenities include a large main lodge with stone fireplace and hardwood floors, private cabins with French doors and private decks, and an outdoor hot tub and wood-fired sauna for post-paddling relaxation (hint: Book your trip during a full moon).
With two full-time chefs, it’s the only kayak school to ever appear in Bon
Appetite magazine. You’ll understand why when, after the on-site masseuse soothes your water-weary muscles, the gong rings at 7:30 p.m., signaling the start of the buffet counter. Let’s see … what’ll it be? How about fresh-rolled sushi, baked brie with raspberries and crostini, and steamed artichokes with lemon-parmesan aioli for starters, followed by blackened salmon with fresh mango salsa.
Info: (530) 462-4772, otterbar.com
BODY BOAT BLADE INTERNATIONAL, EASTSOUND, WASH.
TO GET YOUR SEA KAYAK SKILLS UP TO SNUFF—and practice them in one of the most pristine paddling destinations on the planet—there’s no better place than Body Boat Blade International on Orcas Island in Washington’s San Juan Islands.
The school is owned and operated by Leon Sommé and Shawna Franklin, two of the most qualified and dedicated instructors in the Pacific Northwest. Coaches and coach educators for nearly 25 years, they’ve both earned their British Canoe Union (BCU) 5 Star Sea awards (Franklin was the first U.S. woman to do so), as well as 4 Star awards in whitewater and surf and 2 Star open-canoe awards. Want more accolades? They circumnavigated Iceland in 2003 and British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands in 2007. (The duo also star in C&K’s online Virtual Coach video series at canoekayak.com/videos/virtualcoach)
“We specialize in high-quality instruction for paddlers of all skill levels,” says Franklin, adding that the school also offers courses taught by world-renowned guest coaches and that all of its instructors are BCU-certified. “Our goal is simple: Have fun, be safe, and offer the best coaching available for everyone from beginners to experts.”
Course topics, many of which include video stroke analysis, include boat-handling skills, safety and rescue, ocean currents and tides, surf, rough water, navigation, expedition skills, whitewater and guide training, available via private lessons or with student-to-instructor ratios of no more than 4-to-1. Expedition courses put students in leadership roles to better learn chart and compass skills, calculate current speeds and ferry angles, watch weather, help plan and prepare meals, and motivate other paddlers.
Of course, perhaps the best part of the whole program is its location. Year-round courses range in length from three hours to five days, all based out of Orcas Island, which offers protected bays and lakes, tidal races, complex navigation, plus the chance to paddle with whales. No matter how many days you’re out, you return to your bed and breakfast or vacation home accommodations on Orcas a seasoned paddler.
Info: (360) 376-5388, bodyboatblade.com
A WORD TO THE WISE: Take a class at Charlemont, Mass.’s Zoar Outdoor in the fall and the multi-colored hues of your kayaks will be surpassed only by the colors of the magnificent New England foliage lining the banks of the Deerfield River.
The destination paddling school is great the rest of the year also. Located on 85 acres of river frontage on the Deerfield, Zoar has campsites and a guest lodge, as well as a well-stocked outfitters shop with kayaks, canoes and an assortment of accessories. The only thing better than its layout is the cadre of instructors.
“They’re the backbone of our instruction program,” says owner Bruce Lessels, who won the American Canoe Association's Excellence in Instruction award in 2005 and authored the Whitewater Handbook and Northeast Whitewater Guide for the Appalachian Mountain Club Press. “Combined with our facility, that’s what makes this program what it is.”
With a Class I-II section of river right outside the guest lodge and the Class III Zoar Gap just upstream, Zoar runs programs for all levels of paddlers, including one-, two-, three- and five-day beginner kayak and canoe courses, freestyle kayak clinics, swiftwater rescue, special creeking classes and family and kids' clinics. “Our kids' programs are a major part of our programming,” Lessels says. “We get a lot of families who come to learn together.”
If all that’s not enough, there’s plenty to do off the water as well, be it sampling a zip-line canopy tour, renting mountain bikes or going rock climbing. As many options, in fact, as there are colors outside your door. Info: (800) 532-7483,
MADAWASKA KANU CENTRE,
MADAWASKA RIVER, ONTARIO
THE VENERABLE MADAWASKA KANU CENTRE (aka the MKC), celebrates its 46th anniversary this year, making the school on the banks of the Madawaska River the longest-running commercial whitewater paddling school in North America, if not the world.
Owners Claudia Kerckhoff-Van Wijk and husband Dirk Van Wijk are not only gracious hosts, they’re also competitive paddlers. And their daughter, Katrina, also an instructor, is a three-time slalom Canadian national champion who crossed her traditional skills over to success in the steep-creek racing extreme end of the sport.
The season begins in May when snowmelt fills Bark Lake, allowing daily releases of warm, clear water into the Madawaska River, which flows right by your doorstep. Dine at the lodge, suit up in your cabin and walk to the river. Come snack-time, sip a cup of Kicking Horse Coffee and nibble a freshly baked pastry from the in-house café before going back for more.
Of course, you’re here to paddle, and there’s plenty of that. Choose from weekend or five-day courses on the Madawaska all summer long, with a variety of meal and accommodation plans, and further refine your skills on the Ottawa just an hour away. Consider the Combo-Course slalom and freestyle week to help you finesse your way through gates and get your freestyle groove on. Other programs include Seniors Week for the 55-plus set; Women’s Retreat Week; and Family Week, where parents and kids vacation and learn together in groups of students their own ages. Children as young as 2 can join in on a two-hour raft trip down the Madawaska.
THE NANTAHALA OUTDOOR CENTER (NOC) was founded the year Deliverance was made in 1972. And with raft guides and kayak instructors all living on the banks of the Nantahala River, it delivers one of the best paddling instruction experiences you can get.
During the school’s instruction season from March to October, as many as 35 instructors are on hand teaching everything from whitewater canoeing to kayaking. Having provided top-notch programming in all aspects of whitewater for over 45 years, the NOC can boast its team of instructors has “more experience than any other whitewater instruction program in the world,” at the forefront of instruction technique.
Choose from one-, three-, five- and seven-day lesson packages, all designed around your ability level. Oftentimes your class will end right at the lodge where you can warm up in a hot tub before dining.
Other unique offering include the NOC Surf School, designed to get kids in boats, and the River Leadership Camp, designed to help young paddlers become river leaders by learning judgment, swiftwater rescue and wilderness first aid. The camp combines seven days of paddling with swiftwater rescue and wilderness first aid certification courses, with skills learned in real, river-based scenarios. Private classes offer video analysis from a camera mounted on the instructor’s helmet, with students taking home a personalized video.
To refuel, head to River’s End, the original restaurant on the river, before settling down into one of 150 guest beds. Accommodation choices range from bunkhouses to motel rooms to 10-bedroom vacation cabins complete with decks, woodstoves and kitchens. The school also offers camping platforms for those on a budget. Info: (800) 232-7238, noc.com
MIND BODY PADDLE
IF YOU’RE A GAL AND WANT TO PADDLE WITH YOUR PEERS, be they nervous beginners or Class V experts, the setting doesn’t get much better than the programs through Mind Body Paddle. Run by world-class paddler Anna Levesque, the offerings are dedicated to inspiring women and enhancing their lives through kayaking and yoga retreats—sometimes both at the same time. “Our workshops and classes provide an environment where kayaking feels accessible, fun, inspiring, adventurous and supportive,” says Levesque, who combines 20+ years of experience as a kayak guide, instructor and competitor with more than 300 hours of training as a yoga instructor.
For a sample of Levesque’s technique, check out Girls at Play, her original instructional video made specifically for women. Levesque found inspiration for the video thumbing through an instructional book on the shores of the Ottawa River. “I enjoyed the instruction, photos and layout, but was disappointed there were only two photos of female kayakers,” she says. The result: her own instructional videos, as well as regional Southeast workshops, adventure trips to Mexico and DVDs that followed. The process continues today with a full line of instructional trips, SUP camps and workshops. Check out her DVD, Yoga for Kayaking with Anna Levesque and JoeTaft, as well as her new book Yoga for Paddling.
Women wanting to benefit from her watergirl wanderlust can join her for special women’s clinic Creek Weeks in Asheville, N.C., or for the more adventurous, instructional trips to Ecuador as well as Idaho’s Main Salmon that combine confidence boosting whitewater instruction with riverside yoga practice.
“I’m super grateful to be on a continually evolving path of teaching and inspiring women to surpass what they believe is possible,” Levesque says. And if you’re ever a little sore from one of her sessions, it’s nothing a little Downward Dog can’t help.
An hour’s drive northeast of downtown Seattle gets you to this classic 2.5-mile stretch from Railroad Bridge to Big Eddy, which is considered Class II, but like most runs, varies with water levels. Put in at the Railroad Bridge and bite off as much of the challenging first rapid as you choose. Two rapids downstream can approach Class III. When you’re ready to step it up to Class III venture upstream to add on a couple more miles of this whitewater escape from the Emerald City—just keep an eye out for Class IV Boulder Drop (it’s an easy portage, for more info, visit
americanwhitewater.org). Runners-up: Class II-III sections of Oregon’s Rogue; California’s South Fork of the American.
ARKANSAS RIVER, COLO.
Well known for its heavily used Brown’s Canyon section as well as the challenging upper Pine Creek and Numbers sections, the Arkansas is also home to a great roadside Class II-III, 8.7-mile run, from Pinnacle Rock to the entrance of the looming Royal Gorge. Dozens of commercial outfitters operate on the Arkansas so your newbie friends can get a rush rafting the tougher sections even if they are not ready to paddle them solo. Talk to the folks at Colorado Kayak Supply in Buena Vista, CO about the 'Milk Run'. Runners-up: To hook up with local paddlers, check out the Arkansas in Salida at the F Street bridge. For a more wilderness-style run that’s mostly roadside, the Snake River near Jackson, Wyo., offers scenic Class I-II with an April-October season.
Billed as “the local paddling community with an international reach” the Wausau Whitewater Park features a world-class slalom course, whitewater canoe and kayak clinics, races and 13 annual recreational release dates from April through September. It’s open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with ACA Membership required, and available on site starting at $5. Visit wausauwhitewater.org for more info. Runners-up: The National Wild & Scenic section of the Buffalo River (Arkansas) features 135 miles of free-flowing splendor; Elkhorn Creek, Ky., is another Midwest favorite.
DEERFIELD RIVER, MASS.
The Deerfield features sections ranging from Class I to IV, with the 10-mile Fife Brook to Zoar Gap run most popular with novice boaters and instructors. It’s mostly Class II except for Zoar Gap where things pick up to Class III. This section of the Deerfield is dam controlled and runs 106 days April-October. Like its southern sister, the Nantahala, it has cold water so dress warmly. Visit zoaroutdoor.com for more information. Runners-up: Pennsylvania’s Slippery Rock Creek and Middle Youghiogheny; Maine’s Dead River at low flows and Lower Kennebec below the Gorge.
FRENCH BROAD RIVER, N.C.
Among the plethora of great entry-level runs that grace the Southeast, it’s hard to beat this big river just north of Asheville. The three-mile section from Barnard to Stackhouse is a local favorite—even run in the driest droughts or after the biggest floods. Beginners prefer medium to low flows (about 2000 cfs or lower) to take full advantage of its wide, friendly rapids. The water is not cold, the scenery through Pisgah National Forest is outstanding, and intermediates can continue downstream to Hot Springs through a pair of Class III-IV rapids. Runners-up: Lower Green and Nantahala (N.C.), Chattooga Section II (Ga./S.C.), Hiwassee (Tenn.), Coosa (Ala.), Cartecay and Upper Chattahoochee (Ga.).
Learning the Eskimo roll can be more of a mental challenge than a physical one, because it involves staying calm while performing a maneuver below the surface of the water–an environment in which we humans can’t breathe.
But don’t let that inconvenient fact keep you from mastering the roll. Here’s a secret: All of us had to face down our fears when we first learned this invaluable subsurface technique, and you can too. It’s best to learn from a qualified instructor, who can guide you through a progression of skills and confidence-building drills at a pace that’s right for you.
Understanding the rolling motion before you’re upside down is key to calming your nerves. One way to drive that discipline into your noggin without getting wet is Ben Lawry’s Dry Land Rolling instruction, in which Lawry breaks down paddle placement and body mechanics, actually turning you upside down in your boat while out of the water, allowing you to understand and visualize the technique. “If folks know where they’re going before they get in the water, then you’re just adding water,” says Lawry, a multi-discipline paddling instructor from Chester, England, living in South Carolina
Dry land training is a great start, but eventually you’re going to have to face the bubbles. A swimming pool is the best place to get comfortable (check with your local paddling shop or club for pool practice sessions). Many paddling courses breeze through the wet exit as if it were elementary, which, when our fight-or-flight response kicks in, it is: Just give your sprayskirt’s release loop a tug and push away from the hull. But practicing the wet exit over and over in a pool is the key to calm. Hold your breath and look around the pool for a while before you pull the skirt (bring swim goggles).
Now try it the other way around. “One of the coolest teaching techniques I’ve ever seen was [Idaho outfitter] Tom Long having his students do wet entries,” says Risa Shimoda, a longtime member of the U.S. Freestyle Kayak team. Get back in the boat while it’s upside down in the pool. Crawl in, extend your legs and pull yourself into the seat. Make it a goal to get your skirt back on at least once per pool session.
What about that boat you’re using to roll? You’ll learn more easily and be more confident if your boat is outfitted correctly (Hint: Google ‘kayak outfitting tips’). “Ideally, you’ll fit in there like a sock,” Shimoda says. The more contact your hips, knees and feet have with the cockpit, the easier it will be to roll. A snug fit means the boat reacts to your every move instead of your hips sliding out. And think about hull profile too. A rounded, low-profile hull is the way to go. Classic whitewater boats like the Perception Pirouette S and British-style sea kayaks without rudders are good choices for learning. If you feel good in the boat, you’re going to roll well in the boat.
Getting past the mental hang-ups of rolling might be the sport’s single greatest obstacle for beginners. But once you understand the technique, mental blocks are the same in boating as in life. Sometimes you just need to let go. “Relax, give yourself an extra second and know you can hit that roll,” Shimoda says.
Paddling is about relationships. Every paddler has to begin somewhere, and though
these early days can be fraught with challenge, obstacles, and failures, they often create the
conditions for some of the most significant and formative memories of our paddling lives. I
studied whitewater paddlers for four years, exploring the dimensions of their reported
experiences in contrast to common portrayals of adventure sport. Though there are many
examples in the paddling world that showcase depth, connection, relationship, and adventure,
there are plenty of examples that create narratives of conquest, heroism, and egoism. This can
create a disconnect in our community. Often, it might not be intended, but the ways in which we
collectively choose to portray the sport we love, influence the people that have yet to form a
relationship with the river or with their kayak. So, I think it is good for everyone in the paddling
community to think carefully about their choices on and off the river and the way our lives
intersect with each other and the more than human world to which we relate when we are out
I suppose my main point is that we should consider these things so deeply, the question
of why we go and what we are doing on the river, because we have so much to gain, and at the
same time we have so much to lose, possibly our lives, and at least for me, as a father of three,
each decision matters greatly because when I became a father, my life was no longer solely my
own. It is not just for our loved ones though, it is for the planet, and for the collective something
that so many of the paddlers I interviewed claimed connection to in our time together. This
something greater is significant, and I think we have a responsibility to safeguard our
experiences on the water, the lands, places, and spaces that shape them, in order to be in
service to the pursuit of bettering ourselves, those around us, and ultimately to become better
stewards of the planet gifted to us by time, and not guaranteed in perpetuity. The act of paddling
is a widening experience. It opens us to new possibilities and ideas, and through time, paddling
is shown to move our experiences in nature away from consumptive experiences and toward
the appreciative. In my mind, it would be great if this conversation can live wholly in our
community, so we might mobilize our collective stoke for the preservation of all we hold dear, for
all of those that follow in our footsteps, when we are but ghosts in the cavernous mist.
● Key point: developing a relationship with the river over time
● Not about accolades, achievements, and superlatives, but having the opportunity
to travel through amazing terrain that few people get the opportunity to pursue in
the same way. It is a privilege.
● How you feel about the river today, is not necessarily going to be how you feel
about the river tomorrow.
● People can change over time in relationship with the river. Younger paddlers
should think about this when they first start paddling. There are no heroes out
here, and the river is not something to be conquered.
● We can learn a lot about ourselves if we treat our adventures on the river as
opportunities to learn, instead of another arena to prove ourselves. The river
does not care how good you are.
● Take the time to slow down and notice your surroundings. You will get a lot more
enjoyment out of each day.
Catching eddies makes you a better paddler. If you want to refine your skills, challenge
yourself to catch as many eddies as possible the next time you paddle one of your favorite
rapids. Catching eddies is where all your strokes come together, forward, turning, and draw
strokes with purpose of navigating downriver with skill. The ability to catch eddies skillfully
allows you to slow rapids down and navigate complicated rapids by traversing the river from
side to side. The ability to catch a difficult eddy is far more a sign of skill than simply getting from
the top to the bottom.
It is important to accelerate in and out of eddies in order to gain momentum and
overcome the boundary between up and downstream currents. Engaging your edges and boat
lean are key to getting the awesome feeling of whipping into an eddy with a strong eddy fence,
the boundary between up and downstream currents. Make sure you edge and lean in the
direction of your turn. Try to enter and exit eddies at the point where there is a clear distinction
between up and downstream currents. Line up the bow of your boat with this feature and
paddle. Most importantly, have a blast because this is surely one of the most fun parts of
● The faster the water moves, the more edge is required.
● Important to have momentum, speed, coming into the eddy.
● Edge your boat toward the direction that your are turning.
● Try and enter and exit the eddy at the most defined point between up and
● Line up the nose of your boat, just behind the rock or water feature you want to
● Identify where the line between currents is most crisp.
In the words of Dagger team ambassador, Bobby Miller, “oh yesh!” Catching eddies is
rad, but boofing is out of this world, sometimes literally! Launching a great boof provides a
feeling that just might be the pinnacle of an awesome day on the water.
The whole point of a boof is to clear obstacles and maintain speed. Often times paddlers
are boofing over holes or other features that might slow them down, or stop them all together. In
order to perform a boof, the paddler wants to utilize leverage from a deflection either a rock or
feature in the water. In order to utilize this leverage the paddler needs to edge their boat away
from the deflection, and take a good, well-timed stroke to counter the deflection allowing them to
use the deflection as a kind of ramp. While edging away from the deflection, the paddler should
crunch their knees toward their chest and lean back slightly in order to help bring the bow of the
boat up and create a little extra lift. If you do these things correctly, a “schweet” feeling awaits.
● Key point: stroke timing
● Why: to clear drops and to maintain speed
● Utilize leverage from a deflection, either rocks or water
● Edge your boat away from the deflection
● Take a good, well timed stroke to counter the deflection
● Think about your edge position when you are landing, what is your next move,
and how does the boof transition?
The turning stroke is used to point your boat in the direction you want to go. The main
difference between the turning stroke and the forward stroke is the position of the paddle shaft.
The paddle shaft is positioned vertically for the forward stroke, top hand over bottom hand. The
paddle shaft is positioned horizontally for the turning stroke, as close to parallel with the surface
of the water while still maintaining full blade immersion. The difference in positioning allows the
boat to spin. This is the whole purpose of this stroke, and in many ways, it is far easier than the
forward stroke because whitewater boats want to spin anyways. Once again, in practice on the
river, there are few instances where you will take such a deliberate turning stroke in the same
way you might practice spinning the kayak in flatwater, but nonetheless, the turning stroke or
slight variation typically proceeds any major direction change on the water.
● Many of the concepts of the forward stroke apply here too.
● Key to a good turning stroke, look where you want to go.
● Main difference between your forward stroke and turning stroke, instead of a
vertical shaft, lower your top hand even with your torso to begin the stroke.
The draw stroke is your key to freedom on the river. This is the stroke that allows you to
enter and exit eddies, and sail around the river with a sense of style, well, hopefully at least.
Essentially, the draw stroke is used to catch the current and use it to propel your boat. The draw
stroke works in much the same way a keel works on the bottom of a boat. You can control the
angle and positioning of your blade depending upon what you are trying to do and where you
are trying to go.
Typically, folks talk about bow draws and stern draws. The bow draw is used when you
are leaving an eddy to get out into the main part of the current. If your boat is facing upstream,
you stick the power face of your blade out into the oncoming current to catch it and whip your
bow around. Just as you feel the current catch your blade, you are going pull your paddle
toward the center of your boat and hold it in place when your boat is pointed in your desired
direction of travel. The stern draw is often used when surfing river waves. Much like the same
way surfing fins are positioned at the back of a surfboard, a kayaker can throw their paddle into
a similar position and use it to carve the face of a wave. This creates some awesome times!
● Key point: the draw stroke is about controlling your turns
● Slightly at or behind the center of the kayak
● Turn your paddle into a keel, this is a draw stroke
● Look at your target, body leads the turn, control every turn with the blade on the
inside of the turn, control your turns with your draw stroke
● These are essential to catching eddies and getting out of eddies
● Vertical shaft, top hand over bottom hand, to get the most powerful stroke
● As you develop skills, your forward, sweeps, and draws start to blend seamlessly
as you learn to use the current in combination with your strokes to move about
the river with grace and style. The goal is not just getting down the river, but
navigating the river in pursuit of refining these skills. This is what allows you to
become a more a skilled paddler over time.
The forward stroke might not seem complicated, after all, there are plenty of people that
are able to hop in a kayak and paddle it forward on their very first try. This is true, but
whitewater kayaks in particular, can have a bit of a learning curve. The boats are designed to
spin on a dime to navigate complex water. The same characteristic that makes the boats
remarkably agile, also makes them difficult to paddle in a straight line. Beginners quickly
become frustrated with the boats tendency to spin out, meaning you take a stroke on one side
and before you can take the next stroke your boat seems to have a mind of its own, hell bent on
doing infinite pirouettes.
Devoting yourself to the forward stroke is the path forward. I am still working on mine,
and am always look for new tips and tricks to refine my technique and form. It is best to seek
advice from slalom paddlers on this front. They are trained in the proper technique, and they are
always seeking greater efficiency. Remember, just because you are moving forward, does not
mean you have a good forward stroke.
Make sure you butt is placed firmly in the back of the seat and square your shoulders to
the bow. Straighten your spine, push your chest out, and lean forward slightly. You want to
make sure you are holding the paddle properly. Gripping your paddle and placing it on top your
helmet with elbows bent at ninety degrees will get you close to where you want to be. You want
to get the power for your forward stroke from you abdominal muscles, not your forearms. Twist
your torso from side to side, hold your paddle shaft in the vertical position, (perpendicular to the
boat), and reach forward and pull your blade alongside your boat. This is a general description,
and in practice, you will constantly be making slight variations in positioning as you respond to
the water conditions. Think about winding up like a spring and using the energy to power your
boat forward. Finally, do not rock the boat from side to side. The hull of the boat should
generally remain flat in the water in order to maximize efficiency and momentum. Finally, always
look where you want to go.
● The forward stroke might not seem complicated, but if you want to be a student
of the river and hone your skills, it takes a lifetime to refine this skill. Moving
forward does not mean you have mastered the forward stroke.
● Here are some things to think about: seating position, make sure you butt is in
the back of your seat, straighten your spine, square your shoulders to the boat
and lean forward slightly with your chest out.
● Put your paddle on your head and hold your paddle at about ninety degrees, this
will get your roughly to where you want to be.
● You want to get the power out of your abdominal muscles, not your forearms. If
your forearm muscles feel fatigued quickly, you probably want to refine your
technique. Think about winding up like a spring and using this energy to power
your boat forward.
● Keep your paddle shaft as vertical as possible when taking the forward stroke.
● Look where you want to go.
● Do not rock the boat. There should be minimal side to side movement when you
are moving forward.
Having a good safety plan is paramount to a successful day on the water. This not an
instructional on how to learn how to create a safety plan, or on specific safety skills like setting
up a z-drag. Safety is a big topic, and there is a lot to learn.
Whitewater can be incredibly forgiving, but the consequences can be steep, so no
matter your level, but especially when you are a beginner, take it slow. Your great sense of
adventure probably brought you to the river in the first place, but try not to bite off more than you
can chew. It can be fun to challenge yourself, but if you push too much, too soon, your level of
skill will be too far below the level of challenge and you will suffer the consequences.
Accidents can happen anywhere, but while you are building foundational skills, you
should paddle in less threatening environments. Learn to make class five moves on class three
water. There are no heroes on the river, so if you are out there to prove something to yourself or
someone else, take a moment to think carefully about your decisions. Everyone on the river, no
matter their skill level, should always take time to check in with themselves on every given day
on the water. Consider what you are doing and why you are doing it. These moments of
reflection can be your biggest tool in your set of safety skills.
You are in control of your decisions. Do not be influenced or unduly encouraged by
others, especially if you feel uncomfortable. Ultimately your decisions affect the entire paddling
community. Finally, take the time to learn the safety skills you need, like setting up a z-drag, and
other methods for saving other kayakers in trouble. Do not just bring a rope on the river with
you, make sure you know how to use the it! There are no substitutes for time, experience,
practice, and situational awareness.
Take safety seriously.
● Too much to say, be wary of thinking you can be safe on the water from an
● Whitewater can be incredibly forgiving, but the consequences can be steep
● Take it slow, especially when you are just learning to kayak
● Do not bite off more than you can chew, great to have a sense of adventure,
push yourself, challenge yourself, but
● Learn to make class five moves on a class three river, consequences on class
five are steep, building experience slowly in the right environment is the single
greatest safety tool you can exercise
● At the end of the day you are the one in control of your decisions and your are
responsible for the outcome, not just for you, but for the entire paddling
● There is nothing heroic about running the big drop, if you want to be a hero, be a
● Finally, take a swiftwater rescue course and learn the safety skills you need to
maximize your chances of success, but remember that there are no substitutes
for experience and practice on the river
If you are unsure of your ability to run a rapid, then it is probably time to hop out and
scout. Scouting is the process of trying to find a line through complex whitewater. The
complexity of the whitewater often depends upon the perception of the individual paddler, for
example, a class three rapid will likely seem complicated to a relative beginner, but easily
understood by a more seasoned paddler.
The line is the route, from the top of the rapid to the bottom, through the variety of
present river features. Identifying the line through a rapid is a skill in and of itself, and can be
strengthened through becoming a student of whitewater. The more you scout rapids and study
whitewater, the easier it becomes to identify the line, or route from top to bottom. Paddlers with
the skills to paddle tough class, can typically boat scout class four. Boat scouting is
accomplished by slowing down the pace and examining oncoming rapids without getting out of
your boat. It might involve catching an eddy and peering downstream to identify features in
advance, in order to identify the best passage through a series of rapids.
There are four questions you can keep easily accessible in your pfd pocket that can
serve as a guide when scouting. They go like this: question one, can you see the line? If you
can see the line, can you make the line? What are the consequences if you cannot make the
line? Finally, are you willing to accept the consequences if you do not make the line?
Nowadays, though there are plenty of river adventures to be found, most paddlers are
navigating rivers that have already been paddled. However, just because many people paddle a
river, or perhaps more significantly, if you watch video footage of the rapids online, do not fall for
the temptation of being lulled into a sense of ease. If you have not yet paddled a river, it will be
fresh for you, and there is always a lot to learn. Though it might up the level of difficulty, it can
be fun to approach a river without someone leading you down, or memorizing the lines on film
before you get there. Running rivers with a sense of adventure and fresh eyes will, over time,
make you far better at reading whitewater because you are ultimately building and honing these
skills in ways that other paddlers are not.
Safety is paramount to scouting, and it is critical to identify major hazards, especially in
more severe conditions. You are making a decision about your level of skill in relation to the
relative level of challenge presented by the river. If you are going to push the envelope, i.e.
challenge yourself by paddling something just a bit beyond your skill level, think carefully about
when and why you are choose to do so.
Finally, once you identify a route, or the line you would like to paddle through a rapid, it
can be useful, especially if you have some nerves, to go through a series of visualizations.
Going through this process of visualizations can also get you to focus on when and what strokes
you are going to take, giving you the opportunity to refine these skills as well. Think about how
fast you are going to approach each feature, what strokes are going to be required, when you
will need to make these strokes, and ultimately how you can use the current to your advantage.
● Can you see the line, if you can see the line, can you make the line, what are the
consequences if I do not make the line, finally, am I willing to accept those
● If you are not sure about any of these, it might be a good idea to take a hike
around the rapid and see how you are feeling another day.
● Safety is paramount in scouting. You are trying to figure out a way to navigate a
rapid safely, usually as a group.
● Seeing the line is a skill in and of itself. This is a skill that is developed over time,
by being on the water. Learning to read water allows you to see the line through
complex river features.
● When you are scouting, you are not only looking for the route down a rapid, but
you are making a decision about the level of challenge in relation to your level of
● Additionally, when you identify a route that you would like to paddle, you are then
going to go through a series of visualizations. You need to think about how fast
you are going to approach each feature, at what points are you going to take key
paddle strokes, and how you will use the currents to position your boat in a way
that gets you where you want to go.
● Your decisions affect the entire paddling community.
Rolling the kayak intimidates many people. If you stop to consider, the endeavor is a
considerable challenge, and unique in sports. Learning the skill requires dealing with not being
able to see or hear clearly, not to mention being upside down, trapped, and unable to breath. To
many people, these conditions are a non-starter. If you are nervous, but really want to learn this
skill, which is essential to progressing in the sport, take it slow, learn how to get in and out of the
boat on dry land, and build your level of comfort with the boat and the equipment before you hit
the water. If you maximize your familiarity with everything prior to being in the water upside
down, and unable to breath, knowing you can easily escape goes a long way toward calming
your nerves and allowing you to focus on the task at hand.
You need to learn to roll because eventually you are likely to find yourself upside down,
especially when you are learning to kayak. This is one of things that is challenging about
kayaking, you have to learn and master this skill in order to progress to the next level. The roll is
mostly about body movement. The ultimate goal is to be able to roll from any position, mastering
the harmony between the four main ingredients: hip snap, core rotation, head position, and point
In order to learn the basics, many instructors break the roll down into segments that can
be more easily understood, especially since communicating with a student when they are
upside down is exceedingly difficult.
Step 1: line up your paddle, parallel, alongside your boat.
Step 2: staying in this position roll upside down. The paddler should give themselves a moment
to come to rest in this position before moving into Step 3. Reaching both hands toward the sky,
out of the water if possible, can often be helpful when trying to ensure a solid setup.
Step 3: Move the paddle into a position, with the blade on top of the water if possible, that forms
a forty-five degree angle between paddler and boat. This is the position you want to be in right
before you do the most significant body motion.
Step 4: Sweep the blade toward the stern, back and down through the water. The other arm is
bent, kind of like a T-Rex, close to the boat with the paddle blade resting on the hull. (I know,
this is confusing) Watching, reading, and listening in combination can help build a more holistic
understanding of the skill. At the same time you are sweeping the blade backwards, you should
snap your hips. The hip snap is similar to the motion that you would go through if you were to
dive to your left or right, one knee would drive across the body, and the energy of the motion
would help propel the body through the air.
● Why: you are upside down!
● What: Mostly about body movement, which includes a hip snap, rotation of your
core, proper head position, and finally point of leverage, i.e. paddle position.
● Challenge: The entire endeavor is a real challenge, you are half blind, mostly
deaf, upside down and disoriented. Plus you cannot breath.
● Goal: You eventually want to be able to roll the kayak from any position quickly
● Tip: Make sure your head is the last thing out of the water by keeping your ear
pressed against your shoulder.