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Gear Up and Get Out - Getting Started

Posted: 07.06.2018 by Ben Coleman

Gear Up and Get Out Written Guide by Brett Mayer

Guide to Getting Started
Hitting the river for the first time can be an exciting and daunting experience. It may be a
new environment, and the gear is often, at first glance, imposing and unfamiliar. Spending some
time thinking about, and considering the key aspects of the paddling landscape described here,
will hopefully make your initial experiences on the water more enjoyable.
Know the Gear
If you are thinking about hitting the river for the first time, the first step is becoming
familiar with the gear required to paddle safely. Essential gear includes a helmet, sprayskirt,
personal flotation device, throw rope, river shoes, weather dependent protective layers, and of
course a paddle and a kayak.

Keep It Simple
Kayaks come in all shapes and sizes. If you are thinking about running rivers beyond
flatwater and class I rapids, you might want to strongly consider searching for a boat designed
for whitewater. Whitewater boats generally fall into two categories, boats that are designed for
running and descending rivers, and boats that are designed for doing tricks on features like
waves and holes. There are kayaks designed for all kinds of specialized purposes, but if you are
just getting into the sport, keeping things simple is a great idea. A general all purpose river
running kayaking is not the only way to get into the sport, but it can provide a great introductory
platform to learn the essential skills for river navigation and safety that will open the door to
future paddling adventures and interests.

Learn to Get Into and Out of the Boat on Land
Getting into the kayak and out of the kayak is often one of the most perplexing parts of
kayaking to people unfamiliar with the sport. The sprayskirt is an essential piece of gear that
consists of the tunnel, (the part the hugs you waist), and the spraydeck, (the part that stretches
around the cockpit rim). The sprayskirt is the piece of gear that serves as the medium between
the paddler and the boat. The kayaker wears the sprayskirt, and the sprayskirt mates to the
boat. The sprayskirt keeps the water from entering the boat while traveling downriver, and
ideally keeps the inside of the boat mostly dry. The grab loop is sewn into the spray skirt. The
grab loop should always be on the outside of the cockpit rim, because if the paddler flips upside
down and cannot perform a roll, pulling the grab loop disconnects the sprayskirt from the cockpit
rim allowing the kayaker to swim to the surface. This may seem scary for some people, but
basically, you pull the grab loop and fall out of the kayak into the river. There is not a whole to
do other than pull, but it is essential that you are comfortable with this skill before you hit the
water. Practice this on land many times before you get to the water. You will get to the water
with a sense of confidence that will help you focus and acquire skills more quickly.

Adjust Your Gear
Adjusting your gear is essential to an awesome day on the water. You want to make
sure that all straps and closures are properly tightened and fastened. You want the tunnel of the
sprayskirt to fit snugly around your waist, your helmet to have minimal movement on your head,
with special attention given toward making sure your helmet, even with some movement, covers
your forehead. The personal flotation device should fit snug to the paddler’s body. It should not
be uncomfortable to breath, but the PFD should also not have significant space or movement
once the straps are tightened. If it is cold outside, a paddler often wears a drytop, or a drysuit, to
remain warm. Warm fleece layers are often worn underneath as a layer between the skin and
the drywear. Dry tops and suits, often have latex gaskets that fit tightly on the neck, wrists, and
ankles. The points of contact between the skin and the latex can sometimes be uncomfortable,
and the latex material may need to be trimmed accordingly. Shoes are always a good idea on
the river. They aid traction and ability in a rescue situation, and modern shoes have rubber
soles that have significant advantage over bare feet when it comes to moving quickly over wet
rocks. Putting some time into fitting your gear before you hit the river will be well worth it later.

Outfit Your Boat
Adjusting and outfitting your boat is another important part of aiding in your success on
the water. In the same way that the gear should fit the paddler snugly, the paddler should also
have a snug fit in the boat. Different paddlers have different preferences, but generally, and this
probably seems obvious, one does not want their boat to be too tight, nor do they want the boat
to be too loose. There are five important points of contact between the paddler and the kayak,
the back, the thighs, feet, the butt, and the hips. The paddlers back is often support by a
backband in modern boats, but older boats might use only foam as the main support. Snug fit is
not a substitute for good posture and position in the boat, and this is something a paddler will
work on and refine as they move forward in their skill progression. The paddlers thighs will come
into contact with the thigh braces, two thinner pieces of plastic that hold the kayakers legs in
place just above the knee. The kayakers hips will come into contact with the boats on the left
and right side of the body, and the paddler’s feet will come into contact with a piece of foam, or
foot pegs. Finally, the paddler sits atop a seat molded to the buttocks. Collectively, these
contact points create the feel between the paddler and the kayak. The backband of a kayak is
typically adjustable with ratchets located within the cockpit rim, and these contact points are
often adjusted by adding or removing layers of foam. Extra foam often comes with the purchase
of a new kayak, and it is well worth the time to work on your fit before your hit the river. In the
beginning, even though you will not know or understand much of the difference, a good fit can
aid significantly in your acquisition of skills.

Get the Right Size Paddle
Finally, using the right paddle size and having the correct offset or feather, the degree of
angle difference between the left and right blades is key to learning, progressing, and excelling
in the sport. There is, for some reason, a lot of discussion around paddle length and offset, but
generally, a forty-five to sixty degree offset is ideal, and if you are running rivers, a paddle size

that is slightly larger than the recommended height/paddle length ranges listed on most paddle
manufacturer websites. Bottom line: give your paddle length and offset due diligence.

Key Points:

● Use the gear you have effectively
● Get the right size paddle
● Helmet should be snug.
● PFD should be snug (should not pull up over your head)
● Wear shoes and tie your shoes
● Always check to make sure your grab loop is on the outside of the boat
● Make sure your gear fits the weather conditions and the water temperature,
summer boating, keep the sun off, sunscreen can make your hands greasy
● Have water, a first aid kit always a good idea, including a Sam Splint