Tuesday 15 June 2021
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How to Become a Better River Runner

1. Practice river running skills.

Many paddlers blast straight down rapids and river sections without ever stopping to practice important river running skills such as eddying out, peeling out, ferries, s moves, punching holes, boofing, etc. I suggest that a paddler masters these skills in one class of whitewater, before moving to more difficult water. For example, one should feel comfortable eddying out, peeling out, and ferrying in the middle of class 3 rapids, before running class 4. If you ever wish to progress to harder whitewater, you must master these skills. To master these skills, you must practice them.

2. Perfect practice makes perfect. I don’t agree with the old saying, “practice makes perfect.” It should read, “perfect practice makes perfect.” Weather you are stopping to practice certain skills or just using them naturally in authentic situations, always strive to execute each skill perfectly.

Don’t be lazy while making easy moves or else you won’t have the necessary technique to make harder moves when the time comes. For example, practice catching eddies high as opposed to letting yourself drift in slowly near the bottom of the eddy. If this becomes habit, you will be ready to catch a micro eddy when the time comes.

3. Maximize your skill development time.

I learned to kayak in Wisconsin where the rivers are pool drop. There are short rapids with long sections of flat water in between. A river run may take 3 hours, but I maybe only spent 5 minutes or 3% of my time in whitewater. Spending just 10 minutes to practice ferries at the bottom of a rapid would triple my practice time and triple my rate of improvement.

Now I live in Colorado where the water is more continuous. In a 60 minute run down the Numbers Section of the Arkansas, I may spend 30 minutes or 50% of my time in whitewater. This example is less drastic, but consider this… It takes an hour to drive to the put in, an hour to run the shuttle and gear up, and an hour drive home. After we factor in this preparation time, I have only spent 12.5% of my “kayaking” time in whitewater. Practicing 30 minutes of skills would only take 12.5% more real time (4 hours becomes 4.5 hours), but would increase my skill development time by 50% (30 minutes becomes 60 minutes).

4. Challenge yourself with new lines.

Challenge yourself by taking new lines down old rapids, try running the meat, or try running the sneak. Play follow the leader with a friend or pretend you are a slalom boater and race down an imaginary course. See how many eddies you can catch, how many ferries you can make, or try running a rapid backwards. When you are really good, try to see how many eddies you can catch while going backwards. The possibilities are endless.

5. Playboat.

Excluding safety hazards such as sieves or strainers, being stuck in a hole can be one of the scariest parts of kayaking. Learning how to stay calm, maintain control, roll, and work out a hole are valuable river running skills best learned through playboating. In addition to those skills, playboating is the most efficient way to improve edge control, to master a quick reliable combat roll, and to develop better body awareness. As a general rule, good play boaters make good river runners.

6. Get instruction.

The best bet for quality affordable instruction is to purchase Anybody Can Kayak: River Running. The video contains overs 4 hours or detailed, precise, and easy to follow instruction that will benefit paddlers of all ability levels. For more information or to read customer reviews, visit or watch the promo video.