This is the time of year when the weather turns nice and the conditions start to come together to make it perfect for getting newbs on the river. These people can be loved ones, friends, or people that we find through different groups and organizations that want to learn how to kayak. Regardless of who it is we want to make sure they have the most fun on the water possible and that means do everything we can to provide a positive experience for the boaters their first time on the water. This is a topic we discussed in Nashville last week and I wanted to take the time to share some pointers to make it the best-first-river-trip possible.
1- Choose a river that’s easy but fun! Aka not boring. In the Southeast I love to take newbs to the Nantahala river in NC or the Locust Fork in AL. Both of these rivers have fun rapids, the new guys can walk the hard stuff if they aren’t ready to boat it, with enough flatware still to be non-intimidating and provide time for rescue or time for talking about what’s coming up next, review how they did on the last rapid, etc..
2- Make sure you have a good ratio of experienced boaters to newbs. I prefer to take no more than 2 new boaters on the river at a time, 3 if I know I have a good enough group to handle rescues if all hell breaks loose. I try to stick to 1-2 experienced boaters per 1 new boater- this makes it easier for rescue, proper instruction when needed, and prevents all the new guys from getting lumped together in line on the river. Every new guy has someone watching out for them. You never, ever know the extent of attention each new boater may need.
3- Break the rapids down to no more than 3 moves and only show them where they want to go. Basics people! On easier rivers my instructions usually include where to enter the rapid, what river feature to hit in the middle of the rapid or which direction to aim once they’re in the rapid, and which eddy to end in if necessary. On easier rivers such as the Nanty or Locust Fork it’s not always important to tell the new guys of the dangers A- because they’re probably going to be on the opposite side of the river and it doesn’t matter and B- we don’t want them to focus on the dangers when they’re not at play. The last thing you want is for your newb to become fixated on the danger spots and float right into them.
4- Make sure that they always have food and water. It may take you under an hour to run the river yourself but you’re going to be moving slower for a variety of reasons. And if you by chance have that epically long day, you’re going to wish you had thought of it. HANGER IS REAL! And when you start to run low on energy the group dynamic changes fast as not everyone is used to fasting for short periods of time. Once I lead a group of about 6 or 8 people down the Nanty for a fun trip. Some were newbs, some had been padding maybe a year. I suggested before setting shuttle that everyone have snacks and water. One woman decided that she didn’t need it, but didn’t say anything to me. She didn’t think it would take more than a couple of hours to run shuttle, get everyone together, run the river, and then get everyone back to their cars. She was diabetic. Guess who gave up their lunch to prevent a medical emergency? Yup, I try to make sure that will never happen again.
5- Communication. This is so, so, so important. Communication can make or break someone’s first river experience. Communication before the river: knowing what to expect, making sure they have all of the proper gear, having your group together, plans set, etc. Communication at the put in: who’s clothes go where, who’s cars are going where, what river signals need to be known, what to expect on the river, what to do if/when they swim.. Communication on the river: ‘this is how you’re going to run the rapid,’ making sure that the newbs aren’t left in the back of the line…
6- Lastly, SMILE!!! Remember why you do it. Make sure they look upstream after some of the bigger rapids, make sure they take in the scenery and that they are soaking it in. Some of these places can only be seen by boat. And even if that’s not he case there’s no way it looks the same from the bank as it does from your boat. Make it memorable. Get them hooked. Make sure they spend every. last. dime. on kayaking gear and then talk them into coming to Colorado with you.. ok I’m getting off track… Just remember that there is the potential for these newbs to fall as madly in love with the sport as you have and sometimes that first river trip can make or break it for them.