- White water kayaking as a whole is a very small niche. Many thousands, if not millions more worldwide partake in recreational paddling on flat water rivers or more recently using sit on top kayaks at the beach. A common reaction that many have to white water kayaking is to think that the people who do it must be mad!
Why does this opinion prevail? Quite possibly because most people immediately imagine visions of the likes of Evan Garcia or Tyler Bradt falling off gigantic waterfalls. I do believe that this stereotype of a whitewater kayaker holds back many people from even entertaining the idea of giving it a go.
This isn’t to take away from what those guys do – someone has to push the sport – but from the perception of the general public the balance appears to be too far towards that side of the activity.
I must admit that when I went for my first kayak lesson my I was asked where I saw myself going with kayaking. At the time I thought that I might buy a nice crossover kayak such as the Pyranha Fusion and go bimbling up and down my local flatwater stretch of river, the Worcestershire Severn. Dan predicted that I would change my mind by the end of my first week under his coaching.
Initially I had thought that white water paddling was for nutters, but this all started to change when I was introduced to moving water for real, and I began to understand how things worked. I realised that you don’t have to go on big water to enjoy white water paddling. Most of what is seen on Vimeo and YouTube though is of the bigger stuff. Nobody wants to watch a video of someone going down a grade 2/3 rapid. Well, I would, since I love to see technical, flowing paddling, but I doubt it would get a huge amount of hits in the grand scheme of things.
Simply put I think that white water kayaking has an image problem. The picture it paints is of inaccessibility, of the constant risk of injury or death. The reality is very different. You can have a heck of a lot of fun on grade 2-3 water. Kayaking is an extremely social pastime based around having fun, so it is a shame that many more people do not take it up.
It does have to be said that there are a number of obstacles that stand in the way of the masses taking up white water kayaking. The first is getting over the initial mindset thing. The second is that kayaking is seen as being expensive to get in to. There is some truth to that, especially where white water kayaking is concerned. For flat water and warm summer recreational paddling it is easy to get a cheap used boat, basic wetsuit and a semi dry cag off eBay. With white water kayaking though, the quality of your equipment is a bit more important, but it still isn’t as expensive as you might think. Especially when compared to other hobbies of a similar ilk.
If you get a good used boat for, say £450 (actually you could probably get one for around £200-£250), you will need at least a good semi-dry, or dry cag. For the lower cost ones you are looking at around the £99 mark, at least for the Palm ones. You may be able to get one much cheaper off eBay if you look around, perhaps £50 for a new one without reinforced elbows. Then there is a white water spec buoyancy aid. This must be bought new for peace of mind, and will cost around £140 or so. A good paddle could possibly be bought used for around £70, and some footwear for around £30-60. For cold weather thermals are needed too, and maybe dry trousers of some kind at the very least or neoprene strides. It might be possible to get a pair of these for around £90 if you look around. Most importantly next to the buoyancy aid is a good quality helmet. Again this needs to be bought new for safety. Lastly a good spraydeck is also needed.
So generally speaking, if you do things on the cheap you could be looking at an initial outlay of around £600. Is that really an expensive figure though? The cost of starting white water kayaking is still comparable to getting into Mountain Biking and the like, most probably much less. One you have your gear, assuming you take care of it it should last a good few years. Remember, even a cheap gym membership will cost you around £400 per year, double or triple this for some of the pricier ones.
Discounting travel costs, over time you could be paying far more to go to the gym than it costs to get into kayaking. Further, assuming you take care of your gear, if you need to upgrade anything it is easy to sell your old stuff on, so you do get some money back even if you wanted a better cag, spraydeck etc. Unlike the gym when you kayak you won’t be stuck in a room full of sweaty unsociable people!
So that’s the idea of expense blown out of the window. The next hurdle is one of skill. It takes time to build up the skills necessary to go on white water. This shouldn’t be seen as a negative because learning to kayak is a journey in itself. Your skills will develop over time. What is more, you will make a heck of a lot of new friends while doing it. To reiterate what I stated earlier in this journal entry, you don’t have to be aiming to go on huge knarly water. If you are happy with going on grade 2 or 3 water there is nothing wrong with that. You can have a huge amount of fun on it. It is an aspect of the sport that should be shown much more to the public at large.
So there we have it. You don’t have to be a nutter to start white water kayaking, and you don’t necessarily have to be expending lots of money in comparison to other similar activities.