“The Great Spring Ambush” usually happens for most of us while there’s still snow on on the ground. A sunny day starts the icicles on the eaves of your house dripping. Patches of open water appear on the edges of ice-covered ponds. You pass a river and see water flowing and ice breaking up. The local sport shop puts brightly colored canoes and kayaks on display. Driving down the road, you notice that boat racks are gradually replacing ski racks on the roofs of vehicles driving past. Paddling season is coming!
It’s the same story every year as winter gradually transitions to spring. Even though it’ll be awhile before the water warms enough for most people to launch their kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, and windsurfers, some people start paddling while there’s still snow on the ground. Whitewater kayaking begins early on the rivers of the northeast. Starting first in the south and progressing north, it hits full swing in March, April and early May as the snowmelt runoff raises the water levels in rivers. In a few places, where dams release water on a set schedule for recreational use, whitewater paddling is a sumer-long pastime. But for most rivers, it’s mainly a spring sport. In fact, whitewater kayaking is, perhaps (other than spring skiing, of course!), the best way to enjoy mud season. Makes sense when you think about it: it’s rapidly melting snow that creates both the bottomless mud of Mud Season and the perfect conditions for whitewater paddling.
Whether you are a wannabe paddler who only dreams about whitewater, a dabbler who has tried it (sometimes without much success), or someone who lives for the challenge of heavy rapids, you have to start from where you are and get better from there. The adrenaline rush and sensory overload you get from being alone in a tiny boat on even “easy” whitewater is simply amazing. Why not give it a try?
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction: Where To Learn Paddling Skills Safely
Paddling on swiftly flowing, usually cold water around rocks and other obstacles is not something you just do; it’s something you learn how to do in increments. You need the right gear and, more importantly, the right skills to do it safely. And you can’t really learn those skills on your own. You often start in a swimming pool, learning first how to “wet exit” from your upside-down kayak, later learning how to roll your boat back upright when (not if . . .) you flip. As you try to learn and improve your skills in moving water, you ARE going to find yourself upside down in the water on frequent occasions.
But flowing water is truly a force of Nature; it’s easy to get overwhelmed and disoriented if something goes wrong. That’s dangerous. Instead, you want to learn whitewater paddling in easy, safe, supervised steps. Because you can’t safely teach yourself whitewater padding skills, you have three options for whitewater kayaking instruction. One is from friends and acquaintances who already paddle whitewater, IF you can be certain that they not only have the skills but also have the ability to teach them. The second option is from clubs or associations of paddlers who love to bring new people into the sport. The third is commercial operations which make a business of teaching people how to paddle
If you don’t know anyone to teach you, here’s a state-by list of paddling clubs and commercial outdoor centers in the northeast which offer whitewater paddling classes. If you know of additional opportunities we’ve somehow missed, please contact us.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, Connecticut
AMC-CT offers pool instruction in the winter, gatherings on local rivers when water conditions are right, and an annual trip and instruction clinic in Canada each summer.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, Maine
Northeast Whitewater in Greenville offers two-day group and private clinics for whitewater paddlers of all skill levels.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, Massachusetts
AMC Boston offers a number of pool, pond and river classes in spring and summer on beginning and advanced whitewater paddling skills, plus an annual “Paddler’s Reunion” for former students.
Zoar Outdoor offers whitewater classes on the Deerfield River in Charlemont from April through October. Several EasternSlopes.com staffers have taken the two-day introductory whitewater course with Zoar, and one has taken a two-day intermediate clinic. All the instructors are ACA certified and excellent. We can recommend them highly.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, New Hampshire
AMC-NH Paddlers typically runs an annual weekend spring paddling school for both canoeists and kayakers and several kayak schools through the summer.
ELC Outdoors in Berlin, NH has lessons for all levels on the Androscoggin River by reservation.
Great Glen Outdoor Center in Pinkham Notch offers whitewater kayaking instruction on the Androscoggin into the summer (when the water is warmer!)
Northern Waters in Errol offers kayak lessons on the Androscoggin River throughout the summer.
Outdoor New England is now offering introductory, freestyle, and custom whitewater kayaking instruction and rolling clinics on the Winnipesaukee, Pemigewasset, and Merrimack Rivers in Central New Hampshire. EasternSlopes.com editor Tim Jones has taken a rolling clinic with owner Marty Parichand and is looking forward to another session soon.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, New York
Adirondack Adventures in North Creek offers beginner, intermediate and advanced whitewater instruction on several rivers.
Adirondack Mountain Club, Schenectady Chapter has a variety of classes and group paddles from January through October.
FLOW (Finger Lakes Ontario Watershed) Paddlers has pool practice sessions in the winter, group paddles all season long.
Genesee Waterways Center offers kayak courses at the Lock 32 Whitewater Kayaking Park in Rochester.
Kayak and Canoe Club of New York teaches pool sessions all winter long and a “Beginner Weekend” in the spring.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, Pennsylvania
Canoe Club Of Greater Harrisburg has skills clinics in both canoes and kayaks throughout the spring and summer.
Northeast Pennsylvania Kayak School on the Lehigh River offers kayak clinics every weekend.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, Rhode Island
Action Paddling offers private and semi-private instruction on the Wood River.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, Vermont
Umiak Outfitters in Stowe has summer classes in the basics and private lessons on advanced techniques.
Vermont Paddlers Club offers pool and on-river whitewater instruction.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction Eastern Canada
KSF offers all levels of instruction on the Lachine Rapids near Montreal
Madawaska Kanu Center offers comprehensive whitewater instruction programs at all levels near the border of Quebec and Ontario.