“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
Maine Kayak in Millinocket offers group and private lessons for whitewater paddlers from beginners to advanced paddlers.
Northeast Whitewater in Greenville offers two-day group and private clinics for whitewater paddlers of all skill levels.
Send It, Whitewater in Millinocket offers advanced level whitewater instruction
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.
Wilderness Experiences offers beginning and advance whitewater clinics in Springfield/Westfield:
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 spring paddling school for both canoeists and kayakers with pool sessions in Nashua, NH and a full weekend of on-river sessions. With one evening of pool instruction and two days on the rivers with volunteer instructors, this is a bargain and a great way to meet fellow paddlers.
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 Exposure has a “total immersion” whitewater clinic.
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 both kayak courses at the Lock 32 Whitewater Kayaking Park in Rochester.
Kayak Adventures offers instruction at all levels in and around Rochester.
Kayak and Canoe Club of New York teaches pool sessions all winter long and a “Beginner Weekend” in the spring.
Whitewater Challengers in Dexter, North Creek, Old Forge, and Pulaski teaches clinics on the Hudson, Moose, Salmon and Black Rivers
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 Challengers offers whitewater paddling clinics on the Lehigh River in White Haven.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, Rhode Island
Action Paddling offers private and semi-private instruction on the Wood River.
Whitewater Kayaking Instruction, Vermont
Adventure Trek USA does whitewater instruction on the White River.
Umiak Outfitters in Stowe has summer classes in the basics and private lessons on advanced techniques.
One of the advantages of taking lessons from a paddling club or commercial paddling outfitter is that they’ll be able to supply you with an appropriate boat, paddle, helmet and PFD for whitewater paddling. If the water’s cold, they’ll also have wet suits, paddling jackets, and gloves or pogies (paddling mittens) to keep you comfy.
But the one thing you probably will need to supply for yourself is a good set of nose plugs. Cotton Mouth Nose Plugs work well and are widely available, but both Harmony and Wildwasser also make paddling-proven designs. Even if you don’t need nose plugs when swimming, diving or even paddling, you probably will want them as you practice wet exits and rolling in in a kayak.
Armchair Whitewater Kayaking Instruction
While there are a number of whitewater paddling instructional videos available, there’s something to be said for good old-fashioned book learning:
The AMC Whitewater Handbook, 3rd edition by Bruce Lessels (owner of Zoar Outdoor) is still an excellent overview of the basics.
River Rescue: A Manual for Whitewater Safety by Slim Ray and Les Bechdel is another classic.
Have fun out there!