is the sport of paddling a kayak
on a moving body of water, typically a whitewater
river. Whitewater kayaking can range from simple, carefree gently moving water, to demanding, dangerous whitewater. River rapids
are graded like ski runs
according to the difficulty, danger or severity of the rapid. Whitewater grades
(or classes) range from II or 2 (the easiest) to VI or 6 (the most difficult/dangerous). Grade/Class I can be described as slightly moving water with ripples but for that reason is not considered 'Whitewater.' Grade/Class II/2 can be described as moving water providing some small degree of challenge. Grade/Class VI can be described as extremely severe or almost unrunnable whitewater, considered almost certain death, such as Niagara Falls
The kayak (or just 'boat') used in casual whitewater kayaking is different from those used in whitewater racing
or sea kayaking
. Traditionally, kayaks were made of animal skins stretched over wooden frames. Early whitewater boats were fiberglass
, and this is still preferred for racing
due to the light weight, but most modern whitewater boats are typically rotomoulded
from a tough plastic
that is slightly flexible and very durable, if easily scratched. Boats can range in size from barely long enough to hold the paddler
(around long)(or even smaller for children), up to or longer.
Paddling on rivers, lakes and oceans is as old as the Stone Age. The raft, the catamaran, the canoe and the kayak evolved depending on the needs and environment of the indigenous peoples in different parts of the world. The modern day kayak most likely originated about 8,000 years ago along the Siberian coast line by the Yupik and then transformed from the open canoe, via the Aleut and Inuit, into an enclosed kayak. Simplified, all the ethnic groups of the entire polar region are called Eskimos and their various boat versions Eskimo kayaks/canoes.
The Greek, Herodotus, 484-425 BC, wrote in his travel diaries about boats with which merchandise was brought from Armenia to Babylon. The boats were made of a wooden framework that was covered with animal skins. Mules hauled the precious skins back to Armenia.
The German, Grigori Ivanovitch Langsdorff, reported from his trip around the world (1803-07) on the ease and elegance of paddling Eskimo kayaks/canoes. The Scot, John MacGregor, came back from his North American trip full of excitement about the kayak/canoe and in 1860 started building six boats that closely resembled Eskimo canoes/kayaks, weighing app. . In 1866 he published the book A Thousand Miles in the Roy Rob Canoe. The timing was right and the book became a resounding success. With the Industrial Revolution leading to more leisure time in the middle of the 19th century, people in Europe started to enjoy floating down rivers in all kinds of contraptions taking in nature previously only available to a selected few.
- 1905, Alfred Heurich, an architectural student from Leipzig, Germany, invented the "Faltboot", a folding kayak called Folboat in the US. Heurich went on to paddle over on rivers and lakes.
- 1907, Alfred Klepper, a master seamster from Rosenheim, bought the patent, improved the rigidity with a lever system and started production. Born was the Western culture's invention of a paddle craft that for the first time in human history that allowed hardy enthusiasts to see wild river sections and canyons never before seen by the human eye. The design made it not only suitable for whitewater (WW) but also easy to travel with and affordable. World War I stopped any progress.
- 1920s, boating on WW with Folboats developed. Boaters flocked to rivers and lakes by train or bus. During that time, the Austrian, Hans Edi Pawlata reinvented the Eskimo roll.
- 1927, Franz von Alber, and then, Klaus and Arndt von Rautenfeld, claimed to have independently developed a roll with their sea kayaks.
- Early 1930s, Walter Frentz, Herbert Rittlinger and a handful of others became pioneers and advocates of WW kayaking with documentaries and books.
- 1933, Adolf Hitler started to dissolve kayak clubs. They did not serve his plan and the impact on the sport was devastating. World War II brought the paddle sport to a total halt.
1946/48, Depending on the region, the Allies gradually lifted the ban on river travel in Germany. Paddle clubs were again allowed to form.
- 1952, Walter Frentz, published an inspiring book In den Schluchten Europas (In the Canyons of Europe) that gained popularity. The book was based on his river trips prior to WW II. Publications in those days told great stories with awesome pictures of first descents but with little information regarding river conditions. The tough times of the post war era had come to an end and people traveled abroad again looking for adventures with Folboats and canoes.
- 1955, Herbert Baschin in Stuttgart built the first polyester/fiber kayak. Despite the much improved maneuverability and material, Baschin’s hard shell was received with skepticism by paddle sport enthusiasts who were in love with their folboats and depended on public transportation. The ice broke when owning an automobile became affordable. The hard shell kayak was easily hauled to rivers and remote put-ins that were not accessible before. In the late 60s the WW sport started from Europe to spread around the world and transformed from adventure trips into a hardcore sport. With it came safety consciousness and protective gear.
- 1973, Tom Johnson, a racer and trainer from Kernville, California designs and markets the Hollowform: the first roto-molded polyethylene boat. It was mass-produced by a garbage can manufacturing company. These virtually indestructible boats revolutionized the sport, and quickly took off in California. Paddlers no longer had to constantly repair their boats during and after trips. They began to be able to use rocks as part of the strategy of negotiating difficult rapids. Hard runs became more accessible to less-skilled paddlers.
- 1980 Prijon in Rosenheim introduced polyethylene to Europe which made WW boating virtually maintenance and repair free in giant contrast to the Faltboot which had started it all.
- 1980 Holger Machatschek, together with ESKIMO in Landsberg, developed the first playboat called Topolino which galvanized kayaking into many new and exciting forms of extreme sports.
There are five 'sub-categories' in whitewater kayaking:
River running can be thought of as a tour down a river, to enjoy the scenery as well as experiencing challenging whitewater. River running includes short day trips as well as longer multi-day trips. Multi-day kayak trips often entail the use of gear-toting rafts to allow a more comfortable experience without a heavily-laden kayak. Downriver or 'Wildwater' racing is the competitive aspect of this category, racing canoes or kayaks down a river as fast as possible.
is perhaps best thought of as a subcategory of river running, involving very technical and difficult rapids, typically in the Grade/Class IV to VI range. While people will differ on the definition, creeking generally involves higher gradient (approaching or in excess of 100 ft per mi (19 m per km), and is likely to include running ledges, slides, and waterfalls on relatively small and tight rivers, though some will allow for very large and big volume rivers in their definition. Kayaks used for creeking usually have higher volume (more gallons or liters of displacement) and more rounded bow
, as these features provide an extra margin of safety' against the likelihood of pinning, and will resurface more quickly and controllably when coming off larger drops. Creek boats usually have increased "rocker," or rise, on the bow to go up and over obstacles and obstructions within the river. Extreme racing
is a competitive form of this aspect of whitewater kayaking, in which kayakers race down steep sections and or generally dangerous sections of whitewater.
Slalom is a technical competitive form of kayaking, and the only whitewater event to appear in the Olympic Games
. Racers attempt to make their way from the top to the bottom of a designated section of river as fast as possible, while correctly negotiating gates (a series of double-poles suspended vertically over the river). There are usually 18-25 gates in a race which must be navigated in sequential order. Green gates must be negotiated in a downstream direction, red gates in an upstream direction. The events are typically conducted on Grade/Class II to Grade/Class IV water, but the placement of the gates, and precision necessary to paddle them fast and "clean" (without touching a pole and adding 2 seconds to the total time), makes the moves much harder than the water's difficulty suggests. (Slalom has been described as performing class V moves with class III consequences.) Pro level slalom competitions have specific length (for kayaks - new rules), width, and weight requirements for the boats, which will be made out of kevlar/fiberglass/carbon fiber composites
to be light weight and have faster hull speed. Plastic whitewater kayaks can be used in citizen-level races.
Playboating, also known as Freestyle or Rodeo, is a more gymnastic and artistic kind of kayaking. While the other varieties of kayaking generally involve going from Point A to Point B, playboaters often stay in one spot in the river (usually in a hole, pourover or on a wave) where they work with and against the dynamic forces of the river to perform a variety of maneuvers. These can include surfing, spinning, and various vertical moves (cartwheels, loops, blunts, pistol and donkey flips, and many others), spinning the boat on all possible axis of rotation. More recently, aerial moves have become accessible, where paddlers perform tricks having gained air from using the speed and bounce of the wave. Kayaks used for playboating generally have relatively low volume in the bow and stern, allowing the paddler to submerge the ends of the kayak with relative ease. Competitions for playboating or freestyle are sometimes called whitewater rodeo in the US, but more frequently just referred to as freestyle events in UK and Europe.
Squirt boating incorporates the use of low-volume boats to perform special moves in whitewater features. Squirt boating predates, and was critical to the foundation of, playboating. Squirt boats are often fairly long and flat, with low volume throughout the design. Because squirt boats are custom built to the paddlers weight, inseam, and personal preference, they are constructed with composite materials instead of plastic. Many squirt moves are intended to submerge all or part of the craft and paddler, such as the "mystery move," in which both the boat and the paddler submerge completely into the river's flow for several seconds and up to half a minute.
A variety of different paddle strokes are used to guide, propel and turn the boat in various ways. Some strokes are used in combinations to perform maneuvers such as the 'S-turn.'
Rolling is an essential skill in whitewater kayaking. This technique allows a flipped boater to regain an upright position. There are a variety of different styles of rolling but in whitewater paddling the styles which offer protection of the face receive special emphasis.
Bracing and Sculling
Bracing is the use of the paddle to keep the boat upright. There are several different types of braces. Sculling is a more continuous method but is used less often in whitewater.
Boofing, in whitewater kayaking, refers to the raising of the kayak's bow during freefall, while descending a ledge, ducking behind a boulder, or running a waterfall
. This technique is used to avoid submerging the bow of the kayak by ensuring it lands flat when it hits the base of the waterfall. The term is an onomatopoeia
which mimics the sound that is usually created when the hull
of the kayak makes contact with water at the base of the waterfall.
Another type of boof is the "rock boof" which is a move that uses a glancing impact with a boulder at the top of a ledge to bounce the boater over a downstream feature, often finished with a mid-air eddy turn. Rock boofs result in sounds both at the top of the drop (boat impacting rock) and the bottom (boat bellyflopping into the water).
In addition to the boat and paddle there are several other pieces of gear that are necessary for whitewater paddling. A buoyancy aid
(BA) or personal flotation device
(PFD), helmet, spraydeck
are considered essential while a rope throwbag
, knife, and safety whistle
are recommended as standard pieces of safety gear. Many people also wear nose clips since flipping the boat is a normal part of the whitewater experience. In addition the boater must be dressed appropriately for the water temperature, which might imply a wetsuit
. The boat itself should be equipped with enough flotation to make pinning less likely and help enable its recovery.