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Old 06-23-2014   #1
new york, California
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 1
What's the best way to start whitewater kayaking?

I live in Denver, Colorado and I've taken 2 whitewater kayaking lessons before and LOVED it. I'm kind of a ski bum and need something to do in the off season.

I don't want to spend thousands of dollars getting set up, and these lessons are either beginner or expert it seems (and EXPENSIVE). My friends are all scared of the water so I have no one to do it with. Where do I begin?


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Old 06-23-2014   #2
Lakewood, Colorado
Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 504
Kayaking is probably a little more expensive than skiing to get started in. But once you have the gear, floating is free. You can get used gear relatively cheap. Check here and Craigslist. Here is what you need:

- Boat
- Paddle
- Sprayskirt
- Helmet (consider a full face)
- Drytop (drysuits are nice too but much more $$$)
- Thermal layers (your ski stuff should work)
- Footwear of some kind
- Gloves/mittens/pogies (especially early season)
- Splash or dry pants (highly recommended especially early season and early in your career)

Lots of people buy "kits" of most or all of the above from someone who bought all the gear then decided they didn't like the sport after all. That is by far the cheapest way to start and can get you in the door for $400+ if you find a good deal. Everything above new would set you back $2,000+. Obviously there are safety considerations with buying used, so make sure the gear is sound.

Once you have gear, spend a lot of time in flat water at a pool or lake learning how to roll and brace. I would recommend taking lessons until you get a roll, then you can work on refining it by yourself.

After you have a reliable flatwater roll, it's time for a playpark. Union Chutes is the place to dial in your combat roll in Denver. The water is warm, there are large gear collection pools, and the swirly water is great for skill building. Ideally you could find someone to go with here or maybe by meeting someone in your lessons, but its is reasonably safe to go by yourself there if you have to. Spend a lot of time trying to surf and working on your combat roll and bracing.

Once Union starts getting boring, go to Golden play park and start over. Faster water and tubers will challenge you again.

Your solo days are over. Now start trying to meet people to go on river trips with. Look to get on a Deckers or Filter Plant trip. Try to go with some more experienced people that can collect your gear when you swim. Swap phone numbers with everyone you meet and start building up your crew.

Have fun! Remember the elation you felt when you started skiing? Get ready to get it again!

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Old 06-23-2014   #3
lmyers's Avatar
Buena Vista, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 4,207
Excellent advice. The only thing I would say different is that you may not want to spend that much time strictly at the play parks if you don't really enjoy it. Working the park is a great, safe way to work on your basics and meet other boaters. However, freestyle is not for everyone. If you find yourself getting discouraged, or board, switch it up and go for a float. The Deckers stretch of the South Fork South Platte is where I took my first paddle strokes. Welcome to the super addicting world of whitewater.
GARNA’s mission is to foster stewardship of the resources of the greater Arkansas River region through education, volunteerism and experiences. https://garna.org
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Old 06-23-2014   #4
Dipshit with the most.
carvedog's Avatar
Bellevue, Idaho
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 2,497
Many people are willing to loan a boat ( so you can try lots of different ones) if you have all the other goods. mj is right about the whole deal discount but that only works if you it fits you.
I didn't have a dry top my first couple of years kayaking. Sure nice once I got one but not mandatory. Also a wetsuit has more padding on knees and bum than spray pants or dry pants. I assume you will swim a few times when learning in current. That padding will be handy then. Wetsuit is little harder to get comfortable in the kayak due to the thickness of the material.

I also believe there is a Pikes Peak River Runners Club which may be a good way to meet some kayakers. I don't know much about it being from out of state but know a few people who are part of it who seem really nice.

Just a few thoughts.
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Old 06-23-2014   #5
pnw, Washington
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 3,404
Its tough to start on your own but you can do it. Joining a club does make things easier though. Pikes Peak is in the springs if you are interested but CWWA is in Denver and that would be closer.
"Yesterday I was clever and tried to change the world. Today I am wise and try to change myself." -Rumi
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Old 06-23-2014   #6
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Indian Hills, Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 1,448
Pow hound hit the nail on the head. Although nobody seems to agree with me, I suggest getting a very tippy playboat and paddling parks and Class III rivers constantly. I swam, a lot. But, I learned balance, edge control and bracing quite well.

Some thoughts on gear:
Helmet - get a WRSI, just that simple
Paddle - don't spend a fortune. You will loose it. Either get one of those cheap aquabounds, or better yet get a deal on used werner. Getting a used AT paddle is asking for a broken paddle.
Dry-top: Get a nice drytop. It will make a big difference in your paddling enjoyment because you won't get cold. Expect to pay $250 min.
Boat - I really think you can skimp here and save some big bucks. A proven older style boat playboat can be gotten for about $250. Some suggestions: Dagger Crazy8, Pyhrana S-6 (not the S-6F)(my personal favorite of the oldies), Jackson fun series, wavesport ezg series. There are lots of others obviously.
Skirt - Whatever. Just make sure it fits your boat and has a loop you can pull to swim.
Throwbag - Just get one. This will be a long-term investment, so like the helmet, dont' skimp.
Noseplugs - For union, of course.
PFD - Something whitewater kayak specific

This looks like a pretty good deal: Complete Equipment Package Bargain - Mountain Buzz Gear Swap
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Old 06-23-2014   #7
Fort Collins, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1997
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 141
I don't think anyone's mentioned it yet, so I will. Make sure you get some float bags for your boat. You will swim, and a boat without float bags is extremely hard to pull to shore. More experienced boaters have learned to stay far away from newbies without float bags.
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Old 06-23-2014   #8
Boulder, Colorado
Join Date: Apr 2014
Posts: 1
I'm in the same boat. I have the equipment but no one to practice with. Anyone who'd want to meet for practice sessions at Union drop me a line.
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Old 06-23-2014   #9
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2007
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 117
Originally Posted by ReyeZ View Post
I live in Denver, Colorado and I've taken 2 whitewater kayaking lessons before and LOVED it.
and these lessons are either beginner or expert it seems (and EXPENSIVE).
I'm a certified instructor in Denver. I've been trying to get to Golden Play Park every Wednesday after work (6pm) to give some of my past students a chance to get more instruction/introductions. Things have kinda been on hold for that because of the high water but I'll probably get it started up again soon.

Also, just so you know the reason the lessons are either beginner or expert and Expensive: At the beginner side of things, you have to borrow gear and renting gear is expensive but the instructor time is relatively cheap. At the intermediate level, most people either A) think they are awesome and couldn't possibly need a lesson) or B) Do lessons through one of the clubs (Colorado Whitewater's Training Camp is a 150 person, intermediate lesson bonanza). Finally at the expert end of things, people have realized that they actually could use a lesson and they don't need to rent gear anymore but there are far fewer instructors who really feel comfortable/are trained for teaching the higher levels so the instructor time gets expensive.
Whitewater Map American Whitewater river info you can use.
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Old 06-23-2014   #10
Paddling Since: 2009
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 116
Join a club. I joined a meet up site paddling club and it got me out on the river with people. Not only do they have instruction but also "meet ups" where you go run rivers with others for FREE. I would recommend it.

"Go fast and Take Chances,"
-Isaac Levinson
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