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Whitewater Kayaking

Lessons Catalog The Basics


Kayaking is a gear intensive sport. A checklist and separate gear bag are a good way to keep it all organized. Just remember you must have your boat, paddle, lifejacket, sprayskirt, and helmet. You'd be surprised how easy it is to forget something like the paddle.

Besides the mandatory gear a nose clip, drinking water and a snack should be brought along. Another key item is a dry sack, available at most canoe and kayaking stores. They're perfect for packing lunch, a disposable camera, extra Polypropylene top, sunscreen, etc. It should be clipped into the boat, so it doesn't float away if you end up swimming.

Getting the best gear from the beginning will be cost effective. Even as a beginner you'll appreciate the differences, such as a dry drytop and a light well balanced paddle. Good quality equipment will last a long time and will take you from beginner to an advanced boater. Also, the "cheap" beginner equipment isn't that cheap, so you might as well get good quality from the start. Your boat is the only equipment that makes sense to start with a beginner level and moves your way up slowly.

Most kayaking equipment is unisex, such as boats and paddles. And as in most extreme sports, fit is important. Though rarely avaiable in store, most kayaking equipment does comes in xsmall sizes. There are a few companies that are committed to producing kayaking products for women. Kokatat offers a full line of paddling clothes for women. Also relatively new to the market are lifejackets or PFDs that are cut for women. Even boat manufacturers are beginning to look at lower volume kayaks for lighter paddlers.

Women's equipment solutions are relatively new, and some still need some refinement. SheGear with your help is working with manufacturers to produce better products for women. All comments and suggestions are encouraged.


There are a lot of boats on the market. When shopping for a boat you'll quickly become familiar with the basic boat design terminology. The length of a kayak effects its speed and maneuverability. The longer it is the straighter it tracks. The more volume a boat has the more buoyant it is. The boat's rocker refers to the upward curve of the bottom of a boat. More rocker will help the boat to maneuver and turn quickly. A flat bottom will help the boat to plane and surf.

Beginner boats are usually high volume; longer with a rounded bottom compared to advanced play boats. Both Dagger's Crossfire and Perception's Corsica Overflow are examples of beginner boats. Your first boat should give you confidence; easy to roll up, fits well, and you feel good in it. You'll probably want to up grade your first boat within a year or two. That's why it's best to get your first beginner boat used. Getting a good beginner boat used is not difficult. There are plenty on the market.

To get a used boat, you'll need to get the word out in your boating community. First tell everyone you know what type of boat you're looking for. Find out if local clubs have bulletin boards to post notices. There are also regional web sites, which offer bulletin boards. Another great place to look for a used boat is at the paddling festivals, where you can find lots of good used equipment. Check the ACA's and AWA's events schedule for a festival near you. You should be able to pick up a used boat for around $400 compared to a new boat that costs around $900.

Most boats are marketed to a wide range of body types and weights. Not surprising a boat will perform differently for a 135-lbs woman versus a 180 lbs man. When you're ready to move up to a more responsive boat, you'll need to try a lot of them out. Most manufactures offer demo days around the country, which will allow you to do this. Look for a comprehensive paddling events calendar in the Canoe & Kayak Magazine or call the manufacturers directly for their demo schedule.

Dagger Canoe Co., Inc.
P.O. Box 1500,
Harriman, TN 37748 USA
Tel. 1-423-882-0404
Dagger Logo

Necky Kayaks
1100 Riverside Road
Abbotsford BC, V2S 7P1 Canada
Tel. 1-604-850-1206
Necky Logo

Northwest Kayaks Inc.
15145 NE 90th Street
Redmond, WA 98052-3560 USA
Tel. 1-206-869-1107

111 Kayaker Way
Easley, SC 29641 USA
Tel. 1-800-595-2925
Perception Logo

Prijon Kayaks
Wildwasser Sport USA, Inc.
P.O. Box 4617
Boulder, CO 80306 USA
Tel. 1-303-444-2336
Prijon Logo

Riot Kayaks
3700 St-Patrick
suite 109, portes 20 et 21 Montreal, Quebec, H4E 1A2 Canada
Riot Logo

Savage V, Inc.
2000 Riverside Dr.
Asheville, NC 28804 USA
Tel. 1-828-251-9875
Savage Logo

Wave Sport
P.O. Box 775207
Steamboat Springs, CO 80477 USA
Tel. 1-970-736-0080
Wave Sport Logo


Paddling when you're too hot or too cold will drain your energy. The right clothing makes all the difference. It can take time to find the right combination for you, especially when the water is cold and the air is hot. Layering your clothing will allow you to shed layers if you begin to overheat or add if you get cold. Some of the best technical fabrics are used for kayak clothing. Look for waterproof and breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex. It's also advisable to pack clothes that are quick drying and wicking, made of Polypropylene type materials. Cotton absorbs moister and can keep you chilled. Remember, even in summer the water temperature of most rivers is cool.

5350 Ericson Way
Arcata, CA 95521 USA
Tel. 1-800-225-9749 or 1-707-822-7621
They offer a full range of gear cut for women.
Kokatat Logo

P.O. Box 775207
Steamboat Springs, CO 80477 USA
Tel. 1-800-663-7740 or 1-604-251-1756
Navarro Logo

111 Kayaker Way
Easley, SC 29641 USA
Tel. 1-800-595-2925
Perception Logo

Stohlquist Colorado Kayak
P.O. Box 3059
22495 US Highway 285, South
Buena Vista, CO 81211 USA
Tel. 1-800-535-3565
Stohlquist Logo


For extreme cold weather and water a drysuit will be safer than a wetsuit. Drysuits also come in handy for sea kayaking, sailing and windsurfing. They're expensive, so you should try to get one the meets all your needs.

As the name suggests, a drysuit is a waterproof jumpsuit that will keep you dry if you go for a swim. The suit has rubber seals around the neck, wrists and ankles that prevent water from getting into your suit. Some key custom options include attached booties, drop-seat zipper for women and relief zipper for men; knee and seat patches to prolong life and reduce wear, reflective tape, and hood. The drop-seat for women is almost mandatory. After all, striping down in the cold just to go to the bathroom seems to defeats the whole purpose.

5350 Ericson Way
Arcata, CA 95521 USA
Tel. 1-800-225-9749 or 1-707-822-7621
They offer a full range women's drysuits.
Kokatat Logo


This is mandatory. A good helmet should fit something like a biking helmet. It should be secure but not too tight. It shouldn't move around much when you're wearing it. Make sure to get a kayaking helmet and not your bike or ice hockey helmet. They're available at all canoe and kayaking stores.

Lifejackets or PFDs

For kayaking a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) is also mandatory. The great thing about a kayaking PFD is that they're so comfortable compared to other PFD styles. You'll wear them for lots of other water sports. They're perfect for dinghy sailing or working the foredeck on a sailing boat. The kayaking PFD is short waisted and has large armholes that won't hinder your mobility. They also have well positioned cinch straps to get a secure fit. Some of the better manufacturers are now making women's models, which offer an even better fit and more comfort.

Pockets are an important feature of a lifejacket. For whitewater kayaking an easy access pocket mean you won't have to pop your sprayskirt just to get the basic items. Most boaters attach their nose plugs and a whistle to their jacket and keep their sunscreen and Chapstick in their pocket. Most pockets also include an internal loop to attach your car keys too. Best to have your keys on you and not attached to your boat.

Most lifejacket manufacturers produce a woman's model. It's important to try it on though. Things to look for include length of jacket, free movement of arms, strap thickness between shoulder and neck, a snug fit, and basic comfort. If your jacket is too long it can get in the way of your sprayskirt. Also, if your jacket hinders your arms from their paddling movement, it can cause chaffing and even bruising.

5305 N.W. 35th Court
Miami, FL 33142-3203 USA
Tel. 1-800-633-0837
Ladies Solution is their women's model.

5350 Ericson Way
Arcata, CA 95521 USA
Tel. 1-800-225-9749 or 1-707-822-7621
MsFIT is their women's model.
Kokatat Logo

Lotus Design
1060 Old Mars Hill Highway
Weaverville, NC 28787 USA
Tel. 1-828-689-2470
Lola is their women's model.
Lotus Logo


There are a lot of aspects to a paddle and by no means is it a simple purchase. You need to consider length, materials, weight, feathered or unfeathered, shaft, and blade shape.

For whitewater kayaking you'll need a shorter paddle (194cm to 202cm) with a fairly large blade. With more play boats on the water, paddle lengths are getting shorter. The average women will use a paddle between 196cm and 198cm long. Strength and weight are also important. Whitewater strokes like ruddering and bracing can put a lot of stress on a paddle. Weight is also a factor because it takes more effort to use a heavier paddle. Though it is much less crucial than in a touring paddle.

The other aspect of paddles is the degree in which the blades are feathers. An unfeathered paddle is where both blades are in the same position. This is a relatively new concept to kayaking. The benefits are still being debated. The blades on a feathered paddle are in usually rotated 60 to 45 degrees. Paddling with a feathered paddle requires that you have a control hand and a slip hand, which is either a right-hand or left-hand control. The control hand rotates the shaft so that both blades enter the water smoothly. Most people feel this is a natural movement. However, others believe that this repetitive movement can cause tendentious. It is strictly your personal preference. One advantage to a non-feathered paddle is an easier set up for your offside roll. It does take a while to get used to and is very difficult to switch between.

You'll be surprised at the cost of paddles. They're expensive. But a good one is worth it. The price of paddles usually coincides with the materials it's made with. The high-end paddles are usually made with graphite because it's light and incredibly strong. These paddles will cost between $200.00 and $300.00 but are as light as 2-3 lbs. Other materials include fiberglass, wood and aluminum. Aluminum paddles are the cheapest and heaviest. The low-end paddles start around $100.00. It's worth spending the extra money and getting a high-end paddle, something you'll use for a while.

For women, a paddle with a smaller diameter shaft is advisable. Lighting makes great lightweight whitewater paddle with the smaller shaft. They're perfect for women.

Aqua Bound Technology Ltd.
1160 Yew Avenue
Blaine, WA 98230 USA
Tel. 1-604-882-2052
Aqua Bound Logo

L'eau Vive
P.O. Box 18978
Boulder, CO 80308 USA
Tel. 1-303-417-7957

Lightning Paddles
22800 S. Unger Road
Colton, OR 97017 USA
Tel. 1-503-824-2938
Lightning Logo

Mitchell Paddles
963 North C.R. 427
Longwood, FL 32750 USA
Tel. 1-407-834-3233

Nimbus Paddles
233 Tyner Street, #6
Port Coquitlam, B.C. Canada V3X 2Z1
Tel. 1-604-941-8138

Rough Stuff Kayak Paddles
Mill Lane, Palmerstown
Dublin 20
Tel. 011-3531-626-4363

Sawyer Paddles and Oars
299 Rogue River Parkway
Talent, OR 97537 USA
Tel. 1-503-535-3606

Sidewinder Whitewater
1692 2nd Street Pike
Richboro, PA18954 USA
Tel 1-215-598-3669

Werner Paddles
P.O. Box 1139
Sultan, WA 98294 USA
Tel. 1-800-275-3311
Werner Logo

Safety Gear

The two most important safety items you'll wear are your lifejacket and your helmet. As stated before, never go out without them. They should be comfortable yet fit snuggly. There are also several other items that you should have. A whistle attached to your lifejacket is an easy device to signal for help. This should only be used when you are in an emergency, not just to get someone's attention.

Hypothermia is not uncommon in whitewater kayaking. It's important to dress wisely in order to avoid getting cold. As a beginner you should plan on bringing more clothes. You'll be spending more time in the water, which can quickly reduce body heat. The most common signs of mild hypothermia are shivering, exhaustion, and blue lips. Don't ignore it. Work on getting warmed up.

Advanced kayakers who have safety training will also carry a throw bag and knife. Taking a class in proper rescue techniques is highly recommended once your skill level has increased. For more information about rescue and safety, you should contact the ACA


Finding the proper spray skirt isn't always easy. It must properly fit you and the boat. The skirt is designed to keep water out of the boat, so it needs to provide a solid seal. It is also important that it releases quickly when the pull strap is grabbed. Remember the pull straps must be easy to grab and not be caught inside the skirt. Double-check this before you launch and every time you resecure your skirt.

Mountain Surf
P.O. Box 70
Friendsville, MD 21531 USA
Tel. 1-301-746-5389
Mountain Surf Logo

Seals Sprayskirts
By Take It Outside
P.O. Box 294
KIernville, CA 93238 USA
Tel. 1-877-487-3257
Seals Sprayskirts Logo


A wetsuit is helpful for staying warm in cold water. The water temperature and how often you end up swimming will determine if you should be wearing a wetsuit or a drysuit. A sleeveless farmer john style wetsuit is usually preferred. The full sleeve styles can be constricting and chaffing around the arms, making it uncomfortable to paddle. The wetsuit vest also works well to insulate your core body, useful even in the summer.

A cousin to the wetsuit is the dive skin. These originated for scuba diving in warm water. They are less restricting than neoprene but offer the same insulation and warmth. A dive skin is good for cool days, but not the coldest of winter paddling.

Wetsuits cut for women are available, and are much more comfortable than squeezing into a man's shape. However few shops stock a wide variety of women's styles, and they're usually more expensive than men's. Several water sports require wetsuits so check out scuba, windsurfing, surfing, and boating as well as kayaking shops.

Body Glove
Tel. 1-800-678-7873
Body Glove Logo

301 Orange Street
Millville, NJ 08332 USA
Tel. 1-609-825-4771
Henderson Logo

5350 Ericson Way
Arcata, CA 95521 USA
Tel. 1-800-225-9749 or 1-707-822-7621
Kokatat Logo

Mountain Surf
P.O. Box 70
Friendsville, MD 21531 USA
Tel. 1-301-746-5389
Mountain Surf Logo

Tel. 1-800-538-0764
O'Neill Logo

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