Home Sport Know Before You Go: River Paddling Essentials

Know Before You Go: River Paddling Essentials

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Paddling down a river or stream is a fun way to cover a lot of territory and add a bit of distance to your paddling regimen. You’ll gain a whole new perspective on your surroundings once you get out on the water as a new world opens up and reveals itself. I grew up paddling marathon canoes on creeks and rivers in Nebraska. The conditions ranged from narrow and generally shallow creeks near my home, the broad, but still shallow Platte River, to the wide and deep Niobrara River.

I’ve also been on numerous whitewater rafting trips and even took a weekend long introductory course to whitewater kayaking up in the Sierra Nevada’s while assigned to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California during the mid-90s. More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to paddle a few rivers in the Western United States on a standup paddleboard. Do I have a favorite? Not really. Each paddle craft is fun and requires a different set of skills in order to achieve a measure of success. There are, however, a number of commonalities transcending the river environment which are applicable for all paddlers.

Go with the flow! Every river generates a current as it moves downstream. It may be along the edge, it may be in middle, it may meander from side to side. Identify where the prevailing current is located and learn how use it to your benefit.

Look for eddies. Eddies are little sections of current which run in the opposite direction as the main flow. As with the main current, learn how to identify eddies in your river and use them to your advantage or avoid them all together when traveling downstream.

Wear shoes. There is no telling what your feet may encounter on the bottom of a river. Rocks, branches or worse. Protect your feet by wearing a full coverage shoe. Check out our Reviews Section for some great options.

Wear a PFD. You should always wear a PFD when paddling on a river. The style worn should be dictated by the conditions and the craft you are paddling. Water in a river is moving and may quickly overwhelm you during a spill. Being buoyant with the aid of a well designed PFD gives you one less thing to worry about. Check out our Reviews Section for some great options!

Protect your head! Depending on the conditions, it may be advisable to wear a helmet when paddling on a river. This is always true when paddling in whitewater. Local laws also vary and may stipulate paddlers wear a helmet. Research the conditions on your river and consult other paddlers so you are prepared.

Protect your gear. Put your gear in a dry bag. Even if you don’t take a spill, paddling down a river may generate a degree of splashing that will soak your belongings. If you are traveling with a packed lunch, change of clothes or simply a few small items, keep your gear tucked away in a dry bag. We are continually testing different styles and brands, see our Reviews Section for our take.

Paddling a fast-moving section on the Los Angeles River on the Hala Radito.

Do you have questions about paddling? Cruise on over to our advice column, Ask a Paddler, and submit your question!

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