Whitewater Kayaking and canoeing were originally developed by Eskimos as a means of transportation. They probably had to pass through whitewater rapids on their way down the rivers, but hardly for entertainment purposes. It wasn’t until much later that people discovered the thrill of kayaking in surging water, tackling water falls and challenging the raw power of nature. And so, whitewater kayaking was born.
As kayak equipment evolved so did the people who were rowing inside them. From a quiet, nice and romantic cruise on the calm water down the stream, Whitewater kayaking and canoeing became a fearsome extreme sport for the most hard core adrenaline junkies.
Whitewater is formed in a rapid, where a river’s gradient increases enough to disturb its flow and create turbulence. The frothy water appears white, hence the name.
According to International Scale of River Difficulty, whitewater streams are graded between 1-6 (I-VI) when 1 (I) is a calm, easy, slow and perfectly safe and 6 (VI) is dangerous, fury, fast and almost impassable even for an expert.
There are a few subcategories of Whitewater kayaking. River running which is basically just paddling down the river and “surviving” in the best way you can. Slalom the goal of which is to go thru a series of gates racing against the clock. Playboating is performing various flips and tricks in one spot (called playspot). The last and probably the most extreme category is Creeking. Creeking is a type of River running, usually at a 4-6 (IV-VI) grades routs, technical and difficult with big falls and other challenges.
Canoeing is similar in many ways to kayaking. The main difference between kayk and canoe is the paddle (the thing that goes in the water) which is single blade paddle in canoe as opposing to the double-bladed in kayak.
Extreme Whitewater kayaking and canoeing starts at the grade of 3 (III). Below that, it is a nice experience but there is nothing extreme about it.
In whitewater kayaking the adrenaline rush comes from falling down the waterfall free drops, the aggression of the river and from the feeling you get when, in spite of the raw power of the furious water, you are in control of yourself and the kayak, which becomes one with your body, while you are fighting for survival on the way down. Imagine going down from a 189ft (57m) high waterfall…this high will charge you with all the adrenaline you need.
As in any kind of extreme sport losing control will give you what we call “a negative adrenaline”, in other words it will scare the sh** out of you, we all felt this bad guts feeling… The strong current will take you with it whether you like it or not, whether you are in full control or rolling and hitting every rock along the way.
Thanks to International Scale of River Difficulty grading system you can estimate whether you are good enough to survive a run or not, lowering the risk of injury.
Most of the injuries are caused by hitting big rocks or rocky bottom. Strong water vortexes forming in massive
water flow can lead to capsizing. If your boat capsizes and your arm or leg got stuck between the rocks, you’d be in serious danger of drowning. And of course, there are waterfall drops which can crash you with water mass or propel you out of water and send to a flat landing which will probably break your back.
Until the last decades of the 20th century whitewater kayaking and canoeing was being done without any safety gear (not even a helmet!). Today’s safety gear and stronger kayaks make whitewater kayaking and canoeing much safer.