Colorado River

Colorado RiverWith a water­shed run­ning through 11 nation­al parks over sev­en U.S. states, and boast­ing 1,450 miles of riverbed from its birth­place in the south­ern Rocky Moun­tains to its nat­ur­al ter­mi­nus in the Sea of Cortez, the Col­orado Riv­er is a mas­sive dia­mond in the rough whose sto­ried geo­log­ic his­to­ry includes carv­ing the Grand Canyon itself. If you’re ready to join the flotil­la of kayak­ers, rafters and canoeists who ply her waters, here are some tips to get you started.

Lots of Miles to Travel
The Col­orado Riv­er fea­tures near­ly 700 riv­er miles in the U.S. alone, which means you have your pick of how long you’d like to be on the water. Depend­ing on your put-in and take-out points, and the water lev­el, two days of pad­dling plus one overnight on a riv­er island may be just as doable as three weeks of pad­dling and overnights. Con­sid­er whether you’d like to build in time to explore oth­er parts of the riv­er, includ­ing trib­u­taries and side canyons, and fac­tor that into your sched­ule. Keep in mind that the longer you’re afloat, the more work you’ll put in to plan­ning your trip, and the more weight you’ll have in gear and provisions.

Adven­ture for All Skill Levels
While the Col­orado does offer plen­ty of stretch­es of love­ly, drift­ing flat­wa­ter, an unde­ni­able part of its appeal are the white­wa­ter rapids. If you’re still wet behind the ears when it comes to riv­er camp­ing, check out easy kayak trails like the Wilbarg­er Pad­dling Trail, which can be done as a day trip or a slow-paced overnight; or the fam­i­ly friend­ly, 25-mile Ruby-Horsethief Canyons run and score a gor­geous prim­i­tive site through the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment. On the oth­er hand, if you’ve got the skills and expe­ri­ence, noth­ing beats the thrill of big water. Near Radi­um, CO, Cataract Canyon offers rapids from class II-IV, and Gore Canyon in Bond, CO, is home to the apt­ly named Gore Fest for its infa­mous down­riv­er race through wild Class V Gore Canyon. And then there’s the Grand Canyon, which offers an end­less buf­fet of fea­tures. No white­wa­ter enthu­si­ast needs to be told about leg­endary rapids Crys­tal or Lava Falls, but begin­ners beware: these are best left to pro­fes­sion­als and the extreme­ly experienced.

Colorado RiverPaper­work
Once you’ve deter­mined the length of your trip and iden­ti­fied the sec­tion of the riv­er you’d like to run, the next step is to secure any nec­es­sary per­mits with local gov­ern­ing agen­cies in order to law­ful­ly com­plete your run. While skirt­ing author­i­ty to pull out­ra­geous stunts may be “ille­gal, wrong-headed…and glo­ri­ous,” no amount of per­son­al glo­ry is like­ly to off­set the headache of fines and heart­break of a trip cut short for want of prop­er paper­work. Know before you go, and pay care­ful atten­tion to sec­tions of the riv­er that may require mul­ti­ple sign-offs from dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ing bod­ies, such as launch­es from Dia­mond Creek in the Grand Canyon which require both a per­mit from Grand Canyon Nation­al Park and paid access fees to the Huala­pai Tribe.

Safe­ty
Life jack­ets save lives, so wear them. Addi­tion­al­ly, be sure to check the flow rate of the sec­tion of riv­er you intend to run, as both high flows and low flows can intro­duce new dan­ger­ous con­di­tions and haz­ards, which may put the trip fur­ther from your com­fort zone. Fif­teen dams along the main stem of the Col­orado pro­vide reg­u­la­tion of flow rate and flood con­trol, so the riv­er does run less wild than it has in the past, but there are still sec­tions where the flow rate can deter­mine whether a par­tic­u­lar rock gar­den is sub­merged or exposed, or where the best line through a haz­ard may lay. Self-res­cue is always your most reli­able bet on the riv­er, so if the con­di­tions appear over­whelm­ing, bet­ter to be safe than sorry.

Gear
In addi­tion to your water­craft of choice—be it a wood­en dory, a canoe, inflat­able raft, or a kayak—and all assort­ed oars and pad­dles, you’ll need to pack enough pro­vi­sions for the length of your trip. That includes water! You’ll have plen­ty of it below you, but depend­ing on the river’s con­di­tions, it’s like­ly to be too silty for even the stur­di­est fil­ters. Water­proof dry bags are impor­tant for keep­ing your per­ish­ables fresh and your sleep­ing sys­tem from becom­ing sog­gy; and portable riv­er toi­lets are a must for pro­tect­ing the san­i­ta­tion of a riv­er bot­tom that sees mil­lions of vis­i­tors a year.

Watch as Red Bull ath­lete Rafa Ortiz trades his kayak for an inflat­able lob­ster and then sends a 70 foot water­fall as if it was super casu­al. Most peo­ple would prob­a­bly con­sid­er send­ing a water­fall in a kayak to be enough, for Ortiz it’s just anoth­er day in the office.

 

©istockphoto/Donki13Fair warn­ing: once you vis­it the San Juan Islands, you’ll nev­er want to leave. Nes­tled into the north­west cor­ner of Wash­ing­ton State, this Pacif­ic North­west arch­i­pel­ago is known for pas­toral land­scapes, breath­tak­ing wildlife encoun­ters, and some of the best organ­ic bak­eries around.

Horse­shoe-shaped Orcas Island, one of the biggest in the chain, is home to 4,000-odd res­i­dents who live on tiny laven­der farms, water­front homes, and the occa­sion­al yurt. The only town is East­sound, and the east side of the island is dom­i­nat­ed by Moran State Park’s old-growth for­est and Mount Con­sti­tu­tion (2,398’). Every­where you turn, the glis­ten­ing Pacif­ic flash­es light through the trees.

Direct­ly north of Orcas Island is Sucia Island, a tiny atoll that boasts a 564-acre marine park with 77,700 feet of shore­line. The island is con­sid­ered the crown jew­el of Wash­ing­ton State’s marine park sys­tem, and is con­sis­tent­ly ranked as one of the top boat­ing des­ti­na­tions in the world. Orcas, sea lions, and curi­ous seals fre­quent the island’s coast­line. Vis­i­tors can hunt for fos­sils, scour tide pools for col­or­ful sea life, and explore the island’s hik­ing trails. It’s an easy day trip from Orcas, and for vis­i­tors who want to spend the night there are plen­ty of beach­front camp­sites ($12/night). There’s even run­ning water to refill bot­tles. And here’s the best news of all: you don’t need a yacht to explore! With a free week­end, a sea kayak, and a sense of adven­ture, Sucia Island is yours to explore.

Get­ting There
From Seat­tle, dri­ve two hours north to the Ana­cortes fer­ry ter­mi­nal, where you can either walk or dri­ve onto a boat to Orcas Island (reser­va­tions are rec­om­mend­ed). The scenic ride takes rough­ly an hour, and you’ll dis­em­bark on the west side of the island. Dri­ve or catch a ride to East­sound, then hit the local organ­ic food coop or Brown Bear Bak­ing for lunch.

Where To Stay On Orcas
There are a vari­ety of lodg­ing options on Orcas Island. The best is Doe Bay Resort, a 38-acre water­front retreat that offers camp­sites, yurts, and cab­ins. Ameni­ties include a salt­wa­ter beach, a café whose menu fea­tures local­ly grown ingre­di­ents and fresh­ly caught fish, and cloth­ing-option­al salt­wa­ter hot pools.

Kayaks
If you’ve brought your own boat, make sure it’s a sea kayak with a spray skirt, bilge pump, and pad­dle float for self-res­cue. If you’re rent­ing a boat, try Out­er Island Expe­di­tions, who will hook you up with a Necky kayak—and while you’re there, go ahead and sched­ule your water taxi to Sucia Island ($45/person.) Intre­pid kayak­ers some­times pad­dle across the 2.5‑mile chan­nel, but cur­rents and tides can be unpre­dictable. Don’t try it unless you’re an expe­ri­enced paddler.

What to Bring
In your kayak, you’ll want plen­ty of fresh water, snacks, sun­screen, lip balm with SPF, a wide-brimmed hat, rain gear, and plen­ty of warm lay­ers. If you camp on Sucia, pre­pare to be self-suf­fi­cient for at long as you’ll be on the island. And don’t for­get your camera!

Courtesy of California Women's Watersport Collective“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Melis­sa DeMarie wasn’t the first kick­ass lady who said these words—I believe that was Eleanor Roo­sevelt. But as she stood in front of a bus full of 50 white­wa­ter women who had just charged down a stretch of Class III rapids, I knew that I wasn’t the only one who felt the words resonate.

All over the coun­try women are mobi­liz­ing into out­door adven­ture orga­ni­za­tions that cater specif­i­cal­ly to females, cre­at­ing a safe and fun space for them to learn from one anoth­er and test their lim­its. Last sum­mer, Melis­sa orga­nized and insti­gat­ed a women’s only water­sport coali­tion to get more girls out on the riv­er and con­nect­ing with each oth­er.  The group is called Cal­i­for­nia Women’s Water­sport Col­lec­tive, or Cali Col­lec­tive for short. Sev­er­al small­er events through­out the sum­mer cul­mi­nat­ed in the 2 day mul­ti-lev­el clin­ic, which was host­ed with the sup­port of She­Jumps on August 1 and 2.

Stu­dents ranged from expe­ri­enced boaters to girls who had nev­er even sat in a white­wa­ter kayak before. On the first day, we met at the Cal­i­for­nia Canoe and Kayak out­post in Colo­ma, Cal­i­for­nia, on the banks of the South Fork of the Amer­i­can Riv­er. We gath­ered our gear and split up into our class­es for the day. The 101 group was made up of the begin­ners who prac­ticed basics on flat­wa­ter, the 201 girls refined core tech­niques and skills on class II rapids, and the 301 crew took on the more chal­leng­ing III+ Chili Bar section.

Cali-Collective-4As I round­ed up my bor­rowed gear and cir­cled up with the rest of the 201 ladies, I noticed that the instruc­tors were just as stoked as the stu­dents. Every­one I met was just so hap­py to be there, to meet women who shared the same pas­sions for adven­ture and action regard­less of skill lev­el. There were about 1–2 teach­ers for every 4–5 stu­dents, mak­ing it a super safe envi­ron­ment to chal­lenge our­selves and try new things.

That evening, all skill lev­els recon­vened and set up camp along the riv­er, stretched out our bod­ies with a relax­ing yoga ses­sion, and gath­ered for a safe­ty talk and some good ol’ lady bonding.

The next morn­ing start­ed off with anoth­er split of skill lev­els. The more advanced group took a crash course in slalom rac­ing while the rest of us worked on our rolls.

For those of you who haven’t had the plea­sure of being upside down in a kayak, with your knees and hips wedged in the boat and water rush­ing up your nose, let me just assure that it’s as chal­leng­ing to prac­tice as it sounds. Know­ing how to roll your­self up when you flip, how­ev­er, is an impor­tant part of pro­gress­ing as a kayaker.

After strug­gling with my roll all morn­ing, I was still deter­mined to boat the Class III sec­tion of the South Fork in a hard shell. The oth­er option would be to hop in an inflat­able kayak, which you don’t need a roll to pad­dle down the riv­er. I.K.s don’t allow you near­ly the same amount of con­trol as a hard shell kayak that cov­ers your legs, how­ev­er, and I want­ed to be able to prac­tice the skills that I had worked on the day before. Also, I felt like I had some­thing to prove. Not to any of the women out there that week­end, but to myself.

Melis­sa, who had been help­ing me work on my roll, seemed sur­prised when I told her my plan to boat the Gorge, the class III sec­tion that all skill lev­els were doing togeth­er that day in a vari­ety of water crafts. She and my instruc­tor for the week­end, the incred­i­ble Sara James, only gave me pos­i­tive encour­age­ment, how­ev­er. The next thing I knew, I was fol­low­ing Sara’s expert moves that set me up per­fect­ly through rapids with names like Bounc­ing Rock, Satan’s Cesspool, and Hos­pi­tal Bar.

Cali-Collective-2I was push­ing my com­fort zone, but I don’t think I have ever been more com­fort­able in my own skin.

“Our main objec­tive is to build com­mu­ni­ty, which is some­thing that I real­ly feel we have lost in our cul­ture and soci­ety,” explains Melis­sa. She and co-founder Tra­cy Tate have cre­at­ed a wel­com­ing and sup­port­ive envi­ron­ment that mir­rors trends in women’s out­door sports nationwide.

“I believe there is such strong inter­est in what we’re doing from women, not only in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia but across the coun­try, because what we are offer­ing extends beyond pad­dle sports,” she adds.  “I feel women are attract­ed to the idea of being a part of a group where they feel sup­port­ed and accept­ed. We have adopt­ed a holis­tic approach by incor­po­rat­ing things such as yoga, Pilates and nutri­tion into our clin­ics which is appeal­ing as well.”

Cali Collective’s 2 day event was a huge suc­cess, but the orga­ni­za­tion doesn’t plan on stop­ping with that. 2016 events include mul­ti-day trips in Ore­gon and Ida­ho, surf kayak­ing clin­ics on the Cal­i­for­nia Coast, and a 10 day white­wa­ter trip in Chile—all women only.

“Being a new orga­ni­za­tion, we have the whole world ahead of us and the pos­si­bil­i­ties of what we can build and cre­ate is lim­it­less,” Melis­sa con­tin­ues. “I think the thing that I’m most excit­ed about is that it’s already working—meaning women are con­nect­ing with oth­er like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als, mak­ing new friends and learn­ing in a non-com­pet­i­tive and friend­ly environment.”

As female ath­letes in high adren­a­line sports, most of us are famil­iar with over­com­ing our fears in one way or anoth­er. It’s a great time to be a woman involved in out­door adven­ture. Orga­ni­za­tions like Cali Col­lec­tive are pop­ping up left and right, cre­at­ing a unique cul­ture of women who under­stand that fear can be a beau­ti­ful thing. With­out fear and self-doubt, I wouldn’t real­ize my own awe­some and empow­er­ing abil­i­ty to over­come them.

cali-collective-3About CWWC
The goal of Cal­i­for­nia Wom­en’s Water­sport Col­lec­tive is to help fos­ter a com­mu­ni­ty of women by using pad­dle­sports as the medi­um. They pro­vide clin­ics and trips in white­wa­ter, lake and sea kayak­ing, standup pad­dle­board (SUP) and surf­ing, as well as com­mu­ni­ty events such as yoga and nutri­tion. The founders, Melis­sa DeMarie and Tra­cy Tate, are both pro­fes­sion­al guides and instruc­tors and have a com­bined 30+ years of expe­ri­ence in the out­door indus­try and have trav­elled and worked around the world in such loca­tions as New Zealand, Africa, Nepal, Cos­ta Rica, Colum­bia, Chile and Nor­way. They offer many col­lab­o­ra­tive events with com­pa­nies through­out Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon, Ida­ho and Chile, which extends their reach con­sid­er­ably. Begin­ning in Feb­ru­ary 2016 they launched their “Col­lec­tive Out­reach Pro­gram” aimed to bring demo­graph­ics of women to the out­doors who do not nec­es­sar­i­ly have access, be it due to phys­i­cal or finan­cial lim­i­ta­tions. Their first Out­reach project is with Images of Hope in El Dora­do Coun­ty, which is a non-prof­it ded­i­cat­ed to pro­vid­ing alter­na­tive ther­a­pies to can­cer patients such as art, music and move­ment. CWWC is also involved with var­i­ous kayak and surf fes­ti­vals through­out the Northwest.

All Pho­tos Cour­tesy of Cal­i­for­nia Wom­en’s Water­sport Col­lec­tive and Melis­sa DeMarie

winter kayak

winter kayakMost kayak­ers hang their boats up for the win­ter, but that does­n’t have to be the case. Win­ter is often the best pad­dling sea­son: no crowds, lots of water in many regions of the coun­try, and a rar­i­fied rugged envi­ron­ment. But not sur­pris­ing­ly, win­ter pad­dling takes some decent gear to keep you warm on the water.

Dress For Immersion
When the air and water are both cold, noth­ing beats dress­ing for immer­sion. This means a wet­suit at min­i­mum. But a pad­dle­sports-spe­cif­ic dry­suit pro­vides a much greater lev­el of weath­er pro­tec­tion and com­fort, includ­ing water­proof booties that keep your feet dry when you launch and land. They’re expen­sive, but they last a good, long while and extend your pad­dling sea­son to 365 days.

Warm The Core
Like rain gear, a dry­suit only keeps you dry. The lay­ers you wear under it keep you warm. I’ve found that for pad­dling, noth­ing beats old-fash­ioned fleece. Quick-wick­ing fab­rics like cape­line are great in the sum­mer, but get clam­my when you stop mov­ing and aren’t crank­ing out the BTUs. Wool is great, but doesn’t stand up to the abra­sion of the pad­dling motion as well as it does to hik­ing and ski­ing. So fleece it is. Many win­ter kayak­ers pre­fer one-piece suits for cold weather.

Take Care of Your Hands
Con­stant­ly exposed to the cold water, your hands will be chilly. When it comes to how to keep them warm, pad­dlers fall into two oppos­ing camps, like dog peo­ple and cat peo­ple. One (the one I’m in) goes for neo­prene gloves. Oth­ers pre­fer pogies, which attach to the pad­dle shaft. They’re a bit warmer, but affect your grip on your pad­dle and are tougher to get your hands in and out of.

Your Head
When you’re wear­ing a dry­suit, it’s a lot of work to change lev­els if you’re chilly or over­heat­ing. Most of my on-the-water tem­per­a­ture con­trol comes from what I wear on my head. I car­ry dif­fer­ent thick­ness­es of neo­prene hoods that fit under hel­mets, fleece hats and water­proof ball caps for flat water. Chang­ing these up on the water goes a long way to keep­ing me in the com­fort zone.

Stay Warm on Shore
When you’re pad­dling, your body will be crank­ing out heat. When you take a break to scout a rapid, stop for lunch or deal with what­ev­er sit­u­a­tion aris­es is when you get real cold, real fast. As soon as you stop, throw on a warm jack­et over your dry­suit, put on a hat and stop the tem­per­a­ture loss. Anoth­er option is a com­pact portable shel­ter that you sim­ply drape over your group to trap everyone’s body heat. It’s basi­cal­ly the equiv­a­lent of bring­ing a nice warm room with you.

The Crea­ture Comforts
A few habits will also raise the bar in terms of com­fort. A ther­mos of hot water or a rapid-boil stove can pro­vide hot drinks or a hot lunch. A change of warm clothes left in the car at the take-out will keep you warm dur­ing the shut­tle. Rapid-ener­gy food can help some­one who gets deeply chilled restore their body ener­gy quick­ly, reduc­ing the risk of hypothermia.

Pad­dling in win­ter can be cold, but it can also be spec­tac­u­lar. In my part of the coun­try, win­ter is when the bald eagles line the rivers, the flows for white­wa­ter are ide­al, and the jet skis and crowds are gone from sea kayak­ing des­ti­na­tions. This is the year to turn kayak­ing into a 12-month sport.

©istockphoto/thinair28

©istockphoto/thinair28It’s only the begin­ning of 2016. The snow is deep. But when that snow melts in a few months, it will come flow­ing into the rivers and rush its way out to sea. Now’s the time to use those long win­ter nights to plan some pad­dle trips. From white­wa­ter to flat water, to play­ing in Poseidon’s den, here are some places to dip a pad­dle in the com­ing year.

 Green Riv­er, Utah
Still­wa­ter Canyon, despite the still water, is far from bor­ing. It winds through 60 miles of inde­scrib­able rock for­ma­tions in Canyon­lands Nation­al Park. Dip your blade in Utah’s Green Riv­er and pad­dle past its con­flu­ence with the mighty Col­orado. Still­wa­ter can be many things: a pleas­ant relaxed pad­dle, a way of access­ing dif­fi­cult-to-reach back­pack­ing routes into the maze dis­trict, a photographer’s par­adise, and a side-hike and rock-scram­ble Olympics.

Put in: Min­er­al Bot­tom (Green River)
Take out: Span­ish Bot­tom (Col­orado Riv­er) via jetboat
Per­mits: Required but usu­al­ly easy to get. Plan­ning the shut­tle is the tricky part.
The Pad­dler: Suit­able for begin­ners as long as you avoid upriv­er winds.

Nuchatlitz Inlet, British Columbia
One sec­tion of the end­less immen­si­ty of British Columbia’s coast, Nuchatlitz Inlet, is a series of islands and inlets on the north end of Noot­ka Island. The dif­fi­cul­ty of get­ting there means you won’t have crowds on the many islands that offer spec­tac­u­lar camp­ing and great pad­dling (con­di­tions per­mit­ting) for expe­ri­enced sea pad­dlers. Adorable sea otters float in big rafts (they were rein­tro­duced to this sec­tion of the B.C. coast years ago). Spend as long as you can explor­ing the intri­cate rocky coastline.

Put in: Lit­tle Espinosa Inlet, accessed via rough log­ging roads across Van­cou­ver Island.
Take out: Same, or the small down of Zeballos
Per­mits: None
The Pad­dler: Out­er coast routes require ocean pad­dling skills, nav­i­ga­tion and good judge­ment. Inter­me­di­ate pad­dlers should stick to the exten­sive glacial inlets that are more pro­tect­ed from ocean swell, but can still be quite windy.

The Colum­bia River
Fol­low Lewis and Clark—and the route of a water molecule—from the Colum­bia Gorge 144 miles to the Pacif­ic Ocean. Start in the cliffs of the Colum­bia Gorge, pad­dle through the urban metrop­o­lis of Port­land and the island refuges of the wide low­er riv­er. Then start to feel the sea’s influ­ence, end­ing at either Astoria’s salty piers or the cliffs of Cape Disappointment.

Put in: Hamil­ton Island near Bon­neville Dam
Take out: Either the West Moor­ing Basin in Asto­ria, Fort Clat­sop in War­ran­ton, OR or Fort Can­by, WA
Per­mits: None
The Pad­dler: Able to han­dle con­sid­er­able mileage and fick­le con­di­tions, espe­cial­ly in sum­mer when west winds can pick up.

The Salmon River
Pad­dlers flock to The Mid­dle Fork of Idaho’s Salmon Riv­er, but the Main Salmon, just below, packs its own charm: deep canyons through the wilder­ness, old home­steads and great camp­ing. You’ll pad­dle across a chunk of the largest con­tigu­ous wilder­ness in the low­er 48, and it will feel like you’re away from the world. The rapids, scenery and an added hot spring are a potent combo.

Put in: Corn Creek, Idaho
Take out: Vine­gar Creek
Per­mits: Lot­tery from June 20 to Sep­tem­ber 7.
The Pad­dler: Able to nav­i­gate class 4 rapids in a wilder­ness environment.

Three Arch Rocks, Oregon
Three Arch Rocks—a short dis­tance off Oregon’s Cape Meares—is one of the most stun­ning places to pad­dle on earth. Mas­sive cliffs and arch­es to pad­dle through, sea caves, pel­i­cans and water­falls cas­cad­ing into the sea line between Ocean­side, Maxwell Point and Cape Mear­es. It doesn’t get much more dramatic—or exposed to the full brunt of the Pacific—than this.

Put in: Ocean­side, Oregon
Take out: The same
Per­mits: Kayak­ing with­in 500 feet of Three Arch Rocks is closed dur­ing the sum­mer months to pro­tect marine life. Maxwell Point to Cape Mear­es is open year-round.
The Pad­dler: Skilled ocean pad­dlers in good con­di­tions only.

The Grand Canyon
The short­est pos­si­ble trip on the Grand Canyon winds 225 miles through some of the most famous and spec­tac­u­lar land­scapes on earth. It’s a jour­ney that’s often life chang­ing: mas­sive rapids, bil­lion-year-old rocks, an infi­nite set of trea­sures to be dis­cov­ered down each side canyon and a deep dive into riv­er time, where the rest of the world falls away amidst evenings watch­ing light play on the canyon walls. A lot of plan­ning, skill-build­ing, and group effort goes into this trip. You won’t for­get it any time soon.

Put in: Lee’s Fer­ry, Arizona
Take out: Dia­mond Creek
Per­mits: Year-round weight­ed lot­tery, and very hard to come by.
The Pad­dler: Knows what they’re get­ting into. The names Crys­tal, Lava Falls, Horn Creek and Gran­ite are leg­endary for a rea­son. The water’s mas­sive, and you’re in a very, very remote place.

Your Back Yard
It’s not all dream­ing about the ide­al pad­dling trips in dra­mat­ic land­scapes. Love for mov­ing water and the skills to nav­i­gate it are built on what­ev­er water you have near­by, even when you can only get in your boat for a few hours.

Put in: The clos­est you can find.
Take Out: The same.
Per­mits: Nope
The Pad­dler: You

©istockphoto/marekuliasz

Nobody is get­ting younger. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for you and I, that includes us. For every friend who is pad­dling well past retire­ment age—and I even have a friend who’s pad­dled water­falls in his 80s—and I have anoth­er who is com­plain­ing about how pad­dling is now tough on his back, shoul­ders, or some oth­er joint. How can we set our­selves up for long and endur­ing careers on the water?

Pro­tect Your Back
Pad­dling is hard on the back. As we age and become less flex­i­ble, sit­ting for long hours in the kayak­ing posi­tion gets hard­er, and we have less flex­i­bil­i­ty to rotate. That means mak­ing sure you’re doing a good job warm­ing up, stretch­ing, and head­ing to the gym to restore lost flex­i­bil­i­ty ear­ly and often. As I’ve aged, I’ve become a lot more picky about my kayak out­fit­ting and seat posi­tion. When we can’t rotate far enough on our strokes, we tend to com­pen­sate by reach­ing with our arms, and that will not help you.

Pro­tect Your Shoulders
Shoul­ders, along with backs, are the main area for pad­dling injuries. Instruc­tors use a vari­ety of tech­niques to get pad­dlers to keep their shoul­ders intact, rang­ing from the “paddler’s box” to teach­ing stu­dents to roll hold­ing a sponge between the elbow and the torso.

The main thing to focus on is to avoid reach­ing, and instead focus on mov­ing the legs, hips and tor­so to keep your shoul­ders in a pro­tect­ed posi­tion. Phys­i­cal ther­a­pists and med­ical pro­fes­sion­als can help you devel­op strength in the small mus­cles that sta­bi­lize the shoul­ders. Over my pad­dling career, my pad­dles seem to get short­er with each one that I buy. A short­er pad­dle reduces the lever­age on your soft tis­sues, espe­cial­ly if you’re using a large blade with a stiff mate­r­i­al like car­bon fiber.

Don’t Squeeze The Paddle
Now that we’re talk­ing pad­dles, grip it light­ly. A clenched grip will only result in arm fatigue, and even­tu­al­ly, elbow tendonitis.

©istockphoto/marekuliasz

Free Your Hips and Your Mind Will Follow
Sit­ting in a kayak for long hours will stretch the ham­strings and com­press the hip flex­ors. Work hard to off­set that effect by stretch­ing the front of your core. Find com­pli­men­ta­ry stretch­es and work­outs that off­set the mus­cle imbal­ances that can come from too much time in that position.

Warm Up and Stretch
As we age, we lose flex­i­bil­i­ty and resilien­cy— I have to stretch much more reli­gious­ly and slow­ly than I did when I was younger. Remem­ber: don’t stretch while you’re cold: a fac­tor to keep in mind when you’re pad­dling in the win­ter, and when you have a bunch of boats to get down to the water after you’ve been sit­ting stiffly in a car for an hour.

Be Care­ful on Land
Most pad­dling acci­dents don’t hap­pen on the water—they hap­pen on land. Hoist­ing kayaks off trucks, car­ry­ing boats or gear over slip­pery rocks and load­ing cool­ers on and off rafts are the places you’re most like­ly to hurt your­self far more than a big surf zone. Take your time and watch your step.

Train for the Long Trip
As a 20-some­thing, I could dive into a big trip with lit­tle train­ing or prepa­ra­tion. As I’ve got­ten old­er, I’ve learned that I need to train, ramp up and build my endurance more. Give your­self a reg­i­men. If you haven’t spent much time in your boat, give your body time to adjust, and then start to build up the miles. As rac­ers do, let your­self taper off a bit just before the trip.

Don’t Be Macho
“It’s just a flesh wound” brushoff of a lit­tle pain didn’t work for The Black Knight in Mon­ty Python and the Holy Grail. It won’t work for us as we age either. We need more time to heal from “minor” tweaks. Don’t push your return to the water too fast.

sup1Sure, steer­ing your stand-up pad­dle­board around obsta­cles sounds easy enough — and in the­o­ry, it is — but doing it effec­tive­ly is anoth­er sto­ry. Anoth­er chap­ter alto­geth­er is the sim­ple yet impor­tant tech­nique of turn­ing your board effec­tive­ly. Yes! There’s a dif­fer­ence between steer­ing and turn­ing an SUP. And you’ll want to mas­ter both of these pad­dle­board­ing ele­ments ear­ly on so you don’t get left behind when friends turn back to shore. Take a look at the fol­low­ing four tips for effec­tive­ly turn­ing and steer­ing your SUP.

1. Steer Clear
Think of it this way: steer­ing is for all tech­ni­cal pur­pos­es, the same as turn­ing (just doing so ever so slight­ly). There­fore, learn­ing how to steer your board will help you turn it more effec­tive­ly. To steer your­self clear of a water-logged obsta­cle on your right, you’ll want to move slight­ly to the left. Do this by pad­dling on the right side of your board so that it moves in the oppo­site direc­tion. The next tip will help you remem­ber the equa­tion, but before too long it should become sec­ond nature.

2. Side­stroke
Side­stroke is the most basic way to turn your board, and you can mas­ter it quick­ly by fol­low­ing a few gen­er­al rules. Slide your pad­dle into the water with strokes that are much short­er and much quick­er than those you’d use to pro­pel your­self straight for­ward. To make this easy turn­ing tech­nique even eas­i­er, try look­ing over your shoul­der in the direc­tion you’re try­ing to turn instead of gaz­ing down at the water. 

3. Back­pad­dle
We’re will­ing to bet that back­pad­dle will become your favorite method of turn­ing once you’ve mas­tered it because it’s the quick­est way to turn around. While you may nat­u­ral­ly dis­cov­er it once you’re more com­fort­able on the board with the mechan­ics of basic side­stroke, you can also learn it ear­ly on and imple­ment it when you’re ready. To back­pad­dle, put the pad­dle into the water on the same side of the board as the direc­tion of your desired turn and pull the blade of the pad­dle back­wards. You’ll want to grip the pad­dle tight­ly and you’ll need to use the strength in your tor­so to make this back­ward pad­dle stroke. You may gain a bit of momen­tum as you turn, so once you’re head­ing in the right direc­tion, dive the pad­dle into the water and pad­dle nor­mal­ly to set your­self straight. This is the only turn­ing stroke in which you pad­dle on the same side as the direc­tion you’d like to turn. 

4. Sea (or C) Stroke
To make one big turn (or to turn your board around entire­ly), plant your pad­dle blade in the water toward the top, front end of your board, and make one long stroke toward the very end of your board. Just as in steer­ing and in side stroke, this C‑shaped stroke will turn you in the oppo­site direc­tion of the side your pad­dle is in the water on. The motion of mak­ing a giant C with your pad­dle will cause your board to make a more seri­ous turn, so this stroke is use­ful if you’re aim­ing to go in the entire­ly oppo­site direction.