Getting started or improving your skills
You can start enjoying rivers now. All you need is some shorts and old tennis shoes. You can walk along a river, sit by it, eat by it, wade in it, or swim in it, with care.
You can start fishing in it, too, although it takes time and effort to fish well.
It also takes time and effort to learn to safely canoe, kayak, or raft in rivers, but it's time well spent, because rivers can take you to many fascinating places, and can hold your interest for a lifetime. But remember that moving water, even slowly moving water, can trap and drown people. River running is not something to learn by trial and error, because an error can be fatal. It's better to learn the basics from other people, in one of the following ways:
"Axioms to Paddle By" (with thanks to the Oregon Kayak and Canoe Club)
PLAY SAFE AND PADDLE LONG
A few pointers for beginners, and a few reminders for the old hands:
CANOE, KAYAK, OR RAFT?
Newcomers to any activity often find themselves overwhelmed by the choices available to them, and they are often intimidated by the artistry and expertise of those who have been practicing the sport for many years. New paddlers should keep in mind that there is a boat and a body of water out there for just about everybody, regardless of age, ability, or interest. River running involves more than hair-raising plunges into frothing whirlpools. Paraplegics paddle, grandmothers take up rafting, and babies have been known to nap peacefully for hours in a gently rocking canoe. On-line manager Tori Svenningson offers her thoughts on choosing your path down the river.
In an ideal world, all boats would be created equal. In the real world, however, some are more equal than others. We all have our pride and our preferences, and we all have a tendency to look down our sniffing noses at one type of watercraft or another. To what end, though? Isn't this a false division, yet another example of an aberrant need to disassociate ourselves from one group of people and align ourselves with another? Honestly--is there really that great a difference between you in your top-of-the-line kayak and the family of five in a rented raft?
Well, yes. And no.
The truth is that since we're not ourselves created equal, neither are our needs. Some of us love the thrill of dropping over a cascade of water and rock to land kayak-nose first in the charging torrent several feet below. We don't even mind too much if we land tail-end first. Others among us relish slow days along gently lapping stretches of river, a string of fish knotted to the seldom-used oar rack. Inevitably, many of us from the first group will eventually find ourselves edging ever more closely to the second group, pushed there by our creaking knees and aching lower backs to adopt a more serene style of river use.
I admit to my own bouts of snobbery. I have vague recollections of my dad's first Grumman, a boat that in our circle of paddlers is the standard butt of any canoeing joke. My friend and I once laughed with the impudence of fourteen at a flotilla of metal canoes, but as my father is quick to point out, they're good boats. His came cheaply in the days when he was working to pay for a new house, a new baby, and a toddler, and it managed to stay afloat even when he and his novice buddies were doing their best to submerge both it and themselves in sometimes near suicidal self-taught whitewater lessons. Once he had mastered the basics, that old piece of aluminum carried his two kids as well as himself on flatwater weekend trips.
In our early teens, the children in our group graduated to our own boats, which usually meant we used the old clunkers from our parents' early years, before they appreciated (or could afford) lightweight canoes with glued-in kneepads and no keels. We grumbled, well out of earshot, of the shoddy treatment we were being shown as we lugged our deadweight boats over the portages and struggled in vain against the current as the river grabbed hold of the keel and refused to let go. At that age we failed to appreciate our mere presence on the water--training, learning, and damn lucky to be there. We didn't see the orthodontists' bills and the college expenses that loomed ahead and left little money for new canoes. Neither did we see the lessons those barges taught us: Set up early. Paddle hard. Work with the current, not against it.
I used to feel sorry for the kids stuck in the rafts with nothing to do but sit and stare straight ahead or straight behind. Rafts, though, can take me places I'll never go in my open canoe and in greater safety and comfort. On one recent trip, the raft in our party carried two septuagenarians. The 78-year-olds weren't able to canoe, Peter having worn out his rotator cuff, but the raft gave him the possibility of getting out into the wilderness he loves. He ate better, too. The raft also carried baguettes, fresh produce, and four bottles of scotch, while we, after easing our cramped legs out of our canoes, ate freeze-dried eggs and drank our single daily can of pop.
For entirely different reasons, I sometimes envy the kayakers as they skim from bank to bank. They look so sleek and fast as they turn on a dime, and if they miss the dime, they can usually swoop around to go back and pick it up. Kayakers, though, have told me they envy me my drawstrokes, crossbows, and pries. All they do, they complain, is one-two, one-two, with an occasional backpaddle thrown in for token variety. And, they point out, while I'm enjoying my freeze-dried eggs and one can of pop, they're slogging their way through gummy energy bars and pumping river water through tiny filtration systems. They have a point.
The fact is, being out there is the whole point. Canoe elitist though I am, I recently found myself recommending an aluminum canoe to a friend who just wanted something to take his son out in--it was simple, sturdy, and fit well into his tight graduate school budget. Another friend is in Iowa, not exactly the whitewater capital of the country, and is similarly restricted to a nominal stipend--go for a keel, I said, and buy used. They're perfectly good and a heck of a lot cheaper than buying new. In my own home, we're saving up for a raft so that we can take our own eventual little water rats with us instead of waiting until they're old enough to handle a paddle and the always-possible swim. We'll be raising the next generation of river runners and we want to get them started early, whatever their chosen mode of water transportation will be later in life.
I just hope it won't be a jet ski.
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