Whitewater Kayaking 101


The Appalachian Online

Kayla May

With summer approaching and warmer days ahead, Boonies across the High Country will start to flock to the nearest body of water with a tube in hand. But for some, a peaceful river float won’t be enough excitement. The more daring and adventurous individuals may want to hop in a kayak and hit the rapids.

“People will be continually surprised how doing this sport will enrich their life. I have been paddling for seven years now and I still am surprised all the time about how much it brings me as far as joy and laughter,” faculty member Emily Yuratovac said. “It’s a way to enjoy some beautiful places that we normally don’t get to see. You can’t access some of these places any other way except by boat. It’s a lifetime sport and there’s always more to learn and more places to go.”

Appalachian State has plenty of great resources for students trying to learn a new outdoor activity. Whitewater kayaking is no exception.


For beginners, the best place to start conquering rapids is right on campus in the Student Recreation Center pool. Outdoor Programs offers kayak polo every Tuesday night and kayak roll sessions every Wednesday night from 7-10 p.m. These sessions teach essential boating skills for kayakers from all levels of experience as well as providing a chance to meet other kayaking enthusiasts.

“The best self-rescue on the river is getting down your roll. If you can get it down in the pool it’s an easier transition to a river roll,” kayaking instructor Ryan Gladstone said.

There are also credit hours offered for whitewater kayaking in the fall and spring semesters. In this PE course the instructor teaches on boating equipment, how to scout a rapid, basic rescue techniques and more. Taking this course also allows you to rent whitewater kayaking equipment from the Outdoor Programs Base Camp.

Outdoor Programs also offers whitewater kayaking day trips for beginners. Taking this course also grants you access to Outdoor Programs equipment for a small rental fee.

“The best way to learn about kayaking is getting after it,” Gladstone said. “There is only so much training you can have. If you’re not getting after it and swimming in the river sometimes, you’re not trying hard enough.”

After taking an introductory course through the university’s physical education department or through Outdoor Programs, you become eligible to rent gear from the Outdoor Programs Base Camp.

“Some people get turned away from kayaking because it is too expensive, but kayaking doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s a lot of great used gear out there for sale,” Bernie Engelman, an OP roll clinic, kayak polo and whitewater kayaking instructor said.

There are several outlets available to buy gear, including ReGear Outdoors and Craigslist.


When planning a kayaking trip, there are many things to consider. First, always check the weather. The weather contributes a lot to the enjoyment of a kayaking trip. It also will give you an idea of what you need to pack and wear while out on the water.

“Keep in mind that if even if the sun is shining, you can still get hypothermia if you get knocked out of your boat into the cold water,” Engelman said.

Secondly, check out the water levels of the location where you are heading. If it hasn’t rained in a while it is not a good idea to visit really shallow rivers. The water will be moving slow and the chances of hitting rocks are greater.

Some key spots for beginners to check out are section three of the Watauga Lake, South Fork of the New River, Lower Nolichucky River, Toe Gorge and the Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

Additionally, whitewater kayaking is not safe to do alone. It is important to have a friend or a group with you in case of emergencies.

“There are plenty of ways to get connected with other paddlers especially through social media,” Yuratovac said. “On Facebook, there’s Boone Outdoor Ladies and Boone Kayakers you can join, because one of the hardest things about starting this sport is finding people to go with and that you can learn from.”

On the river

When packing for a trip make sure to grab the essentials: kayak, paddle, personal flotation device, helmet, skirt, basic first-aid kit in a dry bag and a throw rope.

“100 percent the most essential thing you bring with you, past your basics, is a throw rope for your buddies, not for you,” Gladstone said. “It boosts the mental confidence in your crew knowing that if I have your back, you have mine.”

A key component to this sport is attitude. While on the river you have to remain positive even if you go swimming from having to get out of your boat.

“I’ve always heard that every paddler is just in between swims, no matter what their skill level is,” Yuratovac said. “The people who take my courses that come in with a good attitude are the ones who are usually most successful on the river. When you are beginning it isn’t so much about your physical skills but more about your mentality.”