The kayak has been a mode of transport for more than 8,000 years, originating in Siberia where the open canoe was transformed into an enclosed kayak. Yet the kayak has only become popular in Europe over the last 100 years and more recently as new materials and manufacturing processes have led to mass-produced whitewater kayak brands, where the difference in the brand is mainly one of preference. Kayaks are now available with good quality, adjustable outfitting, rather than just a simple seat. One of the oldest big brands is Pyranha which was founded in 1971, who famously revolutionised the kayaking industry with the invention of plastic kayaks, but there are many others, including international brands Bliss-Stick Kayaks and Prijon Kayaks.
Beginners, like in most extreme sports, will have bumps and bruises to body and ego at the start, but this scary and fun sport is one where you never stop learning, in physical, mental and emotional strength. When kayaking, all concentration has to go into each rapid, which clears the mind of everything else. These benefits can be found even at the beginner level.
There are five types of whitewater kayaking:
River running combines paddling abilities and navigational skills with the movements and environments of the rivers themselves. This sort of kayaking uses the experience and expression of the river, rather just particular features like standing waves, play-holes and waterfalls. A river running kayak is comparatively longer, being at least 285cm and at no more than 63cm is narrower than others. This provides driving ability to make the most of the river’s currents to conserve speed and momentum.
A sub-category of river running, creeking involves technical and difficult rapids, with higher gradients, running ledges, slides and waterfalls on relatively small and tight rivers, though some will allow for very large and big volume rivers in their definition. Kayaks used for creeking usually have a more rounded bow and stern to stop a kayak getting wedged between rocks. It also means that the kayak resurfaces faster and has more control when coming off big drops.
Seen at the Olympic Games, Slalom is a technical competitive form of kayaking, where racers must steer their way through a designated section of river as fast as possible, while correctly negotiating up to 25 gates in sequential order. Competitors use kayaks that must be 350cm, according to the rules, and these are made from kevlar/fibreglass/carbon fibre composites to be lightweight and have faster hull speed. Plastic whitewater kayaks can be used in non-Olympic races.
Playboating, also known as Freestyle is an artistic kind of kayaking, with playboaters working with and against the dynamic forces of the river to perform a variety of manoeuvres, sometimes in the same sport. These can include surfing, spinning, and several vertical moves, as well as aerial moves. Eric Jackson, Stephen Wright, Peter Czonka, and James Bebbington are among the most famous playboaters.
Predating playboating, squirt boating uses low-volume boats to perform special moves in whitewater features. The squirt boats are custom built to the specifications using composite materials rather than plastic. Many squirt moves submerge all or part of the craft and paddler, such as the “mystery move,” in which both the boat and the paddler submerge completely into the river’s flow for several seconds, up to half a minute.
Rush Sturges is a whitewater athlete who creates award-winning whitewater videos with detail few others can match.
David Fusilli is one of a group of kayakers who are top-level adventure paddlers, but Fusilli stands out for his great personality and beautiful photography skills.
A child prodigy and now a whitewater icon, Dane is the son of Olympic paddler Eric Jackson and probably the best all-around whitewater athlete though he’s still in his early 20s. He’s won three international extreme Whitewater Grand Prix titles and also placed in every discipline that existed in the International Canoe Federation Freestyle World Championship, held in 2013.
Best known for his distinct paddling technique and aggressive racing style and multiple winner of the Green Race, the highest-celebrated race in whitewater as well as Canoe & Kayak’s Male Paddler of the Year.