Simon Coward of Aquabatics in Calgary has taught hundreds of people how to get started whitewater paddling. So we asked him to share some tips.

Simon Coward is an avid whitewater enthusiast who’s run rivers all over the world. We recently reported on his efforts to create a mobile paddling app that would utilize similar features to the mountain biking app Trailforks but report on things like water levels, river hazards and more. During our interviews with him, we asked, “How does someone even get started whitewater paddling anyway?” In response, he offered to write us an article about the basic steps someone should take before they climb into the cockpit of a play boat. Below is his story.

Photo compliments of Aquabatics Calgary.

So you’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie and the thought of spending summer days crashing down whitewater rapids seems right up your alley. But how does someone start? Rivers are scary. There’s so much gear. There a certain amount of danger involved and while you might like adventure, getting injured or worse doesn’t appeal at all.

In the 20+ years we’ve been involved in whitewater paddling, we have gained a bunch of insight into safe, smart and logical ways of getting into this fantastic sport.
To break it down, I think the following are the crucial components for getting started and eventually becoming a whitewater paddling superstar.

Orosi River. Simon Behman photo.


Whitewater paddling is exciting but it can also be dangerous. However, most people don’t stick at sports where they have ‘near miss’ experiences early on. So, find a local kayak school or club, talk to them about your goals and get on an Intro course. This will provide you a basic skill set and an idea of necessary safety skills to get out on the water safely.

Thompson River. Simon Coward photo.


Whether these are friends, family or a local club. Whitewater paddling is like backcountry skiing, you need partners to build in both physical (safety) and emotional support. It is best to find people that aren’t going to sandbag you and put you in over your head to early on. A gradual and successful progression in whitewater (in our experience) will see you paddling for life rather than unloading your gear on Kijiji.

Middle Elk River. Brandon Willms photo.


Try boats, paddles and other gear as much as you can before purchasing. Be realistic about what you are going to use your gear for (we like the 80% rule, what will you do with it 80% of the time). Talk to specialty retailers, look online, watch videos… learn as much as you can so your gear investment is as good as it can be.

With these three points you can really have an enjoyable, exciting and most importantly safe entrance into whitewater paddling. Do it right and you might find yourself addicted for life!