5 Secrets to Confident Whitewater Kayaking


Want to feel more stable and confident in your kayak in whitewater? Try sinking your weight down into your butt. I know it sounds weird, but it works!

When you focus on feeling ‘grounded’ in your kayak you create stability and confidence. Here are examples of what I mean.

In this first video, Sandra, a newer paddler wobbles ever so slightly on her edges as she enters a slide. This leads to a feeling of uncertainty and stress. She has a good line off the drop, AND we can also see how her stability as she enters and turns the corner could be refined for greater effortlessness, stability and confidence.

Sandra was telling me that when she watches more experienced paddlers they look very calm and steady in their kayaks. That’s because they feel grounded – they don’t let every movement of their boat throw them off.

Let’s watch Adriene Levknecht’s run through Gorilla during Green Race 2018. There are plenty of times in this run where she could get knocked off balance, but she is so grounded in her kayak that she never loses stability. Her strokes are powerful, well timed and well placed.

Obviously this stability and grounding come with experience in your kayak, AND there are some things you can practice to cultivate steadiness and confidence. Here are my top 5 tips for cultivating stability and calm when whitewater kayaking:

Stop lifting your knee, start sinking your weight

This one is top. When you learned how to edge your kayak someone may have suggested that you lift up on your knee to tilt the boat on edge.

Instead, try sinking your weight into your butt cheek to engage your edge. For example, to engage your left edge, sink your weight into your left butt cheek. You’ll notice that you feel more stable and confident on edge compared to lifting your right knee.

Once you get comfortable sinking weight into your butt cheeks, then you can add the lift in the knee to enhance your edge control, but don’t start with lifting the knee.

Ferry with your eyes closed

I love to have my students practice this technique!

They look at me like I’m crazy at first, but once they start they really get the benefit.

Closing your eyes forces you to pay attention to how the water is affecting your boat. Stop intellectualizing river reading with your eyes and mind only, and start to feel the water with your boat and body.

Once you get a feel for the water then you combine river reading with your eyes with the feel of the water to paddle with less effort, more precision and more confidence.

Take fewer strokes

Challenge yourself to take fewer strokes when you’re paddling and making moves, especially coming out of eddies.

The biggest mistake I see paddlers make is over paddling. You do need to be paddling as fast or faster than the current for the most stability.

That doesn’t mean paddle hard all the time and every time you exit an eddy.  It means understanding and the speed of the current that is in front of you and adjusting your momentum accordingly.

Hit rocks

Stop being afraid of rocks and start playing with them!

Practice running into them, boofing them, shanking off of them and getting stuck on them.

The more you practice loving rocks and having fun with them, the more stability and response ability you create.

After all, boofing is one of the most fun river running moves ever!

5 Points of Contact

This may seem too obvious, but outfitting your kayak so that you fit snugly with 5 points of contact is very important for stability.

These 5 points are feet, hips, butt, knees/thighs and back band.

I’ve had several students over the years show up without a bulkhead or footpegs for their feet. If you don’t have anything to press your feet against then you have less power.

I’ve seen too much hip padding and too little, and back bands that are used as back rests instead of back support.

Kayak outfitting has come a long way from when I started paddling in the 90s! Take advantage of the ease of use and quick set up. It’s worth it in stability and confidence.

Are you ready to work on your stability on edge and take your paddling confidence to the next level?! Join me for Find Your Flow Week (Class II-III) here in Western North Carolina July 7th – 13th. Click Here for more info and registration.

Prefer private instruction? Email me to set up a day or half day one on of the fun rivers near Asheville, NC!