Sometimes it seems that packrafters are trying to reinvent the wheel when it is completely unnecessary. Kayakers have been paddling serious whitewater for decades and they have learned a few things along the way. Packrafters would do well to embrace the lessons that both kayaks, and kayakers, can teach.
Absolutely the best way to improve your technical whitewater paddling skills is to spend some time in a kayak under the tutelage of a qualified whitewater kayaking instructor. Be wary of simply trying to learn from a friend – no matter how experienced they are.
With a qualified instructor you will make significant progress in an incredibly short amount of time. Ideally sign up for a 2 or 3 day or even a week-long course. I recommend either a course through Canoe Tasmania or if you are in NZ then the New Zealand Kayak School.
Everything you learn in a kayak will be valuable for your time in a packraft.
Alternatively undertake a professional packrafting course that focuses on teaching you the same technical skills that kayakers use. If you are in Australia consider joining myself or one of the other experienced instructors at Canoe Tasmania for a Packrafting Course. We now offer 2-day Beginner and Intermediate Whitewater Courses as well as a 3-day Advanced Whitewater Course. Currently we are in the process of refining these courses so that participants can move through each level as their skills and experience develop.
For the moment here is some rough info on what we would expect participants on each of these courses to look like:
For a Beginner Course we would normally be looking at participants who have:
- not previously capsized or deliberately practised swimming in fast flowing moving water or rapids.
- they may have had a packraft for several years (or not) but have mostly used one (or another watercraft) on flatwater or grade 1 rivers (fast flowing currents but no real rapids/rocks/obstacles).
- they may have paddled 1 or 2 rivers with whitewater (grade 2/2+) but have done so under the guidance of others or have gotten down the river and wondered how they did so without coming to any grief.
- they are unlikely to have done overnight trips with their packrafts
- they often don’t paddle with a helmet as they don’t own one and haven’t needed one
- aspire to stay safe on whitewater and not kill themselves
Those undertaking an Intermediate Course would normally:
- own their own packraft
- have been paddling for a couple of years
- have probably paddled either some or quite a lot of grade 2/2+ rivers but realise that they don’t have a deep knowledge of paddling strokes, safety and rescue techniques
- have most likely paddled 1 or 2 grade 3 rivers but were uncomfortable or nervous at times
- may or may not have done an overnight trip
- know what a throwbag is but have likely had no formal training in using one
- may paddle other watercraft quite regularly, such as a sea kayak or flatwater kayak
- may have been a participant in a large raft on a multi day guided trip on grade 3/4+ so understand how powerful and unforgiving whitewater can be
- have their own gear for whitewater but perhaps not all items are ideal (e.g. they use a climbing helmet rather than a specific whitewater helmet)
- have probably not modified their boats for optimum whitewater performance (e.g thigh straps, backbends, etc)
- potentially aspire to do the Franklin River however most likely they will still need to be guided by others
Those undertaking an Advanced Course would:
- have owned their own packraft for a couple of years at least
- have paddled lots (>15) of grade 2+ rivers and several grade 3 rivers and maybe 1 or 2 grade 3+/4 rivers
- potentially think that they can ‘paddle’ grade 4 rivers yet when asked to proficiently perform technical manoeuvres on grade 2+ rivers they struggle
- have likely already modified their boat with thigh straps
- may have upgraded to a more modern WW packraft
- have completed several multi-day packrafting trips
- often end up leading packrafting trips or at least being responsible for others/friends
- be looking to undertake significant packrafting missions in remote areas (e.g. Tassie) or leading friends on more challenging rivers, such as the Franklin etc.
- potentially aspire to be able to roll their packraft