Whitewater is formed in a rapid, when the gradient increases enough to disturb the flow and create turbulence. Four factors, separately or in combination, can create rapids: gradient, constriction, obstruction and flow rate. The first three are caused by the river topography and are relatively consistent. Flow rate is dependent upon rain, snowmelt and upon release rates of upstream dams.
The International Scale of River Difficulty is a standardized scale used to rate the safety of a stretch of river, or a single rapid. The grade reflects the technical difficulty and skill level required associated with the section of river.
You will need good flatwater skills and knowledge to build on when developing your whitewater skills.
Grade 1 and Touring
When grade 1 rapids or river touring, you will need to be competent in handling grade 1 whitewater. As a touring paddler, in addition to possessing competent flatwater skills, you will be able to steer and avoid obstacles in moving water. You will also be able to interpret whitewater hand signals and assume the safe active swimming position if you come out of your boat. A whitewater beginner’s course described in the next section is recommended even when touring is your preferred paddling discipline.
Grade 2 Paddler
You will use a shortened boat that can turn more easily around obstacles and although you may not need the stamina and endurance of a 10 or 20km flatwater paddler with gravity on your side, you do have water hydraulics to manage. Obstacles in the main flow of water cause eddies, and they are best described as quieter water and often used by experienced whitewater paddlers to advantage: a pause, turn or rest before heading out into the faster flowing water again. You will need to be able to develop the paddle and boat handing skill to negotiate the eddy line, break in and out, ferry glide to cross the river, defensive paddling, brace strokes and assisted and self rescue techniques.
If you are interested in learning to paddle whitewater then why not come along to one of our Barrington Beginners weekends. They’re a great way for you to learn the basic skills on an easy river, in a beautiful location. Keep an eye on the calendar, beginners’ trips are held several times each year. The Club can provide boats and equipment, as you will need a whitewater boat with fitting spray deck, helmet, life jacket with whistle, paddle and suitable clothing and footwear for swimming in. Practice and trip experience on grade 2 sections of rivers needs to be developed before you attempt higher graded sections.
Rolling a whitewater boat after capsize is key to becoming a competent paddler on whitewater, or for that matter anywhere on water. Rolling sessions advertised on the calendar can be conducted in heated swimming pools during winter but otherwise take advantage of co-opting competent rollers to demonstrate their technique. It is recommended you search out an experienced rolling instructor who can provide you with a range of techniques that lead to a “bombproof roll” – a roll that will be successful in 95% of the time in the most adverse conditions.
Grade 3 or Intermediate Paddlers
As an intermediate paddler you will be more confident when breaking in/out of eddies, demonstrate good edge control to forward and backwards ferry glide. You will be able to competently look after yourself and nearby others, and can affect self-rescue and gear retrieval. You will also be competent to use and be rescued by a throw rope, and know the issues of safe boating and identification of hazardous river features – sieves, strainers etc.