Once you gain some kayaking experience under your belt, you’ll likely want to tackle some faster rivers and bodies of water. After all, the adrenaline rush of flying your kayak down a river is what drives many people to the hobby. As you begin to traverse some of the faster rivers, however, you’ll eventually find yourself faced with an avoidable waterfall. It’s important for kayakers to know the proper technique for handling safely handling waterfalls; otherwise, you run the risk of injury or damage to your kayak.
Depending on your location, you might be able to kayak around the waterfall. A good kayaker is always looking downstream to determine the best possible course. Keep your eyes peeled for path openings with few rocks and obstructions. If you see one, traverse around the waterfall instead of taking it head on. It’s not a bad idea to scout the river out before kayaking it to choose your route.
If there’s simply no way to avoid the waterfall, however, you will need to approach it with full confidence. As you get closer to the lip of the waterfall, shift your body back just slightly to alter your center of gravity. Going over a 10+ foot waterfall with your center of gravity at the front of your kayak could result in your flipping over in midair before landing upside down in the pool of water below. Trust me, this is something you do not want to experience, so shift your body back slightly before going over the lip.
You’ll naturally fit a sense of anxiety or even fear as you approach the waterfall lip. However, it’s important to keep your cool and remain focused on the end goal of safely going over. Once your kayak slides over the waterfall, you will have a couple seconds of free fall (depending on the height of the waterfall) before hitting the water. During this time, hold your paddle close to your body and take a deep breath. It’s not uncommon to nosedive completely underwater when you kayak over a waterfall, so taking a deep breath will make it easier. Also, you want to hit the water with just a slight angle so the nose of your kayak pierces through the water. If you land flat on the bottom of your kayak, there’s a chance you could damage the structure. Piercing through the water nose first is the most effective and safe method for tackling a waterfall.
Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.