because life's an adventure

JoJaffa goes Canoeing

From raging rapids to the tranquility of the placid waters

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Getting started
How do I get started?
Kit and caboodle
Recommended reading
Spoil yourself
Holidays and Vacations
Getting more out of....Canoeing
I've got the basics, what next?

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It's an hour or two after lunch, it's been a long hard week at work, but you're cheered by the knowledge that it's Friday and the start of the weekend is in sight. You rub your eyes, tired by staring at the computer screen all day, turn your head to the left, and admire the view from the window. The height of your office block lets you see the countryside beyond the limits of the town, in the far distance light is reflecting off the surface of a lake. Your eyelids droop slightly and, resting your head in cupped hands, the scene shifts ...

It's an hour or two after lunch, you're back on the water almost regretfully having found an idyllic spot to relax and picnic. Almost regretfully but not quite, hearing the gentle slap of small ripples on the boat reminds you of why you're alive, reaching forward to take another long, slow stroke in time with your companion the canoe moves steadily forward.

This part of the day is always your favourite, the morning had been good, you'd paddled in the front of the boat, conversation had been lively, catching up on life since you'd last been out paddling together, then searching out a likely spot to stop for lunch.

Fed, watered and rested you'd swapped places in the boat and paddled on. This time there was no conversation; neither of you felt it necessary, and both delighting in the feeling of communication with nature.

The river runs through patchy woodland in an isolated valley, at times you're paddling through fields enjoying the warmth of the sun on the back of your neck and the sight and smell of a myriad of wild flowers. As you entered a patch of trees the light quality changed, only patches of sunlight permeated through the canopy of trees, the sound of birds in the trees, slight movement of branches in light winds, occasional sightings of varied wildlife, undisturbed by the almost silent progress of the canoe.

Moments like these are to be remembered and treasured for many days hence.

An increase in volume, is the wind strengthening, glancing up you think not, but still you hear in the distance a roaring sound, the boat gradually starts to pick up speed, and the roaring sounds get louder. For the second time that day, the scene shifts ...

This time alone in a boat, you look ahead to see your companions up ahead on the bank, they're holding throwlines ready to execute a rescue should you capsize. Sitting comfortably in an eddy, you swiftly check over your equipment - spraydeck on, buoyancy aid on, helmet tightly fastened, you take one last look downriver checking the line you intend to take, and push off from the bank.

As the nose of your boat leaves the calm water of the eddy and enters the fast flowing water of the main river it quickly spins to face downstream, pulling the rest of the boat round with it. You angle your craft to river left and paddle strongly, lining up with the first big drop the water starts to race, you must paddle hard to maintain water speed, the sound becomes almost deafening, your heart is racing to match the speed of the water. Over the drop, the smooth glassy water running over the lip is transformed into a churning maelstrom of bubbling white water at the bottom, your canoe buries itself, you feel the force of water hit your chest and face and the boat is slowed by the stopper, reaching past the wave with your paddle you paddle on and pull free.

No time to think, paddle right now to avoid that big rock, imprinted in your memory from your earlier inspection of the rapid, you enter the next section. Only a small drop this time followed by a series of stoppers, standing waves, holes and bubbling water. Whooping with exhilaration you bounce on down river, aiming for a tiny eddy just behind a large rock. Pausing for breath you line up the best and last wave, a wide drop with a powerful stopper just below.

It's been a good day so far, you're feeling confident and want to play. You drop down towards the wave backwards, letting the water carry you, as you near the drop you start to paddle back up stream, the waters too fast, but you manage to slow your progress. You drop over the edge.

This time going too slowly to break through the stopper, it holds you in it grasp. You lean right, lift your left knee, and the boat lies sideways across the river held in place by the wave, but still leaping and bouncing about so that it feels like riding a bucking bronco. This is where it really starts to get fun. You practise cartwheels, pirouettes, flat spins until, trying too hard, you lean back dip the stern of the boat into the powerful stream of water flowing over the drop, the back is submerged, the front leaping out the water and over your head, no longer surfing the wave you emerge downstream, but upside-down. The sudden cold attempts to take your breath away, grasping your paddle firmly you reach for the surface, grip the water with the paddle blade and smoothly roll upright. Your friends on the bank laughing and cheering, you too have a huge smile on your face. The scene shifts...

Your computer comes back into focus; you enjoy the memories of past glorious days, and look forward to another weekend on the water.

Tell us what got you interested in Canoeing.

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Getting started

The best way of starting to canoe is by contacting your local club. There are hundreds all over the country, for the one nearest you try contacting the British Canoe Union in the UK or in North America contact the Canadian Canoe Association.

A club will provide you with the help and advice you need to get going, many clubs run training courses for everybody from beginners to experts. They will advise you how to paddle, where to paddle, what to paddle, and most importantly of all, provide friends for you to paddle with.

Once you've mastered the basics, which won't take too long, you can then quickly progress to paddling on lakes, rivers and maybe the sea.

(Sports Disclaimer)

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Getting more out of....Canoeing

The range of canoe sports is very large. Once you've decided canoeing is for you it's quite possible to specialise in one or more disciplines in addition to general recreational paddling.

There are 3 basic types of canoe:

  • Kayak - this is what most people think of when considering canoeing. It's a closed cockpit boat in which the paddler sits and uses a double ended paddle
  • Canoe - this is similar to the kayak except the paddler kneels and uses a single ended paddle
  • Open canoe - is what you think of American Indians using. An open boat, usually larger than a kayak, the paddlers (there are usually more than 1) kneel and use single ended paddles.

Variety of disciplines:

  • Slalom - an Olympic sport. Paddlers are timed over a course of 20 - 25 numbered gates, collecting penalties for any missed or touched. Entry level is division 4 for beginners, paddlers moving up through the divisions to Premier by via the promotion system.
  • Sprint - as it names suggests, paddlers covering comparatively short distances in as short a time as possible. The course itself is on flat water, closely resembling the sort used for rowing.
  • Marathon - similar to Sprint racing, but obviously over much longer distances. Courses commonly follow flattish rivers and contain portages past obstacles.
  • White Water Racing - Along the same lines as Sprint and Marathon, a WWR course is along a big river with numerous rapids, paddlers start at intervals, and the fastest time time to the finish wins.
  • Rodeo - competitions are held on specific rapids or waves where paddlers take it in turns to perform tricks like cartwheels, pirouettes, surfing with and without paddles. Displays are scored by a panel of judges. Polo - 5 boats to team, a flat stretch of water - often a swimming pool, with goals at each end end, and 1 ball. Players need the ability to roll upright after capsizing since tackling opponents by trying to push them in is permitted.

  • Sea Kayaking - is paddling on the sea. This can range from comparatively calm coastal waters to paddling on the open ocean, and can call for a great deal of commitment and experience from the paddler.

  • Touring & recreational - not a competitive sport as such, and the most popular form of canoeing. A group of paddlers out canoeing just for fun.

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Kit and caboodle

Need a good book, video or more advice? JoJaffa has picked out the best for you. For each book/ video just click on the amazon link find out the price and get more information.

If you can suggest any good books about Canoeing, let us know.

Recommended Reading

Book : Cradle to Canoe: camping and canoeing with children
by Rolf and Debra Kraiker
Lots of useful information on how to start family canoeing trips with easy day trips close to home before (perhaps?) going on extended trips into some of the prime wilderness destinations of North America. Not every one will want to take their five-year old on a three week canoe trip in the arctic like the authors, but the fabulous photography and great stories will inspire the whole family to taking to the water. Everything you need to know for canoeing and camping with infants and children through to teenagers. Written by long time canoeist instructors and wilderness adventurers.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : The essential white water kayaker
by Jeff Bennett
When you've done white water rafting and you've mastered kayaking, this book will take you to the next level. Written by the expect on all things kayaking.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : The Bombproof Roll and Beyond
by Paul Dutky
An eskimo roll provides the best form of self rescue following a capsize, it also gives the paddler masses of self confidence in the knowledge that should he or she capsize, righting themselves is easy. Paul Dutky provides information for absolute beginners.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : Guide to Eskimo Rolling
by Derck C. Hutchinson
Derek C.Hutchinson is a leading figure in the field of sea kayaking with over 40 years of experience in the sport. In addition to paddling he is also involved in teaching and lecturing, boat design and has written a number of books on the subject.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : On Celtic Tides
by Chris Duff
In the summer of 1996, Chris Duff set off to circumnavigate Ireland, the Emerald Isle. 12, 000 miles later he returned to his starting point of Dublin having experienced so much of what the sea, and Ireland, has to offer. This is a tale about more than just canoeing, Duff explores the essence of Ireland where his talents of descriptive writing bring the country to life. Itís a story of the sea and itís moods, of the land and itís character, of the people, the history and the magic of Ireland. Similarly, the desriptions of life in a sea kayak become very real, close your eyes and you can imagine yourself at sea in his place.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : The Kayak Shop: Three Elegant Wooden Canoes Anyone Can Build
by Chris Kulczycki
Wooden boats are valued for their construction, wood being lighter and stiffer than many plastics or fibreglass, and most of all their looks. No-one would disagree that a beautifully finished wooden craft catches the eye of every fellow paddler. In addition, a home made craft can be a very cost effective way of owning a canoe. All the information required to construct one of these boats is included here, the plans, the materials to be used, the techniques needed, the tools, even how to make a matching paddle.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : Kayak: The Animated Manual of Intermediate and Advanced Whitewater Technique
by William Nealy
Written with a great deal of humour, backed up by numerous cartoons, there is none the less a great deal of extremely useful advice and safety related messages contained within the pages of this book. William Nealy is clearly a very experienced kayaker and has put this knowledge to good use here. Although beginners would find the book useful and informative, it is primarily aimed at those of people who already possess the basic skills and are ready to either progress further within the sport, or just improve their current river running skills.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : The Playboater's Handbook
by Ken Whiting
The Playboaterís Handbook covers all the tricks and freestyle moves that todayís playboater needs in his or her repertoire in order to show off in front of the crowds. A very well written book, it clearly describes how to carry out moves that previously may have been a mystery. The text is handsomely accompanied by pages and pages of pictures and photos which help to illustrate the descriptions.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : Paddle to the Arctic
by Don Starkell
Paddle to the Arctic is the story of Don Starkellís quest to be the first man to paddle a canoe across the top of the world, the 3,000 miles between Churchill and Tuktoyaktuk through the Northwest passage. It took him three attempts before finally suceeding, overcoming seeming insurmountable odds. Polar bears, extreme cold, huge ice flows all stood between him and his goal. This trip was not Starkelís first experience of epic canoe voyages, in 1980 he paddled the 12,000 miles from Winnipeg in Canada to Belťm at the mouth of the Amazon in Brazil, earning himself a place in the Guiness Book of World Records. Paddle to the Arctic describes his second voyage, together with all itís problems, accompanied by photos and maps, it leaves the reader astonished that man can do so much.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

As far as equipment goes, a full set of all the kit you need to go canoeing can be expensive. The best thing to do is to start buying it slowly, it won't take very long before you have the gear you need.

Initially clubs will let you borrow the essentials, the boat, paddles, spraydeck and helmet, giving you a chance to try it out before buying your own. All you should need is to turn up prepared to get wet, bringing with you a towel, a change of clothes, a warm drink and plenty of enthusiasm.

The essentials:

  • 1 x canoe
  • 1 x paddle
  • 1 x bouyancy aid
  • 1 x helmet
  • 1 x spraydeck - the 'skirt' that prevents unwanted water getting into your boat

The 'extras':

  • 1 x cagoule, with neoprene collar & cuffs
  • 1 x wetsuit, normally wetshorts are all that are required
  • 1 x pair of wetsuit boots or shoes

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Spoil yourself

Spoiling yourself with canoeing depends on personal preference.You might like to take your family on a canoeing holiday, the Ardeche in France is a popular destination for people wanting to enjoy the outdoors, good weather and an enjoyable paddle in open boats through the countryside.

Or you might be an adrenaline junkie.

Travelling the world can find you some fantastic white water. For example, you might like to try one of the big rivers in Nepal;

  • The Sun Kosi - a long river where the quality of rapids and scenery improve as you progress down the river
  • The Karnali - in NW Nepal, large volume rapids, deep gorges making the river feel very remote, brilliant scenery and wildlife
  • The Bhote Kosi - rises on the border between Tibet and Nepal and has very big, very exciting rapids towards the start. Further downstream the river is calms down slightly, but is still tremendous fun.
  • The Marsyandi - the name says it all. Marsyandi translates as 'The Raging River'

Or sea kayaking in Iceland, one of the best sea canoeing locations in the world, offering trips for highly skilled paddlers and more sheltered regions for the less experinced. Iceland has an interesting and rugged coastline and plenty of small islands to explore.

For the ultimate in spoiling yourself, and a quite incredible undertaking, check out the Trans-Global Sea Kayak Expedition

Check out Jammer Boat and Canoe for fiber glass canoes and a great intro to like on the water.

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Open Outcry

Got a question? Get an answer!

Post a message to the canoeing discussion board.

You might just

  • have a general question about Canoeing?
  • want to make a comment
  • want to share tips and advice with fellow JoJaffa-ers?

... Then why not use our Canoeing chat board

Maybe someone has already asked that burning question you're longing to find the answer to ...

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