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Big Water Technique – How to Paddle High Volume Rivers

Author(s): Send School
Video Release Date: October 31, 2022
Video Source: YouTube


Despite the common misconception, Big Water doesn’t actually mean difficult water. It doesn’t directly mean hard rapids. Big water refers to the high volume whitewater found on high volume rivers. Big Water kayaking accentuates the features, challenges and needed skills you would find on everyday rivers and creeks, along with a few new ones. So even if you never plan to run something like the Baker, Stikine, Indus, Zambezi, Futa, high water Ottawa or any other famous “big water section,” you can still apply the techniques and skills described in this video to your local run. This video specifically features high flows on the Ottawa River in Canada, the Río Futaleufú in Chilé, and the Zambezi River on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Three high volume meccas on three different continents, all surprisingly attainable for the average kayaker without ever stepping beyond class IV.

Some prerequisites not included in this video:

BOAT CHOICE (since someone asked and I had thought about putting into this video): Typically, a half slice is ideal for big water because the edges and slicey end can be great for getting out of holes and they still have plenty of drive to move across powerful sections and enough speed to launch off waves or over holes. Playboats are great for safer big water runs because they easily go under anything you don’t want to deal with, but are really fun on big waves too. The downside is that you can’t drive as fast if you need to make moves or rescue someone as easily in a playboat… Zambezi is pretty pool drop and safe so playboats are great in there at average to low flows. I typically only pull out a creek boat if the seams are deep enough and powerful enough that I want the volume to keep me at the surface, and then the modern high-rockered creek boats are best because the parting line usually sits pretty high on those so they don’t get pushed around as much… ie the Gnarvana and Z3 are much easier to paddle in big water due to their shorter submerged length than the Nirvana. With less rocker and more length, the Nirvana gets pushed around a lot more easily in high volume rapids… The bottom line is that you have to choose based on safety, your skill set, and the way you want to paddle.


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