Whitewater kayaking has a reputation as being ‘crazy’ and ‘too scary’ for the everyday recreationer, but the truth is you can dictate the degree of difficulty you choose to participate in. There is a grade system from 1-5 and there are a couple of ‘grade 6’ runs but these are reserved for a select few professionals.
• Grade 1 basically is moving water with small rapids which have safe entry and exit points - Beginner
• Grade 2 requires basic skills training and ability to break in and out of eddies* (*calm area behind an object with moving water to the side) – Beginner / Intermediate
• Grade 3 involves knee to chest high rapids with generally safe entries and exits and the ability to perform a roll is essential - Intermediate
• Grade 4 is not for the faint hearted and generally requires a couple of years of training and practice. Completing the run with someone more experienced is recommended - Advanced
• Grade 5 runs are extremely technical as well as difficult. The rapids can be unforgiving and a high level of risk is involved but can be managed, a lot of experience and a good safety team and structure is essential - Pro
• Grade 6 entails having massive Cojones and an abundance of skill - Pro+
It does not matter whether you are a beginner on a grade 1 run or a pro on a grade 5, the feelings of anxiety and the risk perception levels will be much the same, therefore the same feeling of elation or ‘stoke’ will result after completion of the run. Studies have been completed by one of New Zealand’s top White Water Kayaking educators - AUT University’s Matt Barker, that have indicated heart rate and anxiety levels are completely relative to preparation and experience. This means that the best way to feel anxiety and truly test yourself is to challenge the unknown and hit the rapids that scare you. It is fundamental to remember when pushing limits on the White Water that safety must come first.
Originally a Sea Kayaker by trade I had little experience in White Water until a few years ago when I went on a 4 day White Water training camp in the Central North Island. Little did I know of the profound effect this experience was going to have on my life. I had been on majestic river floats in canoes but never challenged myself physically and mentally in fast moving fresh water. I approached this training camp with a very confident and maybe even cocky attitude as I could already Eskimo roll (so I thought) and because of surfing I was comfortable in fast flowing, turbulent water (again… bad assumption). The first day we practiced our basic strokes, ferry glides, rolls, breaking in and out of small eddies and turns on small rapids so we would be confident enough to employ them in higher graded river runs. All the practice seemed to be going well and I was feeling ready to test my skills out on the big stuff!
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