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  It’s spring, and time for the earth to come alive once again. The snow melts, trickles through the land, and each plant takes what it needs as the water continues on to eventually flow into creeks and rivers, causing them to bulge, and rush helter-skelter into a whitewater frenzy. It’s fast and dangerous. It’s beautiful and breathtaking. And at this time of year, when most outdoor sports are on hold, extreme kayakers grab their gear, and head for the whitewater.

  Unlike the usually placid lake kayaking, whitewater kayaking is a radical sport, finding fast growing acceptance amongst extreme sports enthusiasts. There are basically two types of whitewater kayaking: playboating and creek boating. Playboaters paddle rivers, where the focus is on finding waves and holes for performing tricks. Some play boaters will stay at one river feature for an entire day doing spins, cartwheels, and aerial flips called loops, until the sun sets.

  Whitewater playboating, like skateboarding, is a sport for people who get a kick out of perfecting difficult moves in a very dynamic environment. Playboaters are constantly honing their craft, practicing to get each trick perfect. And of course, they’re always on the lookout for new tricks, and spots with better holes and bigger waves.

  Playboats are short with low
volume bows and sterns allowing
the ends to be submerged easily
in whirlpools and other hydraulics
in the river. They also have flat bottoms called planning hulls that allow the boat to accomplish 360-degree spins, even on a green wave. (A green wave is a nice surfable wave that is growing in size, but doesn’t have a white cap yet. Once it has a white frothy top, it is called a hole). These boats are built for people who want to spin, shoot into the air for a loop, or dance end to end on the water in graceful cartwheels.

 In his article, Looping it Up! on, Jacob Selander claims, “Just about every new playboat shoved into the market these days is allowing paddlers to catch air—sometimes insanely HUGE amounts, earning frequent flyer miles!”

  Scott Rulander, a whitewater paddler and videographer from Sandpoint suggests several places for prospective kayakers to get started in the sport.
  “The Spokane River from Coeur
d‘Alene to Spokane is probably one of the best spots for beginners to learn,” he says.

“It has mostly class 2 and 3 rapids year around. It’s also a good place for beginning and expert playboaters to find good holes and waves where they can do everything from soulful surfing to throwing huge air.”

  The Spokane River closely follows
I-90 on much of its journey and is easily accessed with several places to put-in and take-out. On the Spokane, holes and waves have earned their own names, such as Dead Dog Hole near Post Falls and Zoo Wave near Spokane.

  A more advanced playboating spot is the Kootenai River, below the falls, near Libby, Montana. “This is a place for advanced to expert boaters only,” warns Rulander. “It has intense volume and strong whirlpools. When the water is running high, even expert kayakers
avoid the Kootenai.

But when the flows are right, it’s a popular run.”

  Before diving head first into this
sport, it’s a good idea to take a class, and go out with others who know what they’re doing. You’ll learn faster and more safely with experienced boaters along. And, because the character of each run can change drastically from one day to the next, depending on the water levels, everyone should check the river levels and flow information on the many websites that update regularly throughout the day before
heading downstream.

  Creek boating is the other main
type of whitewater kayaking. Unlike
playboats, which are designed to go under water so they can do tricks, creek boats must stay on top of the water when they make long drops over waterfalls.

  For this reason, they have a higher volume in the bow and stern, making them more buoyant (like trying to shove a beach ball under water).

  The goal of a creek boater is to seek out steep gradient rivers. While
other boaters stay clear of anything
resembling a waterfall, creek boaters
search them out.

  “Running creeks is a serious game
that requires great boat handling skills, an almost sixth sense for reading the water, and a true focus on safety,” says Rulander. “Kayakers should not only have rescue gear with them, but they should know how to use it. Trapped by a strainer (a fallen tree with limbs sticking out all over the place), is no time to learn how to throw a rope.”

  Rulander suggests that beginners start out on a lake and learn to roll.
Then move on to the Spokane
River, and get the hang of paddling
and rolling in moving water. For
the next step, try the Moyie River above the falls, where you will find class 2 and 3 rapids. “It starts out a roadside run, then gets into a section
that has a wilderness feel. It’s a good place to learn to scout and get a taste of commitment,” he says.

  (For the uninitiated, a class 2 rapid
is gentle and often swimmable, with minimal whitewater, but still provides swift movement and a few refreshing splashes. A class 3 rapid features moderate whitewater, and is exciting, but not too wild.)

  An intermediate paddler will have
a blast on the St. Joe River, north of Avery, Idaho. Or, they may want to try the Clark Fork River near Missoula. Rulander also recommends the Yaak River, on the way to Libby, but stresses that you must be very good at all the other runs mentioned before attempting the Yaak. You should also be with a good solid group if you decide to try this run.

  “Early spring, when the water is
running high, is when we make the
local runs,” says Rulander. From April to early July, the Upper Pack
River, north of Sandpoint, is a good
run, but he warns that anyone considering creek boating should get
information from someone who has
paddled the area before. “In the
summer we often times head for the
bigger rivers to the south. But we
can also extend our paddling season
by heading north into British
Columbia, where the glaciers feed
the creeks and rivers into late August
and September.”

  “Idaho is known as the whitewater
state. It has a ton of great runs, and Sandpoint is quickly becoming a destination for professional whitewater boaters who are looking for more challenging runs. It might be wise to go elsewhere in Idaho first, to learn your skills on tamer water, then come to Sandpoint to play.”

  Kayaking provides the thrill of
seeing places that you wouldn’t get
to see otherwise. Some places appear to have never been touched by a human. And don’t forget the wildlife you may see on the way.

  “My buddy Dan and I were paddling the Upper Pack River when a moose came crashing out of the brush and ran down the creek between our kayaks,” Rulander remembers. “It’s a little nerve racking to have a huge animal that close. Our heads were about at its knees. I’ve also had a couple of black bears swim across rivers right in front of me.”

  A kayaker must be prepared to go
the distance, because in some remote areas they may be surrounded by steep canyon walls, where there is no easy way to get help. It’s essential to do your homework on a run before ever putting your boat in the water. There are big hazards on all rivers, and especially on creeks, the main one being trees that have fallen across the water. Be sure to always paddle in control. Pull over at eddies and scout the areas up ahead. With any type of kayaking, it is the law and common sense to wear a Personal Floatation Device.

It is also essential to have a whistle attached to it in case you need to alert your group that you’re in trouble. Always wear a helmet. And, nobody should try any type of whitewater kayaking without first knowing how to roll.

  Your local Kayak retailer should
have information about good places
to paddle in your area, or be able to put you in touch with someone
who can.

  So… when was the last time
you learned a new sport? (No, thumb action on the remote control
doesn’t count.) Take a class… go
on a kayak tour with one of the local

retailers… or simply drive out to the Spokane River and watch the
playboaters in action. Chances are
you’ll be chomping at the bit to try
it yourself. Go ahead. It’s okay. Get
wet! | | | |
Sandpoint Idaho Arial Photo Guide

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