Whitewater Kayaking Tip: Going from Class IV to Class V

When it comes to how to go from kayaking Class IV to Class V whitewater, needless to say, I’m NOT the person to ask.  However, I’m borrowing from this thread on Professor Paddle, where my friend JP posted some great comments in response to our friend Connor’s question about how best to do it.  (Connor and his sister Savannah are still in high school but are such good paddlers that it’s almost disgusting. ;) )

Here’s what JP had to say about going from Class IV to Class V:

I would find the hardest class IV run you’ve done that is closest to where you live, preferably within 2hrs, but the closer the better. Hopefully it runs frequently throughout the year. Get out and paddle that run religiously until you know it like the back of your hand, at the widest range of flows.”

“You should know it so intimately that you are comfortable paddling it at the higher end of its flow range. Paddle it all other water levels. Then paddle it some more. If you get bored you aren’t using your imagination, so find all of the out of the way routes. Don’t just paddle all the normal lines, paddle this run really hard. I said paddle. Don’t float it. There should be moves you can hit to make the run harder for yourself: difficult boofs, pillow moves, slots between rocks ect. You want to be able to link moves together in a flowing way. Paddle smooth. You’ll need a richly diverse repertoire to be comfortable in class V. Comfort is what you’re after. You want to be able to go in and enjoy the experience, not just survive it.”

“In the meantime, frequently paddle new class IV+ runs (you should be seeking out every class IV run in the guidebook).”

“Occasionally go run an easier class V- run, but only with people you trust who are familiar with the run. If these will be challenging for you, make sure you do your homework on the run beforehand so you know what you’re getting into. There are lots of available resources; This site, AW, the Bennett Book, etc.”

“Also, from time to time, lead some trips on class III+/VI- runs that you’ve never done before with paddlers of equal or lesser abilities than your own. But generally if you’re leading trips this way, I emphasize that you should be leading runs easier than your skill level.”

“Keep in mind that leading whitewater trips will greatly advance your skill, but you also have to undertake the responsibility of looking out for the people following you. If you can’t do this you shouldn’t progress to class V. This may sound boring, but it shouldn’t be. It’s more challenging than it seems on the face of it, if you are paying attention. Not only do you need skills before you go hog-wild on class V, but you need experience as well. Lots of people these days have good boating skills but prematurely venture into class V without experience. Skill and experience are two entirely different things, and they go hand in hand.”

“Anytime you paddle through class II to get to the take out, you should be PADDLING if you want to run class V.”

“Encourage your friends to do the same.Too many people float instead. A refined forward stroke is the most important skill to have in your toolbox, but because it isn’t as glamorous as a boof stroke or a double pump, people generally don’t master it. That’s why 80% of the paddlers out there have sh*tty stroke technique. The forward stroke is where all kayaking begins and ends. It should be a form of moving meditation. The prevailing trend is to float. Remember: Logs float, sh*t floats, but YOU are a WHITEWATER PADDLER.”


Words of wisdom from JP, who I should mention is (obviously) a really good paddler, and also famous for swimming Boulder Drop on the Skykomish River at 60,000 cfs, flood level, after his paddle got ripped out of his hands in a hole.  I would quote his full name, but I don’t know it!  Which is ridiculous, because I’ve paddled with him a bunch of times.  Anyway, I hope this helps someone out down the line.

(Also, if you haven’t been on Professor Paddle I encourage you to check it out, there’s lots of good advice on there – along with what I can only describe as the usual allotment of man-fluff – plus it’s a great way to connect with good boaters paddling Northwest rivers.)


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