The first step to learning how to kayak in rapids is understanding what rapids are and why they form.
Simply put, a rapid is the result of fast-moving water that flows down a steep gradient. The faster the water and the steeper the gradient, the bigger the rapid.
Of course, other factors go into creating a rapid. Other features, like constricting channels and obstructions, can also create rapids. Boulders, trees, and other debris in a river can all encourage rapid formation.
Downstream V – Also called the tongue, the downstream V is often your best friend on the water. This looks like a steady flow of water that juts out downstream between two rocks or other obstacles. Following the downstream V usually means a smooth ride down the current.
Upstream V – While the downstream V is a nice sight on the water, the upstream V isn’t so friendly. Upstream Vs form when water flows quickly around a rock. So, it’s important to avoid upstream Vs so you don’t go bow into a large rock.
Eddies – An eddy is a location of relatively calm water that forms behind river obstacles. In eddies, water starts to swirl back upriver, reversing the water’s flow. These are often great places to take shelter from the river’s flow so you can scout the river or wait for your paddling buddies.
Eddy Line – Eddy lines form on the edges of eddies where the eddy meets the river. Here, the water can get pulled in two directions, making entering the eddy or simply moving past it difficult. This usually isn’t much of a problem on Class I and II rivers.
Horizon Line – If you see a horizon line in front of you on the river, you can generally expect that you’re approaching a sizable drop or ledge. In these situations, and especially in Class III+ water, you often need to scout the downstream river to see the terrain ahead before proceeding.
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