The River Awaits...

...and we want you paddling on it! This is the second of three informational newsletters that we hope will help you continue in the sport of whitewater paddling.


Paddling Focus

Dealing with Fear

If you don't feel like running a particular drop or rapid because you are experiencing fear, listen to your fear.

  • Good Fear - Makes you think, gives you clarity of thought and vision, and gives you the energy and courage to portage that nasty rapid, or the extra adrenaline burst and concentration needed to successfully run that nasty rapid.
  • Bad Fear - Causes panic, irrational behavior, and the possibility of doing something you shouldn't, like run that nasty rapid above your skill level. A person experiencing Bad Fear may suffer from tunnel vision, extreme quietness, or excessive babbling and an inability to paddle effectively.

Universal River Signals

Your paddling group may develop its own set of signals, but it's important to be familiar with the universal river signals to help communicate with others on the river. For more information, including illustrations of these signals, read the American Whitewater Safety Code.

  • Stop: Potential Hazard Ahead. Form a horizontal bar with your outstretched arms, or hold your paddle horizontally above your head where it's easily visible. This signal indicates there may be an obstruction ahead, and if you see it, you should pass it back to all members of your group. When this signal is given, wait for an "all clear" before proceeding.
  • Help/Emergency: Wave a paddle, arm, PFD or other easily visible object in circles vertically above your head, and signal three short blasts on your whistle. This indicates an emergency scenario, and it's important you assist the signaler as quickly as possible.
  • All Clear/Go: Hold a paddle or arm vertically above your head. To signal direction, angle your paddle or arm left or right accordingly. Never point toward the obstacle you wish to avoid!
  • I'm Okay/Are You Okay?: Repeatedly pat the top of your head to ask if someone is all right, or to indicate that you're okay and not hurt.

Networking: Appalachian Mountain Club

The Appalachian Mountain Club is a very popular resource for paddlers. The largest canoe/kayak group in New England, they have a relatively structured program of trips for a wide variety of skill levels.

Main office (617)523-0636 and website:


Connecticut Chapter -

Mark Schappert, 203-240-3544

Dennis Wigg, 860-526-2126


Mass, Berkshire Chapter -

Charlie Camp, 413-568-0900

Connie Peterson, 413-665-3750


Mass, Boston Chapter

Jeff Pacuska,, 617-388-4635

Julia Khorana,, 978-897-5124


New Hampshire Chapter

Marcy Stanton, or

Mass, Worcester Chapter

Dave Cole,, 508-887-2581


NY/NJ Chapter

Ara Jingirian,, 973-661-3727


Penn, Delaware Valley Chapter

Aaron Pavlak,, 610-650-8926

River Stewardship: American Whitewater

Many local and national organizations help protect our waterways, but one of the most prominent is American Whitewater. American Whitewater is a national nonprofit with a mission “to conserve and restore America's whitewater resources and to enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.” They balance recreational and ecological needs to help preserve our waterways. You can help support American Whitewater by becoming a member or a volunteer.

Learning About Your Equipment: Boat and Paddle

The type of boat you'll want to buy is dependent on your paddling goals. If you want to run rivers to enjoy the scenery and play in the eddies, get a river runner. If you want to learn freestyle kayaking, get a playboat. For running waterfalls, you may want to consider a creek boat... but also a little more practice time, too! 

You can ask other paddlers for their advice, but remember that each person is different, and you get the final decision on what's comfortable and fits you well. If you're purchasing your boat new, expect to pay in the range of $800-$1125, but don't ignore the value from a secondhand boat. Depending on age and condition, you might spend between $300 - $700 on a used boat. Make sure your used boat has no major dents or whitening of the plastic. 
Pick your paddle based on your height, strength and intended use. If you are tall, strong, or going to use it for river running, get a longer paddle with larger blades. If you are shorter, less strong or doing more playboating, then use a shorter paddle with smaller blades. Your paddle can cost between $170-$380 depending on the material and style.


Continuing Education at Zoar Outdoor: Rolling Clinics

Rolling Clinics are an excellent way to take your paddling to the next level. If you have gotten some paddling experience, and are now looking for the next tool to take your paddling further, the Eskimo roll is a great skill to acquire. While rolling can make you ready for bigger, more intense whitewater, it does not make you a more advanced paddler all by itself. Rolling is a skill; it is not the essence of kayaking. Zoar offers rolling clinics throughout the year, and even in the winter months in a heated swimming pool. In the summer months we offer two types of roll clinics, basic and fine tuning

Basic rolling is for our first time rollers or those looking to fully master the roll in flat water or calm currents. Fine tuning your roll is for those who have accomplished their flat water rolls but need some help and tricks converting it to river situations. Acquiring a bombproof roll makes learning more advanced skills easier, and adds confidence to your paddling. However, we recommend that you gain considerable experience swimming yourself and your gear through rapids correctly before taking a rolling clinic.

Paddling Techniques and Tips

Forward Stroke for Speed
  • Speed = Stability, "When in doubt, paddle it out."
  • Sit up straight: don't bob or lean back or forward unnecessarily.
  • Wind-up your torso to plant your paddle as far to the front of the boat as possible, seek resistance to power the paddle to your hip and shed resistance to recover the paddle. The blade of the paddle should travel along the boat to help maintain a vertical paddle shaft.
  • Use torso rotation for power the stroke. Twist at the spine and push top shoulder and arm forward as you rotate and pull the opposite as you unwind.
  • If you increase your cadence you can increase your speed. "Don’t pull harder, pull smarter."
  • Be aggressive but smooth; you shouldn't splash the water.
  • If you are turning add a corrective sweep to put your boat back on line.
  • With a Cross Forward for canoe you will need to tilt at the waist to be able to plant as far forward and then sit-up. Practice a slice forward for underwater recovery
Draw to the hip, Sculling Draw or Pry (canoe) - Used to move to or away from the paddle
  • "Face your work." Rotate your torso to the side you are paddling on.
  • Maintain a vertical paddle shaft and keep your top hand at forehead height.
  • Find the best spot along the boat (bow, hip, stern) to perform the stroke to get the results you want.
  • For the sculling draw, move the blade in a figure eight motion with pressure on the power face to move to the paddle side or pressure the non-power face to move away from the paddle side.
  • For the draw to hip, move the boat toward the paddle or away from the paddle (pry).
  • Edge the boat as needed.
Brace - used to prevent a flip
  • The paddle only gives you temporary support to allow you to right the boat underneath you with the lower body.
  • Keep your arms within the “paddler’s box” to prevent shoulder injury.
  • Hold your paddle shaft horizontally, perpendicular to the centerline of the boat.
  • The high brace uses the power face and the low brace uses the non-power face. Use the paddle to tap the water and trigger the hip snap. Remember, the paddle does not do the work; your lower body does.
  • Keep your head down until your boat is upright.
Controlling a turn with a Draw (gliding, bow, cross - bow or duffek
  • Rotate your torso in the direction of the turn. Look where you want to go!
  • Paddle placement (bow, hip, stern) and blade angle (open, closed) will determine the size and type of turn.
  • This is a static stroke; you are not moving the blade to change the boat angle but controlling the arch of your turn.
  • The draw is not an isolated movement. You will need to combine it with forward speed and edge control.