10 Things Only Whitewater Kayakers Understand | Rapid Magazine | Rapid Media
A kayaker at the base of a rapid in a red creek boat. Photo: Flickr user Jeff Moore

Quirks, moments and experiences only members of the strange and wonderful world of whitewater paddling will recognize

1. Feeling like someone you spent one day kayaking with is a close friend

Sometimes friends you spent a single day paddling with become close buddies in your mind. We’re not sure why exactly, but we think it has something to do with the instant trust you place in the hands of your paddling partners and the enthusiasm for a shared experience. Whatever it is, we know we make friends way faster on the river than at the bar (but we like the bar too).

2. Feeling terrified and ecstatic in the same five minutes

Whitewater kayaking is so full of different features and conditions that your emotions can ride the full spectrum over the course of a day on the river. Every paddler knows the feeling of scouting a technical drop or a rapid bigger than they are used to and feeling the familiar rustle of butterflies in the stomach. Once you successfully tackle the feature in question, the satisfaction and stoke you have for yourself happily creeps in.

3. The notion of living in your car for months is a dream you aspire to

Many people dream of owning a beautiful home and filling it with expensive and stylish furniture. Whitewater kayakers find their dreams often take a slight detour—think no home, a sweet van, a kayak for every discipline and no schedule. The idea of living in your vehicle and paddling a new stretch of river everyday and never checking your inbox is the real American Dream for paddlers.

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4. Forming a single dreadlock every summer

Constant wet hair inside a helmet, beanies and the curious lack of a comb at take-outs all season long can lead to the inevitable uni-lock. Once it gets going, it’s hard to tackle. Bonus points if your uni-lock is part of a mullet. See #5.

5. Going for a quick paddle and coming home twelve hours later

When you have a commitment in the evening but want to squeeze in a session on your local play wave or explore a new section of river, it’s easy to tell yourself (and your friends) it will be just a few hours. This is seldom true. A host of events can stretch a kayak session hours longer than expected, including lost keys, shuttle problems, a bad swim, forgetting your watch or just having a really, really awesome time on the water.

6. Getting extremely excited when you find out your new friend is a kayaker too

Not everyone you meet understands the thrill of spending days paddling remote rivers or how it feels to get your flat spin the first time. When you find out someone likes this incredibly specific sport just as much as you do, it’s a bit like being a kid on Christmas morning.

7. Conceiving of the mullet as an acceptable hairstyle

Short and serious on top and long and free-spirited in the back? Sign us up. Most paddlers can count multiple friends who have sported mullets. There is nothing as spectacular as taking off your helmet at the end of a long day of river running and shaking out a mullet straight out of the 1970’s.

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8. Risking an indecent exposure charge every time you go paddling

Few other sports include so many 30-second nudists. When the change room for kayakers is the forest, parking lot or just a section of riverbank, a few moments of nudity at the takeout and put in is par for the course.

9. Owning a $500 car and a $2,000 kayak

Whitewater kayakers understand that money is best spent on amazing experiences, not material items. You just need a car that will get you to the river and the fry truck after paddling. But a gorgeous carbon kayak or that new creek boat you’ve been eyeing? Those items are worth spending money on, every time.

10. Sleeping literally anywhere except a bed

Whitewater kayakers are well versed in the concept that anything you can get horizontal on is an appropriate sleeping spot. Think dirt patches, pallets, ditches, trunks, roofs, farmer’s fields and stranger’s couches. Real dirtbags know some minor discomfort (like having rocks as pillows) is a small price to pay for keeping costs low and staying close to the river at all times.

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