7 Tips for a New Paddler

Subaru and CanoeIt’s floating season here in Arkansas which means that it’s time to grab your kayak or canoe and head to the river. The best time to float the upper Buffalo National River is typically from March into June, although the amount of rainfall we get has the ultimate say in when you can go floating. Of course, different rivers are floatable at different times. Some rivers can still be floated long after rains have passed, while others offer a very brief window of availability. Considering that we’ve had a decent amount of precipitation this past month, now is a great time to get on the rivers.

Prime conditions and a passion for paddling aren’t all that’s required for a successful floating trip, however. You also need to know how to paddle your kayak or canoe. While some people are naturals, time and practice is the best way to improve your paddling prowess. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy your time on the river until you get a little more experienced.

  • Invest in a dry bag. Some items are fine if they get wet. Your hat, shirt, and shoes, can all dry out after a few minutes in the sun. Your food, phone, and toilet, however, become quite useless once soaked. A dry bag provides waterproof storage for the things that you need to keep dry.
  • Secure important items to your boat. What happens when you tip your canoe? You get wet and lose everything. Make sure that all of your items are contained and secured so that you limit what you lose in case you dump your boat.
  • Always carry a life jacket or PFD. This isn’t just great advice for your own safety, it’s the law. While it’s best if your wear your life jacket or personal flotation device, you must at the very least carry one for each person in your boat.
  • Don’t go alone. Canoes are hard to control solo unless you’ve got a lot of experience, and even though kayaks are designed for one person, you shouldn’t paddle by yourself. Accidents happen, and it’s good to have a buddy in case you find trouble.
  • Don’t hit the rivers when it’s raining. The more rain, the faster the river flows. The faster the river, the harder it is for beginners to paddle. Strong currents and rapids can cause problems for even experienced paddlers. If you’re new to the game, wait a couple of days after a rain before getting on the river. It’s always a good idea check river levels around Arkansas before heading out to paddle.
  • Go with someone who is more experienced than yourself. You could throw yourself in the deep end and learn by trial and error slowly and surely over the next ten years, or you could learn from someone who knows what they’re doing. Paddling with someone who is more knowledgeable and experienced is the best way to learn.
  • If you don’t have any river rat buddies, bite the bullet and take some lessons. There’s no shame in being taught how to do something properly. If paddling were an innate ability, we would all be born in canoes. Take the time to learn how to do it right, and you – and your paddling partner – will forever be grateful.

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