ADVICE FROM THE FIELD

Kevin started whitewater rafting and kayaking two years ago. After literally getting “in over his head” on his maiden whitewater kayaking voyage, he learned that going solo when you have no experience is a bad idea. He started rafting with groups to get more experience with higher-class rapids. While he currently limits his solo kayaking to class II–III rapids, he frequently participates in class IV–V rafting trips with others. 

 

WHY YOU DO IT

I started kayaking on lakes in New York in 2013. Once I joined the Air Force in 2016 and got stationed in northern California, the abundance of mountains and nature drew me outdoors. I constantly found myself hanging out at beautiful river spots. It eventually made sense to combine the two and try kayaking on the river. I instantly loved the rush and “fight” with the river, compared to kayaking on still water.

FAVORITE SPOT

For whitewater rafting, my favorite place is the North Fork Yuba River. A class IV–V river, it is smack in the middle of Tahoe National Forest. When rafting it, you are surrounded by towering pine trees on both sides, with the occasional jagged mountain peak. It’s also a great spot to see black bear and bald eagles.

CLOSE CALL

The first time I went in whitewater with my kayak, I had no experience at all and decided to just wing it. I wasn’t wearing a life vest or a helmet, but the spot seemed relatively calm. The water was moving faster than I expected. As I neared an upcoming rapid, I tried to paddle out back to shore but realized it was too late. I knew I had to face it head-on now or risk going in backwards while trying to get to shore. I paddled faster into it and, for a split second, thought I was about to pull it off. Then a wave came crashing from my right, instantly flipping my kayak and throwing me out. The river was deep and wide, and my kayak was already too far to grab on to. I started swimming as hard as I could, trying to stay on top of the water as it kept smacking me under. Realistically, it probably took only 60 seconds to swim back to shore, but it felt much longer. The water was moving fast enough that by the time I was on shore I couldn’t even see the rapid that flipped me upriver. I managed to find my kayak pinned up against the shore in a spot I was able to walk to, but I never saw my paddle again.

LESSONS LEARNED
Don’t engage in any dangerous activity by yourself when you have no experience, and never engage in whitewater activities without wearing a life vest and helmet. Since I did not originally plan to go through a rapid, I was not wearing either, and I am extremely lucky I did not hit my head on a rock and that I was able to swim myself out.

 

TOP TIPS

Never underestimate moving water, and let someone know when and where you are going.

SrA Quigley in front-row, right