How to Paddle a Whitewater Raft Like a Pro

Are you nervous to hit the New or Gauley River whitewater rapids? Learning to paddle correctly is actually your best chance at staying in the boat. When you paddle full-force, you create a lot of balance points to keep yourself in the boat, while you help maneuver it through the rapid safely.

Paddling whitewater

Here are some tips to perfect your paddle technique:

Sitting in the raft

While the cross-tubes inside the raft (and further from the water) may look tempting, your balance actually comes from sitting on the outside of the raft. Use the tubes instead to plant your feet, tucking your front foot in under the tube ahead of you, and leaning your back leg against the one behind.

Gripping the paddle

The paddle has a T-shaped grip, so with your hand furthest from the water, wrap your hand around the grip, and the "T" will give you a good hold for your thumb. Place your other hand along the paddle shaft. Be sure to keep ahold of it; if you let go, the T-grip can be dangerous if it hits someone else.

Paddle strokes

When you paddle, your arms shouldn't be doing the work (they tucker out too easily, and don't gave as much strength as a full-body tug.) Lean forward and dig the paddle into the water straight, then pull with your whole body, so you end leaning back. When everyone paddles together, you'll all be moving in sync.

Back Strokes

To get a solid back stroke, you'll still begin leaning forward, but with the paddle back and against the top of your leg. Pull backward, and use your leg as an anchor to roll the paddle forward through the water.

In Action

Be sure to paddle hard! Your paddle is one of your 3 main points of balance, after your feet and seat in the boat. When you push hard against the water, it pushes back, giving you more thrust inward to the boat, and more stability.

What's your best paddling tip?