Introduction to Paddling in Rivers and Creeks

In the last few weeks, several questions were posted in Facebook Groups about a few of the “scary” incidents that happen on the Buffalo River and other rivers in north or northwest Arkansas.

25 May:….tumped while trying to navigate around a downed tree ……“There was nothing I could do.” or “The river was going so fast, it was inevitable that we flipped.” ….
26 May: … young man who … got into a whirlpool. I have floated our Buffalo River many times… advice what to look for and maybe a hint on how to get through them.
4 June: Can someone tell me how and what to watch for on the river to avoid a strainer?

A short answer to these and similar questions is to watch where the current is going. If the current is going somewhere you don’t want to go, then either (a) stop and get on shore or (b) maneuver to a clear line before you get too close to stop.

Rather than a more detailed reply that most likely would either be incomplete, please understand that eddys, currents, and waves are features present on most rivers and creeks. High water, strainers, sieves, ledges, and cold temperatures are some of the very common hazards. So as a person starts to ask questions about a specific event, the best answers should help develop an understanding of the more general situation that cumulated in the event.

A good way to begin learning about river features, hazards, and paddling techniques is to read books and watch videos. Spending time with an instructor or in an organized clinic is best, but many instructors may ask you to read books and watch videos before starting a clinic.

The most basic of river paddling skills are ferries, eddy turns and peal outs. Generally if a paddler can make ferries and get in and out of eddies on the fastest current on the planned part of the river, the paddler is probably ready for that river.

As one's control of paddle, boat direction, boat lean (or edging), and river reading increase, the number of strokes needed for a given ferry decrease. An indication of a solid paddler is the abiltiy to easily do single stroke ferrys. Practice ferrys, catching eddys and pealing out of eddys is one of the most effective ways to improve your canoe and kayak paddling. Counting eddys caught on each paddling trip, and setting a goal (10, 20, 30?) can be a big help, as just being able to see or anticipate an eddy takes practice. A small step up from catching and counting eddys, is to find and surf every wave.

River Paddling and Instruction Page.

Book of Bowie Front Page.

6 June 2020 r1

Questions or comments to Arthur Bowie Bentonville, Arkansas