The Extreme Dangers Of Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater kayaking is just one of the extreme sports that you can perform today. It evolved from kayaking, a form of travel that was created by Eskimos. The Eskimos created the kayak for paddling through calm water and sometimes rapids, so as to move from one location to another. Much later, people discovered that kayaking through surging rapids gave them a thrill. Hence, whitewater kayaking was born!

whitewater rafting in rapids


This is where enthusiasts, adrenaline junkies and extreme sport lovers ride rapids in a kayak. They even tackle waterfalls to challenge nature and experience an adrenaline rush. The activity eventually became a sport for those who enjoy pushing themselves and nature to the limits.

As fun as it can be, it can also be quite dangerous, even life threatening. What are the dangers of whitewater kayaking? Read on to learn more.

The Extreme Nature Of Whitewater Kayaking

For us to understand the dangers of this extreme sport, we should first understand the nature of its arena. Whitewater is created in a section of river known as a rapid. This is where the gradient of the river increases to a level where the flow is disturbed and turbulence is created. The water becomes frothy and white in color.

group kayaking

There is an international measuring scale for river activity, known as the International Scale of River Difficulty. It categorizes whitewater rapids from levels 1 to 6. Whitewater at level 1 is calm, slow, easy and safe. On the other hand, level 6 is furious, very fast, highly dangerous and virtually impassable. Whitewater kayaking is performed mostly in level 6 river water, creating the following dangers for kayakers.

Dangers Of Whitewater Kayaking

To get a supreme adrenaline rush, whitewater kayakers tackle furious rapids, narrow river passes and waterfalls. In these natural river features, the water is moving so fast, and at such high volumes, that kayakers lose control of their rafts and simply fight for survival, all the way down the rapid or waterfall.

While riding the rapids, you are faced with the danger of hitting rocks that are huge and emerging out of the water. You can also get hit by underwater rocks as well. Rapids sometimes form water vortexes, which move in a swirling motion and suck kayakers and swimmers down to the bottom of the river. Finding yourself in a vortex can lead to capsizing and drowning because you cannot paddle against the force of it.

river rocks while rafting

If your kayak capsizes and your leg, arm or neck gets stuck between the jagged rocks, you are at a very serious risk of drowning. This often happens to kayakers who tackle rapids which are at level 6 on the ISRD scale. You are also faced with the risk of riding right into broken tree trunks that are either fully or partly submerged in the water. You can easily get impaled on one and bleed to death.

Part of whitewater kayaking involves tackling waterfalls. When you ride under these natural features, you can get crushed at the bottom by the sheer mass of water coming down. Moreover, you can get forced into a flat landing at the bottom and break your back instantly.

This leads to an inability to move, thus leading to an eventual drowning if no one is around to help. If you ever find yourself capsizing, use your paddle to leverage your weight off of any surrounding hard surface to right yourself up immediately. Keep this up until you navigate the rapid and move to calmer water.

kayaker in waterfall

How Can You Keep Yourself Safe When Whitewater Kayaking?

The first thing to do is to pick a river rapid that you can handle. Higher levels of river difficulty such as levels 4 to 6 are for professional whitewater kayakers. Therefore, pick a rapid that is on a level you can handle successfully and safely.

Also, ensure that you are in ideal physical shape to handle the demanding nature of rapids. Work out and achieve good physical fitness before trying to navigate a whitewater river. This allows you to be strong enough to paddle your way through it and survive any flips or jumps along the way.

Safety always comes first. Therefore, make sure that you wear a helmet, use high quality kayaking gear and use a capable kayak. Also, observe the principles of safe kayaking throughout your navigation of the whitewater rapids. It’s best to go with a friend or group so everyone can keep an eye on each other in case an emergency arises.

group kayaking


Whitewater kayaking gives you a strong adrenaline rush. The activity of paddling through charging rapids and plunging hundreds of feet down waterfalls can give you the rush that you need. Despite the excitement it brings, whitewater kayaking is extremely dangerous.

Some of its perils are indicated above. Therefore, wear safety gear and judge the rapids logically to avoid riding into dangerous areas that you cannot handle. This will lead to a fulfilling whitewater kayaking experience.