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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: Letting go of winter … reluctantly

  • Waterplay: A little boat in big water is big fun if you know what you are doing. This spring is a great time to learn! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Waterplay: A little boat in big water is big fun if you know what you are doing. This spring is a great time to learn! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Kayak Class: Taking a whitewater kaying class like this one at Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, MA, is the best way to safely learn whitewater paddling skills. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Kayak Class: Taking a whitewater kaying class like this one at Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, MA, is the best way to safely learn whitewater paddling skills. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Waterplay: A little boat in big water is big fun if you know what you are doing. This spring is a great time to learn! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • Kayak Class: Taking a whitewater kaying class like this one at Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, MA, is the best way to safely learn whitewater paddling skills. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

This has been pretty close to the best winter ever, with more than two feet of snow falling up north last week and the cold hanging on nicely! We’re all going to be able to keep enjoying snowsports until at least mid-April, maybe longer. By the time we’re done with fun in the snow, it’ll actually be spring.

But, the other day I walked into my garage and got ambushed. Quite unexpectedly, the brightly colored blades of all the kayak paddles hanging on the wall suddenly snapped into focus. Funny, I hadn’t noticed them all winter, but there they are, ready for open water.

It’ll be a while before the water warms enough for

most people to launch their kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and windsurfers. But whitewater kayaking has already begun on the rivers of the Northeast and will hit full swing in the next month or so as the snowmelt runoff raises the water level. Whitewater kayaking is, perhaps, (other than spring skiing, of course), the best way to enjoy mud season. Makes sense when you think about it since it’s rapidly melting snow that creates both the mud and the perfect conditions for whitewater paddling.

Paddling on swiftly flowing, cold water around rocks and other obstacles is not something you just do; it’s something you learn how to do in increments. You need the right gear and, more importantly, the right skills to do it safely. And you can’t really learn those skills on your own.

I have to admit, I’m purely a dabbler in whitewater paddling. I’ve taken a few lessons in the past, run a few easy stretches of whitewater, and have always hugely enjoyed the adrenaline rush and sensory overload you get from being in a small boat on flowing water. But I’ve never gotten good enough to really be comfortable with it, especially not in really turbulent water.

But, like anything else, you have to start where you are and get better from there. I’ve signed up for a three-session lesson (one pool session, two on-river) with the New Hampshire chapter of the AMC this spring (details below). I’m hoping this will get me comfortable enough to practice my skills on my own in the Class II sections of the river that flows near my home and, I hope, let me progress to lessons in Class III water.

That’s my goal for this mud season. What’s yours? Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Where to learn

Several business and a number of paddling clubs in New England offer whitewater paddling classes each year. It’s a great way to have fun and safely learn the skills you need. If you happen to go to or have graduated from a college with an outing club, many offer whitewater instruction. Some choices:

New Hampshire

AMC-NH (nhamcpaddlers.org/events_schools/spring_school_2014.php) runs a spring paddling school with pool sessions in Nashua and a full weekend of on-river sessions. I’ve signed up for this spring school this year in hopes that it will be the tipping point that finally gets me comfortable with whitewater paddling. At $125 (for AMC members, $160 for non-members) for one evening of pool instruction and two days on the rivers with volunteer instructors, this is a bargain.

Great Glen Outdoor Center (greatglentrails.com/summer/outdoor-center-2/paddling/whitewater-kayaking) in Pinkham Notch offers instruction into the summer when the water is warmer. An eight-hour clinic is $100.

Vermont

Umiak Outfitters (umiak.com/Summer/Instruction.html) in Stowe

Maine

Maine Kayak (mainekayak.com/wwkayak.html) in Millinocket

Northeast Whitewater (northeastwhitewater.com/kayak-school.php) in Greenville

Send It, Whitewater, for advanced levels only (senditww.com) in Millinocket

Massachusetts

AMC Boston (amcbostonpaddlers.org/kayakinstruction)

Zoar Outdoor (kayaklesson.com) on the Deerfield River in Charlemont. I’ve taken the two-day introductory whitewater course with Zoar, and a two-day intermediate clinic ($250 each), and recommend them highly. All the instructors are ACA certified and excellent.

Connecticut

AMC-CT (ct-amc.org/paddle/index.shtm).

Paddling demos and events

If you are looking forward to open water and all kinds of kayaking, and especially if you are looking to buy a new kayak, these demo events will let you compare a lot of boats in one place, which is both fun and instructive.

∎ March 28-30, New England Paddlesports Show, Kittery Trading Post (ktpevents.com) and UNH Field House, Durham. (Note: There’s no actual paddling available at this show, but it’s a great kickoff to the paddling season.)

∎ April 26-27: Demo/Sale, Collinsville Canoe and Kayak (cckstore.com), Collinsville, Conn.

∎ May 3-4: Demo Weekend, The Kayak Centre of Rhode Island (kayakcentre.com/demo-weekend.htm), North Kingstown, R.I.

∎ May 3-4 Saratoga Paddlefest, Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company (mountainmanoutdoors.com/saratoga-paddlefest.html), Saratoga Springs Paddlesports, Saratoga, N.Y.

∎ May 10, Demo/Sale, Kittery Trading Post and Spring Hill, South Berwick, Maine.

∎ May 16-18, Adirondack Paddlefest, Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company (mountainmanoutdoors.com/pages/adirondack-paddlefest.html), Old Forge, N.Y.

∎ May 18, Demo/Sale, Contoocook River Canoe Company (contoocookcanoe.com), Concord

∎ June 6-8 Maine Canoe Symposium, (mainecanoesymposium.org) in Bridgton, Maine

∎ May 30-June 1, Paddle Fest, LL Bean (llbean.com/paddle), Freeport, Maine

∎ June 20-22, Demofest, Zoar Outdoors (zoaroutdoor.com/demofest.htm), Charlemont, Mass. This is the only demo I know of that focuses on whitewater boats.

∎ All summer, EMS has a traveling kayak demo at different locations throughout New England. For the complete list, go to ems.com and type “kayak demo” in the search box, or call your local EMS store.

Paddling film festival

Don’t miss the Reel Paddling Film Festival at Red River Theatres in Concord on April 16. The festival is co-sponsored by Fish and Game and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (northernforestcanoetrail.org). Tickets are $12 ($10 for students) at the door.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)

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