7 Places to Learn to Paddle Whitewater

Looking to learn to paddle whitewater? Look no further than these shops and outfitters.

Whether you’re looking to rent a boat and try some gentle Class I or II rapids, want to learn to roll, read a river, or improve your paddle form, the following are good places to start. Most of these shops and organizations can help you with everything from selecting gear to organizing a guided trip. 

For more about how to start your river running journey, see “Dropping In.”

Bert’s Boats, Jeffersonville

If you want to try your hand at gentle paddling, improve your paddling technique or just get a taste of running calmer sections of the Lamoille, Winooski or other rivers, Berts Boats offers guided tours throughout the summer, with canoe and kayak rentals and one-way transportation so you don’t have to worry about a pick-up. You may not get a taste of true whitewater but these trips are a great introduction to river paddling. Owner Ken Roberts is a former champion whitewater canoe paddler and also runs the Champlain Valley Canoe and Kayak series. He’s an ACA instructor who can also teach you to roll, read a river and negotiate whitewater. Bertsboats.com

Clearwater Sports, Waitsfield

Here, you can demo or rent paddles, canoes, kayaks, spray skirts and life jackets. Clearwater Sports also offers beginner and intermediate whitewater clinics. Learn basic boat-handling and how to read a river with their novice clinic ($225-$245) or take a roll clinic on Blueberry Lake ($75). The shop sells used and demo gear at discounted rates. clearwatersports.com

Great Glen Trails Beginner Whitewater Kayak Program, Gorham, N.H.

Great Glen Trails offers beginner instruction starting at $125 per person. You’ll learn to execute a wet exit, self-rescue, paddle your boat in every direction, read river hydrology, practice eddy turns, peel outs, braces and more in this full-day clinic paddling the famed Androscoggin River through the White Mountains. greatglentrails.com

Mountain Man Outdoor Supply Company, Old Forge and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

With more than 1,000 canoes and kayaks in stock, Mountain Man is the perfect place to rent or demo a boat you might want to buy. Head to Paddlefest in Saratoga, April 25 & 26, and Old Forge, May 15-17, to try more than a thousand boats, paddles and other whitewater gear on the water.  mountainmanoutdoors.com

Umiak Outdoors, Richmond & Stowe

Umiak offers a wide array of kayaks and canoes and a host of clinics and guided paddling trips. Here you can buy your first boat new from an ACA-certified instructor or check out their selection of used gear. The Richmond location also specializes in whitewater boat repairs. Umiak offers roll clinics ($89 per session and up) at the Waterbury Reservoir. The shops can also put together a custom instruction package in whitewater paddling with an ACA-certified instructor. If you have some paddling experience and want to hone your river-running skills, consider signing up for the regularly-scheduled Upper Gorge guided day trip on the Winooski River, where you’ll paddle up to Class II rapids with instructor feedback. umiak.com

Vermont Paddlers’ Club, Waterbury

The club offers classes where you can learn basic  and intermediate paddling skills and how to roll a kayak. During the winter, the club hosts self-guided roll practice sessions in the indoor pools at Mt. Abraham Union High School in Bristol ($20, Jan.-Feb.) and Northern Vermont University in Johnson ($20, March 1-April 11), then on Waterbury Reservoir in the summer. Take the VPC Novice Clinic ($90, June 6-7) on the Winooski River, then sign up for their Class II Whitewater Clinic on the Deerfield ($50, July 11-12). vtpaddlers.net

Zoar Outdoor Novice Kayak or Canoe Clinic, Charlemont, Mass.

Just across the Vermont border, Zoar offers novice kayak and canoe clinics on May 27-31; July 1-5; and Aug. 19-23 (starting at $149). Here, you’ll learn to paddle a whitewater kayak and execute a wet exit along with other river skills on the dam-controlled Deerfield River. All gear is included. In addition to whitewater trips around the country, Zoar offers ACA instructor certification courses and instruction in paddling up to Class III whitewater for kayakers and canoeists. kayaklesson.com

If you’re looking for a great list of rivers where you can test your new skills with friends, see “5 Great Introductory Rivers to Run.”

Featured Photo: Vermont Paddlers’ Club instructor Paul Carlile demonstrates a roll during a winter practice session for members at the Mt. Abraham Union High School pool. Photo by Abagael Giles

Leave a comment