The White Water River and Creek
‘Whitewater is formed in a rapid, when a river’s gradient increases enough to generate so much turbulence that air is entrained into the water body, that is, it forms a bubbly or aerated and unstable current; the frothy water appears white. The term is also loosely used to refer to less turbulent, but still agitated, flows. The term “whitewater” also has a broader meaning, applying to any river or creek itself that has a significant number of rapids.’
There are five main “categories” in whitewater kayaking:
Riverrunning (practitioners use one word) is the essential form of kayaking. Whereas its derivative forms have evolved in response to the challenges posed by riverrunning, such as pushing the levels of difficulty and/or competing, riverrunning, of its own right, is more about combining one’s paddling abilities and navigational skills with the movements and environments of rivers themselves. Important to a riverrunner is the experience and expression of the river in its continuity rather than, say, a penchant for its punctuated “vertical” features (e.g. standing waves, play-holes and waterfalls). As for kayak design, a “pure” riverrunning boat can be said to have “driving ability” – a blend of qualities that enables the paddler to make the most of the differential forces in the river’s currents. For example, instead of spinning or pivoting the boat to change its direction, a riverrunner will drive the boat in such a way as to make use of the river’s surface features (e.g. waves, holes and eddylines) thus conserving the boat’s speed and momentum.
Creeking is perhaps best thought of as a subcategory of river running, involving very technical and difficult rapids, typically in the Grade/Class IV to VI range. While people will differ on the definition, creeking generally involves higher gradient (approaching or in excess of 100 ft per mi (19 m per km)), and is likely to include running ledges, slides, and waterfalls on relatively small and tight rivers.
Slalom is a technical competitive form of kayaking, and the only whitewater event to appear in the Olympic Games. Racers attempt to make their way from the top to the bottom of a designated section of river as fast as possible, while correctly negotiating gates (a series of double-poles suspended vertically over the river). There are usually 18–25 gates in a race which must be navigated in sequential order. Green gates must be negotiated in a downstream direction, red gates in an upstream direction. The events are typically conducted on Grade/Class II to Grade/Class IV water, but the placement of the gates, and precision necessary to paddle them fast and “clean” (without touching a pole and adding 2 seconds to the total time), makes the moves much harder than the water’s difficulty suggests.
Playboating, also known as Freestyle or Rodeo, is a more gymnastic and artistic kind of kayaking. While the other varieties of kayaking generally involve going from Point A to Point B, playboaters often stay in one spot in the river (usually in a hole, pourover or on a wave) where they work with and against the dynamic forces of the river to perform a variety of maneuvers. These can include surfing, spinning, and various vertical moves (cartwheels, loops, blunts, pistol and donkey flips, and many others), spinning the boat on all possible axes of rotation. More recently, aerial moves have become accessible, where paddlers perform tricks having gained air from using the speed and bounce of the wave.
Surf kayaking (‘out of category’, but relevant)
Surf kayaking is the sport, technique, and equipment, used in surfing ocean waves with kayaks. Surf kayaking has many similarities to surf board surfing, but with boats designed for use in surf zones, and with a paddle. A number of kayak designs are used, but all are aimed at better using the waves to propel the craft.