The river renews

After several years of whitewater kayaking in a small, tight-knit group, the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club’s River Raiders youth program is…

After several years of whitewater kayaking in a small, tight-knit group, the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club’s River Raiders youth program is recruiting members for the 2006 paddling season.

“We wanted to keep it small and manageable, but, in a couple years, the experienced kids will be grown and there won’t be any River Raiders,” said kayak leader Vernon Beebe.

With that in mind, this winter the club offered brand-newbies a chance to try out the club’s short-play boats and rafts in the relative safety of the Canada Games Centre pool.

“The pool is a good place to practice the scary stuff — rolls, wet exits, rescues — without the cold water and current,” said Beebe.

Riding the river is a different beast entirely, and Beebe laid down the law on Monday at the city intake in Riverdale, during the Raiders’ second outdoor meeting of the year.

With a model of the river fashioned out of rope, twigs and stones, he described the various features and pitfalls that the river presents to kayakers: eddies, eddy walls, undercuts, pillows and sweepers.

“If you’re learning to kayak on the Yukon and you haven’t been scraped up, you will be,” warned Beebe to the 15 young paddlers in attendance.

“It’s pretty scary to be pushed underwater with a piece of plastic strapped to your butt,” said Beebe. He added that most people who try kayaking don’t stick with it.

“The reality is, this is an extreme sport, it’s not safe,” said Beebe. “We manage the risks the best we can.

“People see us out there playing on the spin waves, and it looks fun, but those kids have had the safety training — the Yukon is strong, fast and cold.”

The early season is a good time for beginners. The river is lower, which means it’s less powerful, and easier for paddlers to handle. “The kids get a feel for the boats before the river gets pushy,” said Beebe.

River Raiders’ members join up as a family — the main reason is safety. Parents or guardians are often paddlers as well, or they help out with shuttling or spotting from shore.

The River Raiders have also added rafting instruction this year, bringing in experts like Bob Daffe of Tatshenshini Expediting to offer guidance.

It’s a way to keep paddlers that aren’t interested in solo kayaking involved in the club.

“Some of them never reach that level where they will go into that main current,” said Beebe. “Rafting and canoeing is using that same skill set in a different way.”

“My daughter always complained that it was all boys in the club,” said Mary-Jane Oliver, another River Raiders kayak leader.

New girls join the group, but just didn’t come back.

“The rate of attrition is like 50 per cent for boys, but 90 per cent for girls.”

Oliver started the girls kayak group, and she hopes an atmosphere with a little less testosterone will encourage these new paddlers to stick with it.

“Boys don’t talk, they just find their wave and paddle in — girls like to talk about it, they’re more social.”

The various elements all come together when the club heads out for longer trips. The kids kayak while parents raft or canoe alongside, hauling the supplies as well.

Last year, the Raiders paddled the Wheaton, Primrose and Takhini rivers.

This year, the number of newer, less experienced paddlers means trips need to be tailored to skill level.

The club is planning to paddle the Tatshenshini in late July; other trips are still up in the air.

In addition to the regular Monday night sessions, the annual Whitewater Rodeo, a day-long event featuring kayaking, canoeing and rafting races, is scheduled for August 13 on the Yukon River.

Also, the club is bringing up American freestyle kayaker Anna Levesque to deliver a female only clinic to the girls’ group on July 18.

Public clinics with Levesque, for intermediate female kayakers, will be offered on July 19th and 20th. For more info contact Mary-Jane Oliver at 633-2297.