Creeking Stroke Tips and Techniques for Whitewater Kayaking

Guy in kayak

Creeking is considered both a sport and a game of strategy. When you’re on a creek in your kayak, half the time you’ll spend scouting the area, while the other half is spent picking lines based on how you predict a river is going to impact your kayak. The creeking stroke tips and techniques for whitewater kayaking that I’ve included here are designed to keep you safe, while allowing you to get the most out of your next adventure out on the water. Using a good whitewater kayak, you can enjoy ripping and turning, and flying down creek beds using specialized techniques that the pros do.

Creeking Strokes at the Beginner’s Level

Creeking can be dangerous compared to other types of kayaking, such as sea kayaking.  Unlike sea kayaking where you have to learn how to handle waves in your kayak, creeking poses other threats and concerns. It can take years of experience to learn how to smoothly navigate tight channels and lines like a pro, but there are some techniques that the newbie can practice that can help them navigate these difficult waters.

Additionally, this type of kayaking typically requires gear that you would not normally use for regular kayaking. Equipment can include knee pads, elbow pads, and flow bags. It can also be dangerous since learning how to navigate slow water level rapids can be a challenge. It’s easy to become pinned in a channel if it’s very narrow and the kayaker is inexperienced. When you’re creeking, you’ll need to learn how to predict how the river runs and how it can have an impact on your paddling experience. If you’re new to this style of kayaking, then this article will be invaluable. I’ll go over the different types of paddling techniques you can try that will prevent your vessel from being pinned in a narrow channel, how to keep water out of your kayak, and what you to pick up more speed safely.

Ricochets

Ricochets are a type of move that many kayakers will rely on when they’re creeking. It involves using rocks as you work your way down the river. Instead of trying to dodge rocks in your path, you’ll simply boof over them, using them for leverage and to your advantage in order to change direction.

The speed scrub is a type of ricochet that will be crucial to learn since it can allow you to easily slow down the speed of your kayak in order to take a breather. For this move, you’ll find a rock in your path that you will use to redirect your angle of attack, catch a breather, or slow your speed. The key to this move is simple. All you have to do is lean into the rock. You’ll want to ensure that you hit the water that comes off the rock in a spot that’ll send you where you need to go. The pillow of water should be hit on the side of the highest point towards the direction you want to go in. You can use different angles of attack and the different shapes of the rocks in order to help you change direction. Use your elbow or hand to check your balance on the obstruction. Using the pillow of water off the rock can help you flow smoothly down the river. The next step is using positive strokes to head in the direction you want to go.

Speed

Close-up of young

Speed ricochets are similar to boofs, however, you’ll use the shape of the water and rock to help you attain a new direction instead of just going up and over the rock. Find a place on the rock that you can use to help you turn. Rocks that angle down to the left will help you turn left, just like rocks that are angled down to the right will help you make a right turn. With this move, you’ll actually lean away from the rock in order to lift your edge on it. Use a boof stroke on the side, in order to drive up on the rock. The stroke should not be so strong that it carries you over. Force should be applied to the stroke if needed in order to adjust your angle and head in the desired direction.

Low Brace

Mastering the low brace in white water conditions will be important. Essentially, it’s the key to keeping your kayak stable in the rapids, preventing the kayak from being spun or you from getting flipped. It should be employed precisely between strokes. You will use a paddle blade as a type of outrigger.

To do:

  • Begin by sitting upright and arching your back. The paddle should be held across a kayak and close to your navel, with your elbows placed directly over your hands. The backside of the paddle’s blade should rest flat on the water.
  • The kayak should be tilted a few degrees to the side, which you can do by slightly shifting your weight and pressing your opposite knee against the hull. For additional support, try sweeping  the blade of the paddle back and forth on the water’s surface, however, you’ll want to avoid leaning on it. Instead, control the tilt with your hips

Practicing Escape Techniques

Creeking in a canoe can be challenging for even the most experienced kayaker. Before you decide to go it alone, it’s important that you practice certain safety stroke techniques that can get you out of a bind, especially if the waters are particularly rough.

When you’re paddling on a large river and you’re dealing with lines that can be 6 to 10 ft wide, it can be pretty easy to avoid getting stuck in a hole. However, when you’re paddling on a creek these lines are no longer several feet wide. Instead, you’re dealing with inches. Getting stuck in a hole is all part of creeking in a kayak, which is why it’s so important that you practice how to avoid them and get out of them.

Catching must-make eddie’s is one of the biggest challenges on a difficult creek. But even micro Eddie’s that fit kayaks can be a challenge to fit through if you have a longer rig. Practicing with an experienced kayaker on how to avoid getting sucked into tight channels and how to use your surroundings to anchor yourself can help prevent you from slipping backward into a rapid that you simply wanted to scout.

Also try preparing for creeking by paddling small lines on runs you are familiar with, without stopping to empty out water. This will take practice, however; you can control much shorter whitewater kayaks even when they’re almost full. The key here is to keep the kayak pointed downstream, in addition to starting far in advance, while maintaining momentum since accelerating at this point can be very difficult.

Scouting Hazards

When your creeking, you may find yourself floating along the river smoothly until you reach a stretch of whitewater. If you’re a beginner, then you may need to pull to shore and assess how the rapids are rated and determine if you’re capable of handling them. At this time, you will also want to check out the water and search for hazards that can pin you or flip you. This can include a downed tree or a large boulder that has waves piling up on its upstream side.

Take a look at the route and monitor the water conditions to determine whether or not you can pull it off or if you need to choose another route. Do the rapids flush into a gentle pool? Consider the consequences of what will happen should you get flipped. It’s also important that you learn how to recognize and turn into eddies.

Running the Rapids

To start, you’ll want to follow the line that has been created by the main channel. From a kayaker’s vantage, it appears like an inverted V and will work to push you in your desired direction. Another option is to simply paddle hard in order to move faster than the current. Doing so can help you maintain control.

Safety Precautions

  • On a creek, paddling can become a major hazard, and can lead to trauma caused by hitting rocks, should your kayak overturn. Unlike big water paddling, creeking involves plenty of land-based safety. This means that you’ll be closer to shore than you would be if you were paddling on a larger body of water.
  • Creeks are so shallow that you can be sure your paddle is going to take on plenty of wear and tear. Because of this, it’s important that you keep an extra breakdown paddle stored in the back of your kayak which can mean the difference between having to make a treacherous climb or hike out or being able to paddle.
  • Bring along a pin kit, which contains tools that you’ll need in order to pull equipment out of the water. This includes a populated or empty kayak that is pinned. Pin kits contain pieces that are necessary to clip onto a boat, pulling it out either by using a Z-drag or by simply pulling on the kayak.
  • Wearing the right footwear when you’re creeking will also be important. The right kayaking shoes offer a couple of advantages. First, they’ll allow you to walk safely along the shoreline, while also providing foot protection if you find yourself swimming in the water.
  • Using a PDF rescue vest can help to keep you safe and will come equipped with a variety of built-in features including a quick-release harness system that can come in handy if need to be towed out of the water.
  • Wearing elbow pads can also offer much-needed protection in any type of shallow water conditions.
  • While every creek is unique and possesses its own challenges, bringing along safety equipment will be essential in the event of an emergency. Wearing protective gear such as knee and elbow pads can keep you safe and can prevent abrasions, scratches, bruises, and serious injuries.
  • Practicing self-rescue, such as how to escape a flipped kayak and righting it, will be essential. Should you find yourself in the water, make sure that you swim near the boat, which will make you highly visible. Do your best to stay upstream of the boat to prevent it from slamming into you.
  • If you get tossed from your kayak, floating on your back with your feet pointed up as you flow downstream with your legs bent can help to absorb impact and will allow you to push off of objects in the water.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to ride whitewater rapids can open up a whole new way to explore a river. It’s also much easier than many kayakers think. By practicing these creeking stroke tips and techniques, mastering the fundamentals, and practicing with experienced kayakers, you’ll be ready to begin the season with a whole new type of adventure. Remember, it’s important to stay safe and bring along the proper gear, in addition to scouting out the area and bringing along a map that can show you the entire route so you can do your scouting more efficiently and take into consideration the length of the route, so you can build up to that type of mileage when you’re training with your buddies and learning how to handle whitewater conditions.