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  • Writer's pictureJonny Hawkins

Be Adventure Aware - Decision Making for WW Kayakers

Updated: May 16, 2022

Making the right decision at the right time is a crucial skill for white water kayakers. Which river should we paddle? Do we need to get out to inspect or can we boat scout? Should I paddle the river's main event today?

Jess about to nail the line after following a good decision making process on the Roy Gorge

The importance of good decision making is true for skiers and mountaineers as well. They use a decision making process called Be Avalanche Aware to avoid getting caught in avalanches. Giles Trussel at Glenmore Lodge saw its relevance to all adventure sports so I thought I'd share this concept in the context of white water kayaking.

Amy enjoying a good line on a sunny River Garry after deciding to run the hardest rapid of the day

It uses a 3x3 system. Three phases of the journey and three factors that we need to consider at each phase.

The three phases 1) Planning - The weeks, days and hours before setting out

2) Journeying - Once you start traveling to the river and down it

3) Key places - Planned moments where you expect to make a crucial decision

The three factors 1) Weather forecast and current river conditions

2) You and your groups personal skills and experience

3) The river and surrounding landscape

Be Adventure Aware for paddlers
Adapted graphic from the SAIS Be Avalanche Aware website

3 Phases

Planning - This is the most important phase to have a safe and fun day out. Weather forecasts, river gauges, guidebooks, social media updates and group conversations all help you build up a picture of what to expect and pick a suitable river. 60% of decision making occurs here.

Your journey - This starts as soon as you leave your front door. Driving to the river, first glance of river levels, checking the river gauge, first paddle strokes and continually as you journey downstream. 35% of decision making occurs here.

Key places - Locations that you identify during your 'planning phase' that will require a big decision. The most obvious ones are getting on the river and the hardest rapid of the day. 5% of decision making occurs here and hopefully you are just confirming what you were expecting to do.

Jonny coaching white water kayak  line choice on the River Pattack
Confirming the decision to run the rapid at the 'key place'. Just figuring out the finer detail now.

3 Factors

Weather forecast and current river conditions - How much rain is forecasted? Is there going to be any snow melt? What is the gauge reading? Is the river rising or falling? Is the current weather what we expected? Are there any trees down from the recent storm?

You and your groups personal skills and experience - What are the group members abilities? Has anyone run the river before? What are the groups aims for the day? Are people feeling on their A game or a bit rusty? Could we rescue a swimmer if required?

The river and surrounding landscape - How steep is the catchment? Is there a dam holding water back or releasing it? Is the river committing or can you get off anywhere? Is it pool drop or continuous? Is there a blind bend coming up?

Robbin paddling one of the more committing rapids on the Tilt where escape from the river would be challenging

By considering all three factors at each phase of your paddle, you should be armed with lots of good information to make good decisions. As paddlers we will likely be doing a lot of this already but by using this structure, I hope it will improve your decision making, helping you to have safer and more enjoyable days out. Happy paddling!

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