How to White Water Kayaking – The Basics for Beginners

Have you already booked your Kayak course, but you are a beginner and would now like to know the ropes? This is the right place for you.

The basic Kayak equipment

First and foremost, some special gear is needed. Of course, you will need a kayak and a paddle. The type of those will depend on what kind of kayaking you will be doing and your previous experience on white water. Check our guide on kayak and paddle selection.

Next are three very important pieces: PFD (known as lifejacket), kayak shoes and a WW helmet (to protect your 😎). You will have to be dressed according to the weather as well. Normally, we use neoprene long johns. For closed kayaks spray skirts are recommended. They are special skirts which prevent your boat filling with water.

Don’t worry if you have none of the above. At Kayak Soča we will provide everything you need, including warm anoraks for cooler days. Therefore, you really just come and go paddling.

How to kayak – Equipment

Be safe in a Kayak: White water safety

Secondly, before you go paddling, you have to know which precautions to take. Kayaking is an extreme sport and as with all extreme sports, danger is included with our package as well. No worries, before we go on water, we always have a safety brief, therefore everybody knows what to do in case of too much adrenaline.  

Friends and enemies

Rocks are in every river you paddle and although they might seem scary, they are your biggest friends. If you see you are going towards a rock, and you cannot do anything to prevent it, just lean towards the rock and hug it. Your boat won’t roll over and you will be slowly washed off. On the other hand, trees, and tree branches are not as friendly, therefore we will avoid them, and hug them on dry land.

Swimming in wildwater

However, if a capsize happens, don’t panic. Just lay on your back and stretch your legs forward. Thus, you will be able to push away from rocks, if they happen to appear in front of you. When you reach calmer waters, just actively swim to the bank. And as always listen to your instructor, he may be showing you the direction in which you should swim. Oh, and remember, you first, then the equipment.  

If you want to know more about whitewater safety, make sure to check 5 most useful whitewater safety skills for kayakers or our Safety & Rescue course.

Best Kayak paddling technique for beginners

Finally, you are almost ready to sit in a kayak and paddle into the sunset 🌅. The only thing left to learn is how to paddle. Grab your paddle (each hand about 1,5 fists from the blade), you will notice it is not as symmetrical as it seems, the longer side of the blade should be up. Also, blades are curved as spoons, we turn them in a way in which we are scooping as much water as possible.

After you sit in a kayak (make sure you put your feet on footrests and your knees are on side supports), put the left blade of your paddle in the water on the left side of your kayak and pull. Then the right one on the right side. And so on…

Of course, there is much more to kayaking as putting the blade into the water. On Kayak Soča’s one or multiday course you will learn also basic strokes, steering, surfing and other basic (and advanced) kayaking skills.  

It’s not that difficult, however, there are a couple of secrets, which will help you be a better kayaker. We give some of them away in this post😉.

Best level for beginners – White water levels

Beginning with the water levels. You will hear a lot about them, if you plan kayaking for more than once. There are V-VI grades of white water, depending on the scale you are looking at. Soča offers all the levels. Long story short Grade I is a fast moving but mostly flat water, whereas Grade VI has yet to be run. As a beginner, you will be paddling mostly on WW I-II. However, after a 5-day kayak school(link), you might be ready for WW III.

How to navigate the river in the kayak


Have you noticed the river does not always flow down? Behind the rocks or near the banks water starts to recirculate and going upstream, that’s called and eddy. Eddies are a very important for all kayakers, since we can stop in them and take a break.

Leaving and entering the current

Entering the current in white water, also known as “eddy hopping” or “catching eddies,” is an essential kayaking skill that allows you to navigate through turbulent water and avoid obstacles. It involves moving from calm water (an eddy) into the flowing water (the current) and can be challenging but exhilarating. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to enter the current in white water:

  1. Choose the Right Eddy: Approach the eddy (calm water) that you want to use for catching the current. Look for eddies behind rocks, on river bends, or along the riverbanks. Ideally, select an eddy that is large enough to comfortably fit your kayak.
  2. Paddle Toward the Eddy Line: As you approach the eddy, you’ll encounter the eddy line, which is the boundary between the calm water and the current. It appears as a visible seam or line where the water is flowing in opposite directions.
  3. Angle Your Kayak: To smoothly enter the eddy, angle your kayak at about a 45-degree angle towards the eddy line. This angle will allow you to use the flow of the current to help you pivot into the eddy.
  4. Apply the Right Stroke: Use a forward sweep stroke or a bow draw stroke on the side you want to turn into the eddy. For example, if you want to enter the eddy on your left, use a forward sweep stroke on the left side of your kayak.
  5. Lean and Edge: Shift your body weight slightly towards the direction of the eddy you want to enter. Edging your kayak by tilting it slightly to the same side will enhance your stability during the turn.
  6. Catch the Eddy: As you execute the stroke and edge your kayak, you should feel the boat respond and turn towards the eddy. Keep paddling and maintain control of your kayak as you enter the eddy.
  7. Identify Your Exit Point: Before leaving the eddy, identify a clear and safe exit point where you can enter the downstream current. Look for the eddy line, which marks the boundary between the calm water of the eddy and the flowing water of the main current.
  8. Angle Your Kayak: Position your kayak at an angle toward the downstream current. This angle will help you catch the current more efficiently when you leave the eddy.
  9. Use Forward Paddling: Use forward paddle strokes on the side opposite to the direction you want to turn. For example, if you want to leave the eddy and enter the current on your right side, use forward strokes on the left side of your kayak. This technique is called a “peel-out” or “ferry” stroke.
  10. Lean and Edge: Lean your body slightly in the direction of the turn while edging your kayak. Edging means tilting your kayak slightly on its edge to improve stability during the maneuver.
  11. Time Your Exit: Time your exit carefully to take advantage of the downstream current. As you gain momentum, the current will help carry you out of the eddy and into the main flow.
  12. Keep Your Eyes Downstream: Look in the direction you want to go and keep your eyes downstream. This will help you maintain your balance and navigate through any obstacles as you leave the eddy.
  13. Commit to the Current: Once you’ve initiated the maneuver, commit to it fully. Maintain your paddle strokes and keep your kayak pointed in the direction of the current.
  14. Control Your Speed: As you enter the main current, you may experience an increase in speed. Control your kayak’s speed by adjusting your paddle strokes and edging as needed.
  15. Be Prepared: Always be prepared for changes in the river’s flow and conditions. Stay alert and adapt your technique as required.

Eskimo rolling (the secret of Pros)

Do you have kayaking friends, who cannot stop talking about their Eskimo skills? Eskimo roll is a way to get the boat turned upwards again, if you capsize. This technique is used exclusively by the Pros. So, if you know how to do it, you become a true kayak-guru. Moreover, you can learn it in Soča valley with us.

How to kayak – Eskimo roll

All you need to know as first time white water kayaker

SO if you’ve ever dreamed of embarking on a thrilling kayaking adventure in the captivating Soča valley, now is the perfect time to take the plunge. With this comprehensive guide at your fingertips, you have all the essential information to kickstart your kayaking journey with confidence.

Equipped with the right gear, safety knowledge, and basic paddling techniques, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the stunning white water landscapes that Soča has to offer. Whether you’re a beginner seeking a gentle introduction to kayaking or a seasoned paddler eager to master the art of Eskimo rolling, the possibilities for growth and excitement are endless.

Our team at Kayak Soča is dedicated to providing you with the best experience possible. We’re here to support and guide you every step of the way, ensuring that you build essential skills and feel safe on the water. Join us for an unforgettable kayak course that will leave you with cherished memories and a newfound love for this exhilarating sport.

So, don’t hesitate any longer! Book your kayak course with Kayak Soča, and get ready to paddle with style in one of Europe’s most stunning destinations. Explore hidden eddies, conquer exhilarating rapids, and immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of the Soča valley. Your kayaking adventure awaits, and we can’t wait to share it with you. Let’s paddle together and create memories that will last a lifetime. See you on the water!

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