Kids and Whitewater

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

was 13. In college, he took a Columbia Parks and Recreation kayaking class. "I made a commitment and bought the gear before I took the class. Once I had the gear, I figured I had to put the effort into learning the sport."

Both the Murphys and McCanns have attended the Nantahala Outdoor Course, on the North Carolina river. It's the Harvard Law School of whitewater instruction. McCann feels a week spent there is worth years spent trying to learn kayaking on your own.

Debbie Murphy was apprehensive about kayaking, especially since her husband and his friends were so far advanced, so she drove the shuttle vehicle and did trip chores for a while before she finally decided to get into boating. She took easy trips at first. "It's smart to take it slow and get comfortable with the equipment," she says.

She's comfortable enough now that she and Mike kayaked 280 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, a 14-day trip. She portaged Lava and Crystal Falls, the river's two biggest rapids, but otherwise ran countless huge runs (and swam through Hance Rapids, one of the river's toughest, after she turned over).

The kayak is among the oldest of watercraft, originally developed for ocean travel, not for whitewater. Northern natives learned to pop themselves back upright after they'd turned over, the maneuver known as the Eskimo roll. It was a necessity to keep from freezing in Arctic water.

The roll involves coordination, not strength, and involves levering yourself upright with the extended paddle blade. Experienced kayakers can roll even without a paddle - a trick known as the "hand roll." Some people learn the roll easily; others never do.

Jesse Murphy had no problems at first, even did a hand roll, but then developed what his mother calls "a crisis of confidence" and lost the ability for a while. His sister took to it with magnificent aplomb and rolls easily in the toughest water.

There's more to kayaking than just running a river. Kayakers delight in "play spots," hydraulic phenomena that let them do "enders" - or surf on the crest of a wave. An ender is when the kayaker digs the bow of the kayak into a hole and becomes vertical to the water. McCann's first kayak, a fragile garage sale fiberglass craft, was crushed like an eggshell in an ender hole.

The trend in kayaks is to smaller, flatter plastic boats that allow

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