Kids and Whitewater

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

great maneuverability. The kayak becomes the person and the person the kayak. "They're called 'play boats,''' McCann says. "They're great for acrobatic tricks."

Rafts can be either paddle-type for the smaller ones, or rowed for the larger ones. The two McCann youngsters paddle the family raft.

Rapids running is an exhilarating experience, but there is danger. Rivers, like all natural forces, are implacable. If you make a mistake, the river will not say, Okay - I'll let you go this time, but don't let it happen again.

Both McCann and Murphy have been present when people have been seriously hurt kayaking and have been on rivers when people in other parties died.

McCann had a close call when he was sucked over a 20-foot waterfall and was tumbled over and over in the recirculating wash below the drop. "I had time to get my feet downstream and utter a prayer," he says. "Somebody had died in that rapids just a short time before. I felt a rock with my feet and was able to kick just right and got out of it. But it took about a year before I got my confidence level back up."

McCann twice has contracted giardia, a bacterial disease, on a western river. "It's unavoidable to swallow some water," he says. "I know several people who've gotten sick from contaminated water."

Given the dangers, the logical question, then, is, "Why expose your children to such hazardous situations?"

"We don't take them on rivers that have a bad reputation - certain rock formations that form 'keepers' or other dangerous rapids," McCann says. "They haven't had a bad swim yet and I wonder how they'll cope if they have to swim out of a rapids. You're really on your own in whitewater.

"But if we're not comfortable with a rapids, we'll portage it. The people I float with don't put pressure on you to run anything. It would be stupid to have the attitude that you're chicken if you don't run a rapids.

"When we take the kids, we have other boaters with us that can give help," Murphy says. "The Middle Fork of the Salmon had me concerned because we were by ourselves. I took my kayak in case the raft got hung up on a rock and I had to ferry everybody to shore. You know somebody will come by and give help sooner or later, but we generally have others in the party who would help.

"And when the kids get off the river they're just beaming. There's an obvious glow of accomplishment."

The Murphys and McCanns know the exhilaration they've experienced in whitewater. It's logical to involve their children, even if it means letting them stand in harm's way. After all, nothing good comes without a price.

But beyond the thrill of beating a savage rapids, what is there in kayaking that is of value to a youngster?

Jesse Murphy broke his leg skiing some time back and had to be taken down a Colorado mountain by rescue workers. "Everyone was impressed at how well he controlled himself and dealt with the pain," his mother says. "I think that's what facing your fears in kayaking gives you - the confidence to get through a tough time and not let it get you down."

And of course there's the fun of talking about it at school, especially to that girl who goes on the Current River and thinks it's such a big deal.

Mid-Continent Whitewater

Missouri's only extensive white-water stream is the St. Francis River. The North Fork of the White River has several good learning rapids, as does Swan Creek near Branson/ Forsythe.

Arkansas is blessed with more whitewater than Missouri. The upper Buffalo, Big Piney, Mulberry and Cossatot offer challenging rapids. Many rivers must have rainfall before they develop rapids. "There've been many trips where we didn't know where we were going when we started," Lewis McCann says. "We'd listen to the weather forecasts and head for the rain."

Beginners should contact outing clubs through their local outdoor sport shops. Most Missouri cities of any size have one or more such shops.


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