Intro Tips for Big Water Kayaking

This Article is courtesy of Ross Montandon of New Wave Kayaking, a top class coaching company based in the UK. Check out the end of the article for more about Ross and New Wave, or check out their FacebookInstagram and Website.

Spring is well and truly here. We thought we’d refresh your memory on big volume water for the spring and summer season!


What do we class as big water ?
Before we get started, when we use the term big water we don’t always mean hard whitewater. Of course paddlers who are used to paddling big water or volume whitewater will have their own take on it. British paddlers may find the Alpine whitewater big. But compared to a paddler who has grown up on the North Fork in Idaho the Alps will seem pretty low in comparison. It’s all relative, generally when we use the term, we’re taking about big bouncy waves and holes, boily eddies and generally a lot longer rapids compared to lower volume rivers.

Get up to Speed
One of the first things you may have noticed when experience bigger volume is the pace in which everything is moving. Just like the first time you drove on the motorway. Everything is moving so dam quick! The best way to move around the river is to get up to speed with the flow of the river use it’s natural speed to carry you.

With everything moving so quickly it’s key to look ahead as your horizon will always come up quicker than you realise. The more prepared you are the more manageable it becomes. Looking as far as you can allows you to formulate a plan.

Notice Dave’s Angle is offset to the flow. If you all good paddlers they seldom spend any time pointing directly downstream.
Notice Dave’s Angle is offset to the flow. If you all good paddlers they seldom spend any time pointing directly downstream.

2. Don’t move downriver move across

Now you’re up to speed to the flow of the river. Moving in big volume is all about using the natural features of the river. If you fight a big volume river you will only fatigue and create a wash of gopro footage to enjoy later in the bar.

One of the moss affective ways of moving around the river. Is to change your angles back up stream and ferry or surf across the river. This allows you to use natural features such as waves, laterals and glassy V- shaped jets.

Kevin peers down the rapid looking for the line, before dropping in.

3. Look ahead

This is goes for all environments, but is more apparent on faster bigger volume rivers. You don’t need to be an expert to appreciate the faster the water the less time you have to decide what to do. The further we look ahead the more time we have to act on what we see and formulate a plan.

One element that can be tricky when paddling bigger volume water. Is that you can only see at certain times. As we know when running wave trains, sometimes you are at the peak of the wave up high and sometimes you are low down in the trough wondering/hoping that there isn’t something monstrous on the other side of this wave, you’re about to go over. If we can try and time our reading of the river at the top of the wave we can get a quick glance before we drop back down into the trough. It takes a little while to get used to but once you get into the groove. It can certainly help calm the nerves.

Is big volume harder?

It is often thought that big volume is harder than lower volume rivers. Of course it is all relative. You may look at a Himalayan grade 3 and think ” That’s blooming massive to the grade 3 back home.” For most of us we paddle only what we have access to at the time meaning our skill-set is desired to a certain environment. Big volume isn’t always harder it’s just different. The bigger the volume doesn’t always mean harder. You get big volume grade 5 and big volume grade 3. It’s like riding you bike on the road and then riding it on a downhill track. You are riding your bike in both environments both have transferrable skills and both have some new skills that are specific to the environment you’re on.

Want an introduction to Big Water? Join New Wave in Austria this Summer!

About the Author

Ross Montandon is creator of New Wave Kayaking. A whitewater Kayaking specialist who offers skills coaching courses all over the UK and Europe. Ross has been British Freestyle Champion. Coached the British Freestyle team. Along with paddling all over the World. Ross is also a Level 5 coach. And provides British Canoeing Moderate and Advanced Whitewater Leader courses. As well as Whitewater Safety courses. His favourite whitewater destination is White Salmon in Washington State.


DBP Executive editor and Web Head Honcho! Paddling and taking photos in the UK.

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