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  • Kayak time

    Tips for learning to kayak the Rogue River safely
  • You've watched kayakers on the Rogue, flitting across the river like water striders, laughing and having a good time. One hot summer day, you say to yourself, "I want to do that, too."
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  • You've watched kayakers on the Rogue, flitting across the river like water striders, laughing and having a good time. One hot summer day, you say to yourself, "I want to do that, too."
    So how do you get started, and more importantly, how do you stay safe on the water?
    The easiest way to learn about kayaking is to rent an inflatable kayak, find a reasonably calm stretch of river and get in.
    Inflatable kayaks (or "IKs") are much more forgiving in the water than the rigid plastic "hard-shell" boats that are favored by expert paddlers who want maximum control. Hard-shell boaters must learn to roll to get themselves upright when the river dumps them upside down. Learning to roll takes time that could be spent on the water learning how to paddle and navigate waves and rapids. In an IK, you can be on the water on Day One.
    "I think the inflatable is an awesome way for people to start," says Matt Dopp, an owner of Kokopelli River Guides in Ashland. "It's easy for people to get started."
    Dopp says IKs are typically longer, wider and a lot more stable than hard-shell kayaks, which make them ideal for novice boaters. They're also much easier to get into and out of, and they rarely go completely upside down. That said, IKs do tip over, and when they do, a paddler will likely find herself in cold, swift water.
    Dopp says beginning boaters should recognize that the river will dump them out of their boat ("swimming," as kayakers say) and get comfortable with that reality by practicing.
    "I absolutely believe you should be absolutely comfortable swimming," he says. "You should spend a ton of time swimming, because it's gonna happen. You need to be prepared for the unexpected, because it's gonna happen."
    Swimming practice, maybe on a calm lake or a quiet stretch of river, will help a boater learn how she floats while wearing a life jacket — it should go without saying that paddlers always wear a personal flotation device (PFD). Carrying one without wearing it is folly — there's never time to put it on if the going gets rough.
    Swimming through a rapid isn't really swimming. A paddler in the water should float chest up, feet downstream, through the fast water until the current slows and he can stand up safely. The feet-first position makes it easier to avoid hitting your head on rocks.
    "You want your feet to bounce off the rocks," says Sue Orris, an owner of Ferron's Fun Trips, a Merlin-based outfitter.
    Never try to stand up in fast-moving water, even when it's shallow. If your foot gets stuck between two rocks, the current could knock you down and hold you under water. Let the current float you downstream to quieter water where it's safe to stand up.
    Beginners would do well to make their first outing with someone who has some experience, even if it's just a couple of day trips. If you can't find a friend willing to take you along, a number of guide services offer basic instruction and rent boats for half-day or multiday trips.
    There are several relatively calm stretches of the Rogue River where novices can get a feel for how their boat balances, and how to steer it. The run from the bridge in Gold Hill to Valley of the Rogue State Park or the city of Rogue River is a good first outing. After the riffle just below the Gold Hill city park, the river is nearly flat for the rest of the trip, although the current is fast and the water is cold. The stretch from Dodge Bridge, in Sams Valley, down to Touvelle State Park is also gentle enough for beginners, Dopp says.
    Dopp also recommends the trip from just below Lost Creek Dam upstream from Shady Cove, one of the most popular stretches of the river. A number of outfitters in Shady Cove rent inflatable boats and shuttle paddlers up to the base of the dam.
    The Klamath River also provides some good beginner runs, including the stretch downstream from the "Tree of Heaven" campground.
    Orris says appropriate gear makes for a safer and more pleasant day on the water. Sturdy river shoes protect tender feet from sharp rocks and broken glass and provide traction on slippery surfaces. She says water shoes should attach securely so they won't slip off if you find yourself swimming.
    Orris also recommends security straps for prescription eyeglasses or expensive sunglasses, which can easily come loose if you're in the water. Hats are a good choice for most people, especially in summer, when the sun beats down on the water and there's lots of reflected light.
    She says most accidents happen on the river banks when people are getting into or out of their boats. If a hat or a shoe or a camera gets loose and floats downstream, "think about your safety first and then your equipment."
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