Whitewater kayaking is an exhilarating sport, with a steep learning curve and potentially severe consequences for the novice. Before trying to tackle a long stretch of river, it is best to get expert instruction on the different aspects of kayak technique and kayak safety. When evaluating kayaking classes, several areas should be considered.
While whitewater may be the goal, for the novice, it is best to learn on flat water in a controlled environment. Several important kayak skills, such as the Eskimo Roll, the brace stroke and the wet exit need to be mastered before tackling whitewater, and if you are too worried about the river, it will be far harder to master. Look for courses that are taught on a lake over the course of a full day. Better yet, find an outfitter that offers beginning classes over the course of several days in a pool, where the water is clear and warm, which will reduce stress when you start practicing the roll.
Once you've mastered kayaking basics like the roll and wet exit, it's time to start migrating those skills onto the river. However, navigating a river brings its own set of challenges. The next course to take after a basic course on flatwater is a river course, which teaches how to read the river, what to look for, how to use eddies to your advantage when you need a break, how to navigate rapids and read the rocks and other river skills. It is only by pairing river knowledge with kayak basics that you can become a skilled river runner.
Another option for running rivers, especially if you are flying in from out of town or are worried that the whitewater you want to run is barely at your experience level, is to do a guided river trip. While most guided trips are on rafts, some outfits also offer guided kayak trips. Going with an experienced guide is a good way to have backup when navigating whitewater you are unfamiliar with, as the guide can point out potential hazards well in advance. As a bonus, guided trips take care of things such as shuttle transport between the put-in and take-out.