"White water kayaking"

Joy Henkle


I learned to white water kayak on various Oregon Rivers and got very used to cold-water paddling. Again, because the gear is so much better than it used to be, cold water is no longer an issue—even if you miss a roll and have to swim a bit.

White water kayaking is the perfect sport for a woman (of all ages) with adventure in her blood. Kayaking is sort of like dancing. You depend on technical and agile skills verses brute strength. Today’s kayaks are smaller and made to fit a woman’s body even better than what was available a decade ago. Paddles, too, are made to more efficiently fit a woman’s grip. All these advances in paddling equipment really make the sport super female-friendly.

But the river I love the most—even after kayaking rivers all around the world—is my “home base” river, the beautiful wild & scenic Rogue River. This river is located in southern Oregon and is renown for its beautiful landscapes, incredible wildlife shows, wonderful “pool and drop” rapids and fantastic summer weather. For kayakers, the Rogue is a dream come true. Summer time brings warm weather and warm water—so no ice cream headaches if you have to roll! And, once you master a few white water tricks, there are just dozen of super fun play spots on the Rogue.

I highly recommend that you take a class(s) if you are interested in white water paddling. Generally (but not always), younger women learn faster than those of us older than 35—but I learned at 36 years old and continue to paddle today at age 51. The true trick of white water kayaking is the infamous “roll.” What this simply means is that you are using your body and a bit of the paddle to roll your hardshell kayak upright if you tip upside down for any reason. The reason this skill seems to be easier for younger people than those of us that have a couple decades on our lives is that the underwater action seems counterintuitive. But I guarantee that if you stick with the basics and practice your roll in a warm pool with a professional, that you will soon master the technique. It just takes patience.

Once you have the roll down, you want to move on to master the forward paddling motion (surprisingly this is the most difficult paddling stroke to get right). There are two other paddling strokes that are important to know so you can efficiently move your kayak and “dance” through the rapids. Learning to read water is another skill that is important and that comes, again, with time on the water. It is super important to start with baby steps when reading water. Don’t get into a class of water that will freak you out and scare you. Start with really calm water and stay on that particular stretch of river until you feel comfortable. Never let your friends pressure you to do more than you feel comfortable doing at the time.

Most of all enjoy. You will find that kayaking, especially on a river as beautiful and spectacular as Oregon’s Rogue River is a delight. And the best part is you feel empowered by skillfully maneuvering yourself and your boat through the water or by playing on a wave. And for young women this is a sport where they can excel. Whether it be going through a complex series of rapids or spinning on giant waves, women rock this sport!

Joy Henkle owns a white water rafting, kayaking and hiking business that runs trips exclusively on Oregon’s protected wild & scenic Rogue River. She has been white water kayaking for over 15 years and has boated all over the world. You can reach her by emailing:  fun@whitewaterwarehouse.com  or check at the company’s website at:  www.whitewaterwarehouse.com  or their blog at:  www.whitewaterraftingblog.com