Basic Whitewater Kayaking Playboating Tricks

The First Playboating Moves to Learn

Surfing on the New River Gorge
Surfing on the New River Gorge. Photo © by George E. Sayour

More often than not kayakers get into paddling to run rivers and to brave the rapids. At first its intimidating and all about survival. Playboating, or playing in whitewater, is the furthest thing on any new kayakers mind. However, within a short amount of time spent watching others, even the most risk averse individual will soon have the itch to want to surf waves, play in holes, and learn some basic whitewater playboating tricks.

Here are the first whitewater playboating tricks for kayakers to learn once they have the prerequisites for playboating down. These three maneuvers will serve as the basis for many of the other whitewater playboating tricks the kayaker will eventually learn.

Basic Playboating Trick #1: Surfing Waves

Whitewater wave surfing is the first playboating maneuver that is learned by every beginner. Surfing can be accomplished on both waves and holes. It can be done at “park and play” spots or while catching eddys going down a river. It is for these reasons that being able to catch waves and front surf them is the basis for many more complex maneuvers.

Surfing whitewater waves occurs when kayakers paddle out of an eddy facing upstream and either drops into the wave or paddle across the side of it. Once in the wave the paddler can maneuver back and forth and up and down the wave. There are points that are stickier than others and there are also parts of the wave that will push the paddler out altogether.

Basic Playboating Trick #2: Stern Squirt

A stern squirt is a whitewater kayaking move where the stern, or rear, of the kayak is forced under water by leaning the kayak to one side and by doing a reverse stroke on the other. This motion forces the stern of the kayak to slice into the water causing the whitewater kayak to stand straight up in the air.

In this position the whitewater kayaker is oriented in such a way that they are facing the sky. The stern squirt is the first step toward being able to cart wheel a kayak.

While kayakers can perform stern squirts in flatwater, they are often learned and practiced in eddy lines. That is because the opposing currents in eddy lines help the kayaker to drive the stern down into the water and force the bow up into the air. The most frequent obstacle to completing the stern squirt is flipping over as the stern of the kayak slices into the water and before the bow goes vertical.

Basic Playboating Trick #3: The Ender

An ender is a whitewater kayak maneuver where the kayaker paddles out of an eddy facing upstream and plunges the nose of their kayak straight into a pourover or hole. The result is that the kayak initially gets sucked into the river feature. However, once the volume that is sucked into the pourover exceeds the force keeping it there, the kayak will shoot back out of the water, often straight up. Think of holding a tennis ball under water and then letting go and watching it shoot out of the water. That’s an ender.

The ender used to be a premier sought after move enjoyed by beginning and advanced paddlers alike.

As boat design transitioned in the early days from higher volume less profiled boats to low volume edgier boats, the ender has become virtually non-existent. However, boats that have a lot of volume can still perform this maneuver. Whether or not a kayak has the volume to actually get launched out of the water, practicing the ender is a move that will help with cartwheels in these features.

Basic Playboating Trick #3: Boof Move

A boof move is a whitewater kayaking trick that is done as the kayaker paddles down a river. Rocks that protrude from the surface of the water but still have some water going over them are prime boof move targets. The kayaker will paddle right into these obstacles with goal of using them much the same way a bmx rider uses a ramp. When doing a boof you must be careful to make sure you can paddle over a rock without getting flipping off the side or getting pinned on the upstream side of it.

Never boof without knowing there there is a safe landing on the other side of the boulder.