From weekend canoe trips to kayaking at the cabin, everyone knows paddling is big in Manitoba. What you might not know (or expect) is that our province is also home to some of the best whitewater rivers in Canada…and Prairie Whitewater wants to get you on them.
A new Manitoba company focused on introducing as many people as possible to whitewater kayaking, Prairie Whitewater offers courses and clinics across the province designed for students of all skill levels…including our inexpert group of Travel Manitoba staff members. Could a one-day course get us all ready to tackle the rapids? We were about to find out.
We pulled into Pinawa Dam Provincial Park at 10 a.m. ready for the start of their “Whitewater Crash Course”, a day-long offering designed for groups like ours with little to no experience. With a cloudless blue sky and a forecast of 30+ degrees, we couldn’t wait to get on the (white) water.
Prairie Whitewater provides all necessary equipment for students, including kayaks, helmets, PFDs and sprayskirts (that’s the neoprene sleeve that creates a watertight seal around you and your kayak). Owner/lead instructor Steven Walker and his assistant Colin Gisiger got our group outfitted in the parking lot before we carried our kayaks down to the water to start the flatwater portion of the day.
After learning a few hand signals for communicating on the water, we got into our kayaks to learn the most important skill of whitewater kayaking: how to get out! Steven walked us through the progression of calmly rolling underwater, pulling off the sprayskirt and swimming out safely. By the time we were finished, we were all popping out upside down and underwater without breaking a sweat. Bring on the rapids!
…well, not really. But we were ready to move on to paddling, sweep strokes and edging in the still water near the dam. Prairie Whitewater teaches every new skill as a progression, so even a complete novice like me was able to get a good grasp on the fundamentals. A few unplanned kayak rolls gave me the chance to practice my underwater exits too! After a lunch break and a brief hydrology lesson, we were ready to hit the moving water.
Any nervousness I had before getting into the river washed away as soon as we hit the current. The skills we practiced on the flatwater were actually easier in moving water, as our kayaks transformed into lithe river racers carving us in and out of eddies. After that very first thrill of the water catching you it’s already easy to see how whitewater riding can get addicting.
The grand finale of the day was tackling the big rapids. After watching the pros, we launched into the calm waters upstream to scope our own lines down. Steven taught us a whitewater trick to fight pre-rapid jitters: splashing water in your face slows down your heartbeat and focuses your mind. A few face splashes later, we were ready to go.
So how does it feel to ride the rapids? Words can’t describe it. It’s the perfect mix of excitement and adrenaline backed by the knowledge that you’re totally safe with Prairie Whitewater’s team in the water with you. As the pictures show, we had a pretty great time.
In the end, every single one of us made it through the rapids successfully. We went from complete whitewater rookies to successful rapid riders in under eight hours. What a perfect way to enjoy a summer day in Manitoba!
But don’t just take my word for it! Here’s what the other members of our group had to say about their whitewater experience:
“I had been in a kayak once before, when a friend tried to teach me the first skill you need to know: how to get out of the kayak when you’re upside down. This is definitely a “when” and not an “if”. My second time in a kayak – spending a day at Pinawa Dam with Prairie Whitewater, started with the very same skill. And throughout the day it came in handy. But once that’s out of the way, the rest was pure fun. Challenging, physically demanding, and a little scary for sure, but a great way to spend a beautiful Manitoba summer day. Thanks to the knowledgeable, professional instruction from Steven at Prairie Whitewater, I felt safe and secure. I learned a lot, and I didn’t die. That’s more than I’d hoped for!” – Linda
“Eureka! I found the good life. You only need three things for this white water sport: respect for the waterway, confidence, and a light heart. Would I do this again? In a heartbeat.” – Carol
“I will be the first to admit I am not particularly outdoorsy, athletic or coordinated however I am so glad I decided to embark on this whitewater ride! Steven is an exceptional teacher and made me feel comfortable even though I was often unsure of my newly learnt skills and was a bit nervous. I truly appreciated his positive attitude, step by step instruction and his constant feedback keeping everyone safe. I don’t foresee myself running out to buy a whitewater kayak or scouting whitewater around the province on my time off but it was a fun day with a lovely group of people. I encourage you to challenge yourself and take on the rapids with Prairie Whitewater. If I can do it, so can you!” – Carly
“Whitewater kayaking is like nothing I have experienced before on the water. Lots of fun, beautiful surroundings, hard work, and laughs to last a life time. I will be back at it soon!” – Nancy
“I had no idea whitewater kayaking in Manitoba was a thing. But from the very first moment I found out, I knew I wanted to try it. And try it, I did. After spending a full day on the water on a beautiful blue-sky Manitoba summer day I am the sport’s newest fan. There is a sense of accomplishment in conquering your first “real” rapid that I won’t soon forget. Even the day after, when the muscles in my shoulders and back (that I really didn’t know existed!) are aching from all the paddling, I still can’t wipe the smile from my face and can’t wait to get back on the water again!” – Tamara
Prairie Whitewater is ready to get you on the river! Visit their website at www.prairiewhitewater.com for more information or to book a spot for yourself this summer.