Learning to Kayak in Chile

Alzar School | 27.02.19

Students and staff are busy preparing for their upcoming expeditions paddling along the Rio Baker and backpacking through Patagonia National Park. Over the past few weeks, amidst a full class schedule, students have taken advantage of exploring the rivers around Coyhaique, learning, practicing and honing their boating skills.

On these outings, students often split up into smaller pods of 5-6 students. Each pod, accompanied by several instructors, spaces themselves out along a river section, allowing for more individualized instruction and mitigating the chance of pods running into one another. On calm portions of the river, students practice various paddling strokes and how to maneuver their crafts, entering and exiting eddies and ferrying back and forth across the river. As students approach the class II and III rapids, they take time to scout the river from the shore. Instructors help coach students in a rapid plan using the acronym WORMS: Water, Obstacles, Route, Maneuvers and Markers, Safety. Once everyone knows the plan, instructors position themselves at the top, middle and bottom of the rapid to help coach student paddlers down one by one and assist any “out of boat experiences.” In the rapids, students focus on staying upright, using their paddle to brace and hips to balance all while looking and paddling in the right direction.

A pod of Spring 2019 paddlers make their way down a Chilean river.

During one such adventure down the Rio Aysén, a current explained his thought process approaching and navigating through a rapid:

I was in the first group to go down. My fingers gripped the paddle intently as I repeated in my head the three steps to not flipping while going down a rapid. Stay loose, keep paddling, look where you want to go….By the time I had taken my final deep breath in preparation, I was in the rapid. My boat bobbed up the waves in the middle and I kept paddling. I passed the first marker, avoided the first obstacle and looked where I wanted to go. As I summited the final wave, I kept my hips loose and let the water take me. And that was it. I was in the eddy waiting for everyone else to do what I had just done. AND IT WAS AWESOME!