How to get into Whitewater | Paddling Club Resources

Author: Willa Mason, Whitewater Guide and Instructor

After your first experience on the river you may be left wanting more but wondering what the next step is. We know that the dynamic environment of flowing water can make it intimidating to venture out on your own, so we’ve broken down some great options based on the experiences you might be looking for. The bottom line: get involved! Join a club, volunteer, or learn with the guidance of outdoor professionals. Becoming part of the local outdoor community can give you access to expertise, equipment, and time on the river that you can’t get on your own.

Seek fellow adventurers:

The outdoor community expands far behind the riverbanks of your local waterway. Seek out adventure film festivals, online workshops, symposiums, and local outdoor-focused Facebook groups. While these may not sound like the river trip you’re dreaming of, these types of events generally attract like-minded adventurers. Meeting people
and chatting about local opportunities is the first step to getting involved.

Join a club:

Local paddling clubs offer instructional sessions, as well as organized trips on local rivers. If you’ve dabbled in rafting, canoeing, or kayaking, paddling clubs are a fantastic way to improve your skills or try a different watercraft in a relaxed and informal environment. See our sample list of clubs at the bottom of this story.


Get your foot in the door of the local outdoor community by volunteering with local outdoor organizations. Charitable organizations like Ottawa Riverkeeper look for volunteers to help clean up the river, organize events, and help with important data collection.

Take a Course:

Building your own skills is the key to independent decision-making and being able to help your friends out. Taking a course is a great way to do that, and there may just be a paddling school not too far away from you. Madawaska Kanu Centre (Barry’s Bay), Padder co-op (Palmer Rapids), Liquidskills (Ottawa River), Muskoka Kayak School (Minden), Aquabatics Outdoors (Calgary) are just a few of many paddling schools scattered across Canada.

While clubs offer great opportunities to get on the river and meet people, formal instruction can create the unique learning environment best suited to some people. Paddling schools generally have smaller group sizes, allowing instructors to tailor the program to better fit your goals. Outdoor professionals who spend their full time developing their skills and teaching abilities always have lots of tips and tricks up their sleeve to help accelerate your learning curve, setting you up for success and preventing hours of potentially frustrating trial and error.

Hire a Guide:

Wilderness outfitters are designed to be the next step in exploring rivers near and far. A quick google search will find a variety of guiding companies, each offering a different challenge level, focus, and geographical area. Birding, geology, ecology interpretation, and leadership development are just a few of the specialties offered by different companies. Guides are a wealth of local knowledge and are happy to share as many hands-on skills as you’re
looking to learn.

Do It Yourself:

You can hit the river without professional guidance as long as you prepare in advance and make sure to choose an adventure well within your skill level.

If you’re not ready to make the investment in your own paddling gear, outfitters near most popular paddling destinations offer gear rentals. To set yourself up for safety and success, choose a bay sheltered from wind or an easy section of river. Travel with experienced paddlers and only where you have the skills to help them out should anything go wrong.

The key to feeling at home within the river community is to get involved. Find experienced paddlers who can help show you the ropes before venturing out on your own. Spend time on, around, or in the river anyway you can – build that comfort zone and make new river friends!

Paddling Club Resource List:

Ottawa area:

Ottawa River Runners (ORR)

With a whitewater facility in the heart of Ottawa, ORR offers instructional kayak programs and camps for all ages and skill levels, as well as slalom paddling programs for those looking to refine technical skills. ORR also hosts recreational pool sessions throughout winter.

Recreation Association Canoe Camping Club (RACCC)

Based in Ottawa, RACCC has a whitewater program, flatwater program, and family program, all centered around
friendship, volunteerism, and environmentally-friendly recreation. Organized river trips, training sessions, and camping trips will help you explore local rivers with people who are already familiar with the rapids.

Carleton University Kayak Club (CUKC)

Hailing from Carleton University in Ottawa, CUKC runs pool sessions throughout the winter, and river trips throughout the spring and fall seasons. Introductory lessons are organized for newer paddlers, while seasoned
experts can join a group on challengning local rivers. CUKC has something for everyone.

Further afield, Ontario:

Kawartha Whitewater Paddlers (KWP)

Organizing pool sessions, paddling festivals, and day trips on a variety of rivers, the Kawartha Lakes area is home to KWP and is a great option for paddlers living between Toronto and Ottawa.

Guelph Kayak Club (GKC)

With Elora Gorge as their home turf, GKC is based in Guelph hosts paddling sessions twice weekly, including pool sessions and river trips.

Further afield, Quebec:

Les Portageurs

Based in Montreal, Les Portageurs is a paddling club that values good food and good humour, while learning to paddle. Their 2021 calendar includes day outings on rivers of all difficulty levels, multi-day camping trips, and online virtual gatherings to learn about heritage canoe camping traditions.

Le Club Rabaska

A community of over 225 paddlers, Le Club Rabaska is based in Quebec CIty and aims to facilitate safe canoeing and kayaking on Quebec rivers. With introductory lessons each year, as well as skill refinement clinics, expeditions, and winter activities, this outdoor club has something for everyone.

Kayak Valleyfield

With the goal of growing the paddling community, Kayak Valleyfield has a river-front home base just south of Montreal. The club offers instructional sessions, weekly informal group paddling outings, and high performance competition training.

Club de Kayak Riviere aux Sables

Club de Kayak Riviere aux Sables based in Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean, is a canoe and kayak club that explores rivers and north of Quebec City.


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