Extreme Kayaking – Can Kayaking be Dangerous? 

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Extreme Kayaking – Can Kayaking be Dangerous? 

Extreme kayaking, as the name suggests, is quite different from recreational kayaking. It is typically referred to as a form of competitive sport where the kayakers paddle down rapid moving sections of the water. 

That’s why they call them RAPIDS.

In extreme kayaking, the steeper and punctuated the water feature, the better. Participants in this category of kayaking love nothing more than paddling furiously down a rapid, frothing waterfall.  


The image alone is enough to make the heart of many skip a beat. But ask any extreme kayaker, and I bet their eyebrows will twitch at the thought of ticking the next dangerous body of water off their kayaking list.  

As an extreme sport, there are elements of risk and danger involved. This is compounded with the wrong kayak and the lack of complete safety gear.  

In this post, extreme kayaking – can kayaking be dangerous, I will attempt to answer a number of questions related to extreme kayaking and the sport in general.  

Can extreme kayaking be dangerous? 

  • Absolutely it can.  

9 ways extreme kayaking can be too dangerous.

Any form of kayaking has elements of danger involved with it. Similar to any other activity on the water, there can be sun exposure, dehydration and of course, drowning. 

Let me take you through the scenarios where kayaking can be dangerous.  

1 – Kayaking without PFD – Whether it is extreme kayaking or otherwise, kayaking without PFD or a personal floatation device is asking for a problem.  

Solution: Never engage in kayaking without wearing a safety device. The best PFD for extreme kayaking is those that have a USCG rating of Type III and have a flotation of about 16 lbs. 

2 – Kayaking alone – Irrespective of the level of your expertise, it is never safe to kayak without a partner. 

Solution: Always ask a friend for a company when you go kayaking. He or she can be a lifeline.  

3 – Dehydration – Dehydration is a primary cause of accidents while out in a body of water.  

Solution: Always pack enough drinking water. 

4 – Sun exposure – I am not sure whether to classify it as carelessness or foolishness when you go out into the sea without sun protection.  

Solution: Slather on a broad-spectrum sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body. Make sure to include it in your gear and reapply every two to three hours. I personally love the thinksport sunscreen. It has an SPF of 50+, broad-spectrum and comes at an unbeatable price. It is also water-resistant up to 80 minutes.  

5 – Kayaking during the winter – In winter, the cold and ice become a deadly combination that can result in hypothermia and fatal injuries while engaging in extreme sea kayaking. 

Solution: Avoid paddling in extreme weather conditions. If however, your adventurous soul itches to kayak during the cold, wearing drysuits and wetsuits are a must, apart from other essential gear. And of course, ask a buddy to come along with you.  

6 – Paddling with a wrong boat – Kayak meant for calm waters cannot be used for rafting down a waterfall or similar. Along with inexperience, this is a primary cause of fatal kayak accidents.  

Solution: Use whitewater kayaks that are specially designed to enhance your extreme kayaking experience.  

7 – Kayaking in the inebriated state – A drunken person on the water can be a danger to himself as well as those in the team. 

Solution: Don’t take your boat to the river, if you’ve had more than a couple of drinks. Simple. 

8 – Unfavorable conditions in the water – These can include long jams, strainers, rocks, and rapidly changing currents. 

Solution: Avoid trying to ride over the obstacle. Never underestimate the tip of the small strainer poking out of the water as it can cost your life.   

9 – Boats, ships, motorboats and jet skis can pose a real threat to kayakers without any fault of your own. This is especially true if you are kayaking in a body of water that has decent traffic.  

Solution: Wear a floatation device that has fluorescent accents in the body. If the weather condition is particularly foggy or you are out in low light, attach a boating light with LEDs. This marine utility strip bar from Partsam is a good choice.  

Of course, you can choose to stay away from bodies of water that have a lot of activity.  

If you are well prepared, know your limits and understand the body of water that you plan to paddle in, kayaking can be a safe and satisfying activity.  

Is kayaking an extreme sport? 

  • There are different styles of kayaking, and one of them, extreme kayaking, is classified as an extreme sport.  

An extreme sport is referred to as those activities which involve a significant degree of speed, height, use of specialized pieces of equipment, physical exertion and danger.  

Extreme sea kayaking requires some serious strengths and physical ability of the paddler as well as the use of specialized kayaks meant for the sport. In this type of kayaking, paddlers usually go down a waterfall or standing waves at neck-breaking speeds.  


Kayaking also involves high elements of danger and risks. These are the reasons that make kayaking an extreme sport. 

Out of all the different forms of kayaking, extreme kayaking drainage ditch and waterfall kayaking takes the trophy of being extremely dangerous and extreme. 

Is kayaking good exercise?  

  • Yes, it is. Kayaking involves the use of numerous muscle groups which makes it an excellent workout.

I wrote an extensive article on the benefits of kayaking as an exercise. It is called Ditch the Gym – Go Kayaking for the Best Exercise!

Consider the physical benefits of extreme kayaking. 

  • Core strengthening – Paddling requires you to twist your upper and lower abdominal muscles. Over time this will give you a solid core that would put Rocky Balboa to shame.  
  • Toning and strengthening the upper body – All the major muscles in the upper body, which includes triceps, biceps, shoulder, and back muscles work in tandem while you paddle.  
  • Cardiovascular benefits – Paddling down a rapid body of water like there’s no tomorrow increases your heart rate, which is great for overall cardiovascular health. You also breathe in faster, which increases your lung capacity and keeps you healthy. 
  • Relieves stress – Nature has an uncanny ability to calm grievous souls, ignite passions and make you inexplicably peaceful and dare I say, happy? Additionally, you also get a healthy dose of Vitamin D while kayaking. Can any exclusive membership in the world’s fanciest gym offer you these benefits? 
  • Overall weight loss – If you love to stay in shape without the tediousness involved with going to a gym, you should consider kayaking. It is an extremely fun and effective way to lose weight and also tone muscles.  

Consider taking up a class where you can learn the trades of the sport with the help of a trainer. This way, you will reap the physical as well as the mental benefits of the sport in a safe way.  

Another great alternative to educate yourself about the sport is to read well-written materials about kayaking. Check out a couple of amazing reads here and here. Feel free to check them out even if you are an expert as well. I always believe that there is no end to learning, and these books are fantastic.  

Learn more about the physical benefits of kayaking in this post.  

What is waterfall kayaking? 

  • Waterfall kayaking is an extreme form of kayaking where paddlers essentially ride their kayaks down the waterfall.  

These vertical bodies of water are classified as Class V rapids. For the uninitiated, Class V rapids are categorized as extremely violent rapids which expose a paddler to a significant amount of risk, according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. These bodies of water are characterized by steep edges, turbulent waves, and are typically lengthy. 

They demand the use of specialized equipment and a high level of expertise and physical fitness. In short, attempting to navigate this category of bodies of water is recommended only for experts.   

You see…

Waterfall kayaking is considered by experts as the supreme form of kayaking. Paddling down at almost 80 miles per hour down a vertical water column while trying to sit straight is a challenge not many people can boast of achieving.  

Every waterfall is special and presents unique opportunities to exhibit your skills at kayaking. However, some of the best waterfalls for extreme kayaking include Salto Belo in Brazil, Maruia Falls in New Zealand, Victoria Falls in Zambia and, of course, Palouse Falls in the United States.  

Waterfall kayaking is truly meant for the daredevils. And I don’t say this to insult your love for the sport or your level of expertise. It is because even the most seasoned kayaker knows better than to kayak down a waterfall without the right gear and practice.  

If you have been dreaming about checking off a particular waterfall off your extreme kayaking waterfall list, strap on your safety vest, grab a buddy and start rehearsing.  

Can you kayak down the Grand Canyon? 

  • Absolutely.  

The Grand Canyon is one of the most scenic places on the planet which is worthy of a visit at least once in a lifetime. Apart from the surreal landscape, the whitewater of the Grand Canyon has all levels from Class III onwards with some even classified as Class IV and slightly higher. This makes it perfect for those who desire a calm paddle while taking in the majestic features as well as those who love the thrill of taking it to the next level.  

Simply put…

You might want to know that the Grand Canyon has its own classification of rapids from Class 1 to 10. If your skills are between a beginner to medium, it is best to stick below the rapids which are classified below Class 5.  

Class 6 rapids in the Grand Canyon come with a safety warning and should only be attempted if you have the skill.  


At the Grand Canyon, the length of the rapids also makes it a great place to paddle. The rapids are altogether about 280 miles or 451 kilometers. To cover the length, it can take anywhere from two weeks to three. Of course, you can also choose to kayak down a shorter length of the rapids.  

That’s TWO to THREE WEEKS people!

If you have the expertise and the skill for extreme kayaking, you cannot miss the Lava Falls and Crystal Falls. These rapids are Class IV and above which demands respect and your skills to conquer it and emerge a winner.  

The unique nature of this landmark feature in Colorado makes it possible to kayak at any time of the year. You will be greeted by different seasonal magic irrespective of the season that you choose.  

I can’t help adding that extreme thrill-seekers find winter irresistible at the Grand Canyon. The frigid waters and the biting temperatures topped with an unmistakable desolation after the revelers have abandoned it can be depressing for many. But to adventure-seeking souls, this is the perfect time to fly down the rapids and feel the cold rushing past their ears.  

Is kayaking dangerous for non-swimmers? 

  • Not really. Knowing how to swim is not an essential skill in order to be able to kayak. In fact, some experts are of the opinion that kayaking is a good alternative to swimming. Just make sure you always have your personal floatation device on. 

When you enroll in a kayaking class, you will learn about a wet exit. This will essentially train you to stay afloat even without knowing how to swim. 

When it comes to expert kayakers, almost everyone knows the basics of swimming. This may be attributed to their long years of dabbling in water and their understanding of the sport.  

Then again, no responsible kayaker, whether he or she knows how to swim or not, go out into the water without a PFD, which is the primary device for keeping an individual afloat without much effort. 

If you know how to swim, it is a great skill to master. However, if you don’t know how to swim, don’t despair. You can still enjoy kayaking very safely.  


Any form of kayaking is inherently risky, but so is any other activity on the water. Whether you are taking a dip in your swimming pool or engaged in extreme kayaking Victoria Falls, irresponsible attitude can result in injuries and even result in fatality. 

The bottom line is to kayak with the right set of gear, double-check with the weather gods, invite a friend to join on your adventure and you can kayak very safely.