The Southern French Alps have the best play spots in the Alps for experienced white water kayakers with big water, technical descents and roller coaster rapids on famous rivers like the Durance and the Ubaye. However, unless you have already spent several years learning and perfecting your white water kayaking skills, this will be out of your league! Luckily the adventure mecca of Alpine rivers is also accessible to total novices, just not in a hard shell plastic kayak.
White water rafting
This is usually in a group of between 4 – 8 people depending on the size of the raft and is accessible for all as long as you can swim! The theory is that you steer the raft down the rapids as a team. The guide will shout instructions for when to put your paddle in, how to lean and generally manage the raft on the rapids.
The reality is that you bounce around sometimes where you want to go and sometimes not!! It’s not unheard of to go for a little swim alongside the raft – which is actually very refreshing on a hot day!
Hydrospeed is also known as riverboarding or hydroboarding and is in effect surfing on white water rapids. The French claim to have invented hydrospeed in the late 1970s when raft guides looking for extra adrenalin thrills stuffed mail sacks with buouyancy aids and went down the rapids.
After several evolutions later the foam hydrospeed board was born. Lightweight and safe in colisions, the sport has never looked back. To do hydrospeed, you lie on your board, where there are handles or inserts that you put your arms in to hold on to. You wear flippers on your feet which you use to steer and propel the hydrospeed. It’s excellent fun and if you want to get close to the water – this is the way to do it!
Hot dogs or air boats
Hot dogs are inflatable two man canoes – a bit like a long thin raft. You use the same principal of a canoe paddle to steer. Airboats are inflatable one man kayaks. The principle is the same as proper white water kayaking in that you steer with your hips and use a two ended kayak paddle to control and steer.
With both being inflatable, they are much more forgiving and stable than a real white water canoe or kayak so make the sport accessible to beginners. Also, as you are that much closer to the water than in a raft the bumps feel bigger – expect thrills and adrenalin!
Sit on top kayaks
For a slightly gentler white water experience it is possible to do some of the easier grade 2 sections of rivers such as the Durance in sit on top kayaks. These are hard plastic kayaks with a double shell filled with air. They are wider than traditional white water kayaks and you sit on top rather than inside.
Very stable and forgiving and steered with a two sided kayak paddle, they are easy to control and open up the sport to all levels. A perfect adventure for all the family to enjoy down a gentle flowing river taking in the scenery.
Sally Guillaume is Director at Undiscovered Alps.
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