It’s that time of year again. Spring melt brings Stakeout, a nickname given to the big wave season by ambitious kayakers local to the Ottawa River. Obsessed with free-riding, surfing and descending massive whitewater rapids, these kayakers are now a little less young and maybe a little wiser. Wherever you are, big wave season is all about amplitude: big air, big tricks and big bonfires. Over the years, we developed a system for success. 
Someone whitewater kayaking on river.
Feels like a classic Stakeout situation on the Mistassibi River, Quebec. | Photo: David Jackson

1Always stick to the last-made plan.

Logistics are hard. Simple plans designed to leave one or more vehicles at the take-out with kayakers and boats at the put-in can get complicated and unravel. On the river, safety is always top of mind. In both cases, you need a plan, and every paddler needs to know the plan. When things get confusing, and people are separated, stick to the last-made plan. You’ll avoid pandemonium and wasting time.

2Learn the local language.

You don’t need to be fluent in another language to chase big waves, but learning to say “Hello,” “I am sorry,” “I am not from around here,” “Goodbye,” and “Thank you” in the language spoken by locals goes a long way to making friends. No matter where you’re shredding, it’s useful and respectful. Smiles are contagious and go a long way in navigating almost every situation. If you don’t feel like smiling, there is a good chance you need to bust one out.

3Quality goes further.

Look steezy, feel steezy, paddle steezy. Being warm and comfortable means more time out, and more rides equals more fun. Quality doesn’t mean expensive, though a good spraydeck and drysuit aren’t cheap. For warm layers that aren’t too bulky, wool and fleece are best. Everyone has different tolerance levels for being cold and wet. Figure out what you need to be comfortable so you can handle long, cold spring sessions.

4 Never separate from your gear.

You need a kayak, paddle, helmet, life jacket, spraydeck and throw bag to shred. For spring, you’ll want mitts and a skull cap, plus warm layers and a drysuit. Whether you have a vehicle or you are a barnacle, dial in your gear management. Never be left wondering where any of your kit is—or worse, knowing where it is, but where it is isn’t with you.

5 Take time to dry out.

It is not always easy or possible to get gear dry overnight for the morning session. If you can, rotating two sets of layers can make a huge difference in how keen you are to get into the ice-cold water. If you’re already thinking two sets of layers is a good idea, bring three.

6Engage beast mode.

You can’t always get dry, and you won’t always have the best or newest gear, but you can decide to be the charger in your group. The keenest, the out-the-longest and the most resilient with the least excuses.

7 Hydrate, stretch and breathe.

Kayaking on high-volume rivers is mostly low impact on the body. But when you start getting your boat and body a few feet or more out of the water while surfing big and fast waves, you are taking hits, flat landings and cranking up your heart rate. Big wave freestyle can feel like burpee intervals. And many waves require a hike back upstream to the access eddy. Recovery is important, so don’t just sit there. Drink water, stretch and control your breathing. Memorize basic yoga routines for early morning movement and before rest. Hot tip: Take advantage of the cold river water and get nipple deep for two minutes after a session for recovery.

8 Paddle more.

Two laps aren’t just twice as fun, it’s more like three times as fun. Hike upstream to run lines again and again. Look for eddy sequences that challenge your technique and strength by crossing the river multiple times.

9 Don’t be scared.

Breathe. Fear is contagious, don’t let it spread in your group. When someone is uncomfortable, be comforting and remain calm. If you are uncomfortable, slow down, identify the problem and work it out.


This article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 63. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or browse the digital archives here.

Feels like a classic Stakeout situation on the Mistassibi River, Quebec. | Photo: David Jackson


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