Whitewater Skill: How to Swim

To whitewater enthusiasts, swimming is what we do when we blow a line or tempt fate by counting the days since the last time. Being confident swimming in whitewater allows us to push our limits and self-rescue from less-than-pleasant situations.

It’s helpful to think of our swimming bodies behaving like boats in current. Understanding three central concepts will make swimming more pleasant and effective: Constant motion; swimming positions; and breathing technique.

Constant Motion

When swimming in whitewater, we can move faster than the current, we will call this steering; we can move slower than it, we will call this ferrying; or we can move with it, we will call this floating. Whether we are steering, ferrying or floating, we are always pro gressing downstream and have to make a plan. Safe swimming is about being proactive rather than reactive.

Just like in our boats, we try to catch eddies high, power through holes and boof waves and ledges while swimming. All these maneuvers require us to be under power—steering. When we want to move laterally, we need to be moving slower than the current—ferrying. Ferrying while swimming is harder than in a boat, requiring more planning and larger angles. Finally, when we are tired we float.

Swimming Position

There are two basic swimming positions: Defensive, on our backs, and offensive, on our stomachs. The first thing we learn about swimming in whitewater is to roll over, lie on our back …

This article appeared in Rapid, Spring 2013. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read the rest here.


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