Not only as coaches, but for all whitewater paddlers, culture is vital. It makes the difference between positive and negative relationships on (and with) the river. So today’s article is all about culture.

After a few weeks’ pondering how to approach this topic, I finally decided I wanted to reflect the diversity of opinion on this tricky subject of culture. So we are trying something new today. My first (loosely) interview-style blog!

I contacted five people across a spectrum of whitewater experience and asked them three questions – questions I often ask of people I am coaching. What do you think defines whitewater culture? Name one thing you love about whitewater culture and one thing you really dislike about it.

I consider it vital to look at what shape our whitewater culture is in. For the sake of our own, and future generations’, enjoyment, understanding the culture enables us to shape it for the better. So without further ado, here are the responses!

Jack Grace

I first started kayaking with scouts and transitioned to whitewater kayaking at the University of Nottingham. Since leaving, I spent the last two years travelling to popular kayaking destinations around the world.

Whitewater culture is all about getting out into incredible places with your mates. The kayaking community is so welcoming and will always have your back, you can join paddlers anywhere in the world and instantly have friends, even despite language barriers. Paddlers trust each other on and off the water and will often go out of their way to help you. Friendly banter is rife but so is encouragement to progress and when it is needed a group of strangers can come together to solve problems no matter the situation.

One thing I love: the community is incredibly welcoming and will always look out for each other. And when you’re trusting strangers in committing environments, lifelong friendships are quickly forged.

One thing I dislike: there are a few who feel they have power over those who are less experienced than they are and find it necessary to slate those who are learning, creating an unpleasant environment for progression. Just stop. Remember you were once failing rolls too.

Jack smashing boofs down in Ecuador. Photo by Rowan James.


My name is Del and I am a super enthusiastic whitewater kayaker from Nottingham. I am also a #Shepaddles ambassador for British Canoeing and a keen blogger.

Whitewater kayakers are connected by a deep passion that they have for their sport. That passion I believe goes beyond wanting to simply participate in the sport or to grow their own skills. Instead it’s a passion which drives you to want to grow the very sport itself.

The culture in whitewater kayaking in my experience is one of support and generosity. People go out of their way to help one another and most will always be happy to ‘give back’ to the community. Whether that is helping to develop other paddlers, taking care of our environment through river clean ups or simply offering to help out another group who find themselves in difficulty.

The thing I really love about whitewater and its culture is that it is a really close-knit community. Particularly in the UK where the number of people who participate in whitewater kayaking is relatively small. If you spend a day at the Dee or the Tryweryn, chances are you will know half of the people you meet at the get-on. The friends I have within kayaking are often so close that the kayaking community feels more like one giant extended family more than anything else. I absolutely love this about the kayaking culture in the UK.

One thing I dislike is the attitude that some individuals have that it is better to ‘survive’ harder graded rivers/rapids than it is to paddle rivers more suited to your abilities and paddle for fun. It is of course important to challenge ourselves and we all have bad days. But if every river day is a ‘bad’ day then perhaps it is time to reassess your river choices.

A classic Del smile! Photo by Tom Clare.

Mat Wilkinson

Hi, I’m Mat, and I’m a kayaker who spends my time off the water, and sometimes on it too, talking to people about what makes Pyranha Kayaks so awesome!

I’m so frequently proud to be a member of the whitewater community; whether it’s small actions like someone reuniting a fellow paddler with a lost piece of gear, people giving up a few days here and there to share their love of the sport with others or organise river cleans, or the paddlers who dedicate their lives to helping small communities fight against exploitation of their waterways by governments and corporations. Time and again, members of our small community display examples of the absolute best of humanity.

A friend once described the Uni Canoe Club I was part of as ‘a club for people who don’t fit in any other club’, and I think that applies to the whitewater community as a whole! I love that the culture is one of generosity and welcoming to newcomers.

The only thing I dislike is the one-size-fits-all, cliched advice that is thrown around on social media; we’ve all seen those echoing comments; ‘You must join a club or you’ll die!’, ‘My boat is the best and all others suck!’, ‘Brand X had a small issue 12 years ago, so anything they’ve made since sucks!’… I might be paraphrasing a little!

“Do you have a moment to talk about the Pyranha Ripper?” Photo by Tom Clare.

Heidi Walsh

Sport science nerd and lover of all things adventurous. You’ll mostly find me suffering through massive swim-bike-runs and rivers, because type 2 fun is the best kind of fun. Also pretty handy in a playboat.

Whitewater culture definition: packing up your home into your car, rallying to the river with a crew of awesome people and caring about nothing more than which river is in. This often includes not showering and smelly wet kit!

About the culture: the people in your crew can easily make or break a trip. There’s no better feeling than kayaking with friends you love and trust. Kayaking for me is all about high stoke levels and big smiles.

On the flip side, the people can also be what I really dislike in whitewater. It only takes one to leave a bad taste on what could have been a great trip. I’ve got no time for ego kayaking, negativity or alpha males. I’m often the only girl on big river trips. Don’t treat me any different to the boys! Don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t run! And PLEASE, don’t put me in any awkward and uncomfortable situations!

Riding the lightning on the Falloch! Photo by Joe Fender.

Darren Clarkson-King

I’m just a bloke that paddles, knows how to get boats on planes and how to to organise expeditions.

It’s funny you ask, as I just did a podcast on this topic. Over the last few months I’ve lost a few of my paddling mentors to age or illness. One thing that unites them is a certain eccentric nature. A certain way of looking awry at life, at challenges.

I really like that kayaking culture in general has a supportive atmosphere. Kayaking festivals, weekends away, adventure and the ability to offer something for everyone. Personal development is often a key reason we do this stuff.

Sadly bravado, chasing the gnar and the latest GoPro video often overshadow this and hold up a mirror that may not reflect the qualities we personally value.

“It’s high, but don’t tell anyone!”

What do you think defines whitewater culture? What are you favourite or least favourite aspects?