Whitewater Kids

A Foam Call for the Whole Family
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Walker Linares "surfing" West Virginia style on the New River.
Walker Linares "surfing" West Virginia style on the New River.

When I told my six-year-old daughter that we would be going whitewater paddling, she smiled politely but had no idea what I was talking about. For her, traveling on water has meant canoeing in the placid lakes and rivers of Vermont and the Adirondacks. I explained that this paddling was going to be different. These were rivers with waves, swirls, and bumps. This was water with attitude. She was intrigued, but still mystified.

Our destination was a place that has become synonymous with the best whitewater paddling in the East: West Virginia. I have long had a soft spot for the state that proclaims itself "wild and wonderful" on its license plates. West Virginia is a rough-edged version of Vermont. The roads are windier, the gold-lettered signs far fewer, and the mountains gnarlier. And then there are the rivers. The state is crisscrossed by a network of waterways that leap, twist and blast there way down from the Allegheny Mountains.

The folks at Class VI River Runners in Fayetteville, West Virginia, are renowned for running trips through the New River Gorge and the Gauley River, two of the most challenging whitewater rivers in the country. However, Class VI also has a tamer side, having developed a reputation for first-rate family whitewater trips. They take kids starting at age six. Ariel, my daughter, was to be the youngest member of a group of parents and kids that was headed down the New River for three days in late July.

The truth be told, I was a bit nervous about this trip. I was not new to whitewater—I had taught whitewater canoeing for Outward Bound some years back, and have logged many miles in rapids from Utah to Ontario to Maine. That was the problem: I knew too much. I have been in over my head—literally—more than once on big rivers. I didn't fancy seeing my kid get thrashed the way that I have been. Nevertheless, the folks at Class VI assured me that we would be on a tamer section of the New River, with rapids rated Class I-III (on a scale where Class VI is considered unrunnable). The bigger rivers they run have multiple sets of Class IV-V+ rapids, and they don't take kids younger than 12 on those sections.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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