Can You Canoe?

There’s a paddling sport for everyone

When you think of Alberta, you probably envision rolling hills and mountain peaks, but don’t let your thirst for adventure stop there – the province is also covered in lakes and rivers that provide endless recreational opportunities. From swimming to sailing to windsurfing to kayaking, there are plenty of things to do to stay active this summer and just as many clubs or organizations out there to help get you started.

Photos Courtesy of Travel Alberta

“There’s water everywhere, in all corners, but the foothills are the primary location of the whitewater in the province,” says Michael Holroyd, a high performance head coach with Alberta Slalom Canoe Kayak. “We have a high performance training group based out of Calgary and Kananaskis, and the Alberta Whitewater Association has clubs all over the province. We do outreach for the clubs and run a development program for younger kids as well.”

Starting south in Pincher Creek and the Crowsnest Pass, Holroyd says the province boasts a large number of areas that people can take advantage of for water sports –
places like northern Kananaskis and the Bow Corridor (between Calgary and Banff), the Red Deer River and North Saskatchewan River, all the way up to Grande Cache and Grande Prairie. “Getting outside and exploring the province, it’s amazing all the places you can get to by water that you wouldn’t expect,” he says.

Boat-related activities are very different from other go-to summer exercises like running and biking, and there’s the added adrenaline rush if you hit whitewater areas. “It’s more like driving, but it’s something that kids can do,” Holroyd says. You get to basically drive your boat around all over the place. That aspect gives you a lot of independence.”

He says it’s also great for people with knee, joint or weight issues who may be limited in the types of cardiovascular activities they can participate in. Water’s buoyancy factor negates most problems people face with on-land sports.

If you’re looking for something a little more leisurely than hitting the whitewater, Randy Clement with the Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre, Calgary location, says canoeing is a great option. Clement, the director of lessons in Calgary, says it’s a great way to gain a different perspective of your city.

“I think for most people it’s a chance to get out and be active and also to see some really interesting locations and features,” Clement says. “If you’ve driven beside the Bow River, well that’s one thing. If you walk beside it, that’s another experience. But being on it and travelling down it I think has a lot of appeal for people.”

Clement says the Bow River and the Glenmore Reservoir are the places to be in Calgary during the hot summer months because they both offer a chance for people to relax, socialize with friends and family and, of course, enjoy the great outdoors. For people wanting to get involved with water activities, Clement says Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre has about 300 members, teaches about 3,000 kids each year through school programs and also offers public lessons.

Clement gets a lot of questions including: How do I get started? How do I know it’s safe? What equipment should I take? What skills should I know? He says a few lessons with his centre, or another, can answer those questions, but he stresses that people should pick up the right skills and get a good safety-conscious start
to paddling.

He says it’s also very important to match up the body of water you plan to canoe in with your experience level. You need to know what hazards are out there and what to do if something goes wrong.

“Any place where there is water and people, there are all kinds of things that can happen, so that’s the reality with it because you can’t stop, especially on a river,” Clement explains. “You can’t just put your foot on the brake and go ‘OK, I don’t like this anymore. I want to go to shore and get out of here.’ ” You need to gain safety skills and understanding before you start moving.

As for the stories about people using the Bow River to paddle to work in the morning, Clement says it’s possible, but there are two things that could definitely get in your way: “The problem is that you’ve got to get back – either you’re going to paddle upstream to get to your work and then come down nice and leisurely at the end of the day, or vice versa,” he says. “Plus, you’ve got to look after your boat.”

But even if your daily commute cannot include a boat, Clement says, “There are lots of opportunities around here, and around the whole province.”

So even though the saying “Jump in, the water’s warm” rarely applies to Alberta’s water ways, stick a toe in, maybe a paddle or two, and give your closest river or mountain water corridor a try this summer.

Memberships and lessons out on the water can range from $45 with the Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre to about $100 for lessons with one of the Alberta Whitewater Association’s 18 clubs. Holroyd and Clement agree it’s a fairly accessible sport, with plenty of rental boats available for people looking to try it out.

Plan your next water activity

  1. Alberta Whitewater Association
    This organization oversees all of the province’s whitewater canoe and kayak paddling and acts as a governing body for the sport. The website will connect you to specific events, educational resources for certification levels, links to clubs and more.
  2. Rocky Mountain Paddling
    This Calgary-based organization offers canoe and kayak lessons, rentals and river rescue courses.
  3. Paddle Alberta
    This province-wide not-for-profit organization promotes safe recreational canoeing and kayaking. By becoming a member, you gain networking opportunities, chances to participate in environmental activities as well as paddling education sessions, slide show viewing and actual in-the-river experience.

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