Paddle Safe

By Clay Cahoon   Illustrations By Kevin Waltermire

We all paddle because we love it‭. ‬What sport‭, ‬other than paddling‭, ‬involves trying to tame a force so strong it can move trees and house-sized boulders during a single rain‭? ‬Whether you are kayak fishing on a backwoods lake or paddling a flooded Class V creek‭, ‬you should adhere to strict safety precautions—and always respect the water‭. ‬The American Canoe Association recommends that you always boat in groups of three‭, ‬especially in whitewater conditions‭. ‬Never leave for a trip without telling someone where you're going and what time that you are expected to be back‭. ‬I go even further‭, ‬leaving a brief trip note in the seat of the vehicle I take to the river‭. ‬This way‭, ‬when the rescue team finds your vehicle‭, ‬they have extra information to help in their search‭.‬


Wear Your PFD

The most basic safety precaution is the life jacket—what paddlers refer to as a personal flotation device (PFD). There’s simply no good excuse not to wear one. Think you’re a great swimmer? Those abilities won’t help when you’ve been knocked unconscious with the weight of 2,000 cubic feet of water per second forced onto your chest. A good PFD also helps protect a paddler’s body from hard objects and provides thermal protection. So wear one. No excuses.

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Check Your Head

Whether it’s Class II water or Class V, every whitewater boater should wear a helmet. If you want to know why, take a look at a veteran paddler’s helmet—each one will have scratches and gouges. If you can only spend money on a few pieces of gear, don’t skimp on your PFD or helmet! And be sure to keep it on near the river bank, because slips and falls happen there all the time.


Save Your Feet

The river is full of sharp rocks, sticks, fish hooks, old rebar and other dangers. Wear a river shoe that has closed-toe protection—and save the Chacos or flip-flops for around camp.


Dress For Success

Obviously, if you are boating on an August day in Arkansas, dressing cool is important. But don’t forget about water temperature! If the sum of the outside temperature plus the water temperature is less than 120 degrees, you will want to wear thermal protection in order to prevent getting hypothermia. Long-sleeve clothing can help with sun protection. And as temperatures drop, wetsuits, drysuits or other thermal clothing will be needed.


Round Out Your Kit

When surrounded by loud whitewater, a whistle can be invaluable as a communication tool. Whistles are much louder than the human voice, and there are standard whistle signals that can be used to alert others that you are in trouble. A knife is also a must-have. Be sure to get one with a stainless steel blade to avoid rust.  



Kayak fishermen are a growing niche in the paddle world

By Michael Roberts

Sure, a kayak makes for the perfect platform when it comes to battling Arkansas’ excellent whitewater, but the small boats also make for an easily-transported way to catch a few fish. Looking to outfit your kayak? We talked with the fishing experts over at Fish N Stuff in Sherwood for gear recommendations. Family owned since 1987, the store has thrived under manager Jacob Perkins. “We just want to help you catch fish, and have a lot of fun in the process,” says Jacob. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find:

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Warm and Dry

For a light jacket that provides protection from both wind and damp, look no further than the i5 Crosswind. Won’t hold water, so it will never weigh you down!

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Lined Up Right

Available in a variety of test weights and colors, J-Braid is top-notch when it comes to line. After all, getting them on the hook is just the first step.

Lure Them In

With Norman Lures line of crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jigs, there’s no fish you can’t catch. Best of all, they are 100-percent “Made in the U.S.A.”

Tackle Anything

The Plano FTO Elite series of small tackle boxes are perfect for the limited space available to the kayak fisherman, and come in different styles for various types of lures.

Legendary Reputation

Looking to invest in a rod that will potentially last a lifetime? Falcon is the name. Check out their new-for-2017 BuCoo SR series and discover unparalleled strength in a lightweight package.

Utter Triumph

The Triumph 13 Angler from Perception Kayaks is the ultimate in kayak angling perfection. Fast, agile and built with the kayak fisherman in mind, you’ll be reeling them in as quick as you can get your bait in the water.

Rigged Up and Ready

By Michael Roberts   Photos By Brian Chilson / Courtesy Of Vendors


Karma Kayak

The Karma Kayak from Jackson Kayak handles whitewater with ease and comes fully loaded with rails to allow easy accessory attachment. 


Manta Ray Carbon Kayak Paddle

This lightweight paddle from Aqua-Bound will get you moving with a high-tech, carbon fiber blade to provide extra strength and stiffness.


Available from Ozark Mountain Trading Co., Garfield and Ozark;


Aero Sup Kit

Take off in a hurry with the Aero SUP package from Jobe. Includes a lightweight inflatable board, paddle, air pump and carrying case. Perfect for a beginner! 


Available from Gregg Orr Marine, Hot Springs;


Waterproof Pouch: 10” by 13”

Keep your valuables safe and dry with this inexpensive waterproof pouch by X-Stream Paddle Sports Gear. 

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1040 Micro Case

Great for cell phone protection, this case by Pelican also comes with a clip to keep it attached and easily accessible.

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Shades that Float

What better way to keep the sun out of your eyes on the water than a pair of shades—especially these foam-enhanced glasses from Bomber Eyewear that float.


Available from Byrd’s Adventure Center, Ozark;


A Canoeing & Kayaking Guide to the Ozarks

The Ozarks are home to some of the best paddling in the country. This guide by Arkansas Canoe Club instructor Tom Kennon will get paddlers on the water in no time.


Stetson Hat

This weathered cotton hat from Dorfman Pacific is perfect for protection from the sun—plus it’s durable enough to get wet.


Available from Turner Bend Store, Ozark;


Take A Stand

By John Pearce

Stand Up Paddleboarding is being discovered all over the world by surfers, canoeists, fishermen and anyone who enjoys being outside on the water. The upright perspective, glide through the water and minimalist approach make this sport appealing to a broad spectrum of people, and Arkansas’ bounty of lakes, rivers, creeks and swamps is a “SUP” paradise. 

The growing popularity of SUP is easy to explain: It’s fun, easy to learn and accessible. Just grab a board, paddle, leash and life-jacket and you’ll be checking out your nearest lake or quiet river in no time. 

SUP riders take on rivers of all sizes—including the Arkansas.

SUP riders take on rivers of all sizes—including the Arkansas.

Standing above the rush of water on a SUP is a unique perspective.

Standing above the rush of water on a SUP is a unique perspective.

Arkansas waterways can be swamps, lakes, a lock and dammed river system, flatwater river sections, or whitewater rivers and, in general, trips are either flatwater, whitewater, or mixed. Short flatwater trips are the best place to begin getting used to the board and building up comfort and skill level. Beaver Lake, Lake Ouachita, Lake Greeson and the Arkansas River are just a few of the hundreds of waterways that are great places to start. Remember to let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return. Arkansas is especially beautiful when viewed from a Stand Up Paddleboard—so get on the water and enjoy!

"The growing popularity of SUP is easy to explain: It’s fun, easy to learn and accessible." 

— John Pearce

Arkansas’ whitewater rivers like the Frog Bayou near Rudy make for a thrilling SUP ride.

Arkansas’ whitewater rivers like the Frog Bayou near Rudy make for a thrilling SUP ride.