A Dictionary of Paddling Terms

Air Brace – In ineffectual brace employed by novice paddlers in which the paddle blade is waggled about above the water until the boat capsizes. Often performed one-handed with the opposite hand clenched white-knuckled on the gunwale.

Attain – Paddling upstream against a current. What you do when you inadvertently float past the take out.

Bony – AKA scratchy. Shallow water that scrapes up your boat. The blue and green coating on the barely submerged rocks isn’t algae, it’s vinyl. It the days before plastic boats a fleet of Grummans could be heard bashing down a bony run for miles.

Booties - Neoprene socks or boots used to keep your feet warm in cold weather. Also the things that make your car trunk smell like something died in there.

Boof – In a kayak, to propel the boat over a rock or ledge. Onomatopoetic. In a canoe when the yoke snaps during a portage and lands on your head. Also onomatopoetic

Bow – The pointy part of the boat up front. Showed up late for the basic paddling class, eh?

Brace – A paddling stroke using a downward and sweeping motion with the blade to keep the boat from capsizing. If you are unfamiliar with this stroke see “carnage” and “yard sale”.

Broach - What happens when someone hits a rock and turns sideways. It is important that other paddlers yell “Don’t lean upstream” in unison when a novice gets sideways on a rock. Leaning downstream and bracing may allow the boat to slide off. Leaning upstream may result in a capsize, carnage and yard sale.

Bulkhead – An in-hull wall that seals off a compartment in a decked boat, used for flotation or for dry storage accessible through a hatch. Also what you can buy at certain big-box discount stores in Nevada.

Capsize – What happens when you lean upstream in a broach. See also cap size; what you’ll need to know to replace your hat when it floats away with the rest of your gear.

Carnage – A jovial term to describe what happens after you lean upstream in a broach.

CFS - Cubic feet per second, referring to the amount of water flow at a certain point on the river. Not to be confused with CRS, with is an acronym for why you showed up at the put in but forgot to bring your paddle or PFD.

Chine – The angle where the sides of the boat meet the bottom. Not to be confused with China, which is where cheap rec kayaks will probably be made in a few years.

Chute – A narrow tongue of water where the flow is constricted. Not to be confused with “shoot” which is what very polite paddlers shout before entering a chute they haven’t scouted. Impolite paddlers typically shout something else.

Class I - VI - International scale of river difficulty:

Class I (Novice). Class II (Practiced Novice). Class III through IV (Don’t even think about it until you’ve had some experience and taken a safety course). Class V (Make that much more experience) Class VI (Check your life insurance policy first).

Creeking – Paddling (or simply bouncing down) small, high gradient streams. Also known as steep creeking. Sometimes confused with creaking, which is the sound that a C1 paddler’s knees make after a few years.

Crossloading boats – Transferring boats from one car to another to make a shuttle possible. Also the reason why your rack crossbars should be wide enough to accommodate an additional boat. Not to be confused with cross-dressing boats, such as putting a sprayskirt on a canoe.

Curler – The crest of a large wave that spills back upstream. What WV law requires women to put in their hair before leaving the house.

Darkside – A colloquial term for people who lack the skill and finesse to paddle a canoe (i.e., kayakers). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Really, some of my best friends are butt boaters.  Also a term for those who move from Ingall’s paddling group to Kobak’s group. i.e. – Going over to the darkside.

Draw stroke – A stroke performed by placing the paddle out in the water parallel to the boat and pulling the blade towards the hull. In a tandem boat having a bowman capable of executing a draw stroke can help prevent lots of yelling and recrimination.

D-ring – A steel ring attached inside a boat used as a tie-down point. Also de thing you put on de wife’s finger at de wedding, after which you won’t be paddling de boat as frequently.

Dry bag - A waterproof bag designed to keep your gear dry. Having a change of clothes in a dry bag is essential if your bowman can’t execute a draw stroke.

Dry Suit - An over-garment designed for cold weather paddling with neck, wrist and ankle gaskets or booties to keep water out. Also guaranteed to remove any excess cash from your wallet at the time of purchase.

Duct Tape – The paddler’s friend. Can be used in almost any emergency from broken skin to broken boats. Also removes warts and keeps unruly children quiet and subdued.

Eddy – A place in the river, often behind an obstruction or inside a sharp turn, where the water reverses and flows upstream. Eddies are a good place to pause, rest, or boat scout. They are also the place where your gear is likely to collect after your bowman misses the draw stroke, your boat broaches and you forget to lean downstream. See yard sale.

Eddy Line – The line between the eddy and the main current. Not to be confused with Eddie’s Line, which was “My you look nice today Mrs. Cleaver”.

Entrapment – Not to be confused with “I swear she said she was sixteen in the chat room”, entrapment in paddling is getting trapped or stuck in some fashion. Pulled into an undercut, trapped between a water-filled boat and a rock, washed into a strainer or pinned in a folded boat – the best outcome is you don’t get crushed, don’t drown and live to learn a lesson (the first rule of paddling – “Don’t die”).

Ferry – Angling the boat to move sideways or upstream against a current, a properly executed ferry uses the current to help move the boat sideways. A Hairy Ferry is a ferry with dire consequences if you screw up. A Hairy Fairy is the hirsute guy in the gay bar that keeps leering at you.

Flare – The cross-section shape of a hull that increases in width from the waterline to the gunwales. Also the thing you pray someone sees you launch when a shark takes a bite out of your sea kayak.

Flatwater – Water that is flat. Whitewater paddlers manage to impart an inflection to this word that has undertones of despicability.

Float Bag - An inflated air bag used in boats to displace water. Float bags will make a swamped boat float higher, be less likely to pin or hang up and easier to recover. Not to be confused with a gasbag (see Rush Limbaugh).

Float Plan – Communicating your trip plans, including what, when and where, orally or in writing to someone who cares. Not to be confused with a floatplane, which is the flying object that causes Herve Villachez to squeal “Zee plane boss, zee plane”.

Foot Brace – A footrest inside the boat, often adjustable in position. Also the thing that steep creekers wear for 6 weeks after their boat pencils in below a too tall drop.

Foot Entrapment – What happens when you attempt to stand up in fast moving water, your foot becomes wedged between the rocks and the current pulls you under. If you live see the first rule of paddling. Also see your ankles bent in a whole new direction.

Freeboard – The amount of distance between the waterline and the gunwales. Free room and board is what young rodeo stars still need from mom and dad to survive financially.

Gauge Height – On-line or stick gauges for determining the height of the water at a specific point along the river. Some painted gauges may also denote a “canoe zero” level. If you attempt to paddle a river below canoe zero have a nice walk.

Gradient – The amount of drop or steepness of a river, usually given per mile. Although a seemingly easy flatwater river may have a single digit gradient because it is utterly flat…except for that that one waterfall you didn’t know about.

Guidebook – A resource book for finding out about that waterfall before you suddenly plunge over the edge. A good guidebook will include maps, trip descriptions, gauges, gradient, class, distance between access points and shuttle directions. See anything by Ed Gertler or Roger Corbett.

Gunwales - The wood, aluminum or vinyl pieces running from bow to stern along the top of the hull. Also what novices typically grab if they don’t know how to brace.

Hip Snap – Throwing the hips (and knees) in motion to roll a kayak. Also what old schoolers hope doesn’t happen when they fall down on the portage trail.

Hole – Envision a whirlpool on its side, where the water flows over an obstacle, plunges toward the bottom and recurves upstream back towards the obstacle. Also known as a hydraulic. Or, more ominously, a keeper. Not a good place to be if you don’t know what you are doing. (See the first rule of paddling). A hole can also be the void that suddenly appears in the bottom of your boat after you slam into a piece of barely submerged rebar. See duct tape.

Horizon line – What appears to be a straight waterline stretching across the river. If you had read the guidebook you would have noticed mention of a falls or very steep drop in this very place. Better hope there’s an eddy before you get there.

Keel – A raised ridge that runs along the bottom of a boat from end to end to help tracking and add rigidity. When the boat goes sideways and this raised ridge catches a rock you will soon understand the origin of “keeled over”. See capsize, carnage and yardsale.

Keel Haul – What pirates used to do to their captors as a punishment. Pulling them along the bottom of the ship.

Keel Hauler – What Kobak makes you become on your second run down a river under his tutelage,

Kneeling Thwart – A low-slung thwart back of amidships upon which a kneeling canoeist rests his hindquarters until the realization sinks in that here are less painful ways to paddle a canoe. See Saddle.

Lead Boat - The first boat down the river in a trip. Hopefully this is someone who knows the river. In whitewater situations this boat is known as the probe and should be someone whose insurance premiums are up to date.

Lilydipper -.A dawdling, slow moving paddler. Also the moniker of a dawdling, slow moving Adirondack paddler of some repute.

Limbo Log – A fallen log spanning the river with enough room to scrunch down in the boat and limbo beneath. Arrggh, wait, maybe there isn’t enough rooSPLASH!

Live Bait - Strong swimmer rescue

Low Head Dam – Envision a horizon line with a riverwide keeper at the base. These dams are often small in size and appear runnable. They are not. You will die. Don’t even think about it, portage these killers.

Minicell – Closed-cell foam favored by paddlers for a variety of outfitting needs in canoes and kayaks, including padding and flotation. Pricey, but fun and easy to cut, shape and install. See John R. Sweet Company.

OC1/OC2 – Open Canoe One/Open Canoe Two. Solo and tandem canoes. What skilled paddlers utilize when they have graduated from kayaks and brightly colored pool toys.

Oil canning – This surprisingly has nothing to do with having torn the oil pan off a buddy’s car on a dirt access road. It describes when the floor of a poorly constructed or flat-bottomed OC1 or OC2 bounces up and down in turbulent waters.

Old school – Paddlers who started their waterborne adventures in Grummans. If two old schoolers are present one will claim to have started in a wood and canvas Chestnut. If three old schoolers are present one will harken back to birch bark. Four gets you back to a hand-hewn dugout. A collection of more than four old schoolers indicates that the bus from the Sunset Community Center made a wrong turn on the way to bingo.

Outfitting – All the things you need to do to a canoe or kayak after you buy it. Adding minicell paddling, bungee cords, floatation bags and lacing, D-rings, etc. If cars were sold the way boats are you would get an engine, wheels and a chassis – the rest would be up to you.

Paddles – Wood or composite sticks with a blade at one or both ends, used to propel and maneuver the boat. Not to be confused with “oars”, which is a colloquial term for streetwalkers in Liverpool.

Paddling – What we do in our boats, to our naughty children and kinky sexual partners.

Painters - Line attached to the bow and stern of canoes, used for tying the boat ashore or lining the boat down through rapids. These should not be stored loose, and should have no knots that can catch and hang up the canoe. Painters are also useful to grab hold of after a capsize, aiding in boat rescue and recovery, so that you can go paddling again next weekend instead of staying home outfitting a new canoe.

Park & Play – Parking close to a river feature and paddling a short distance to “play” a wave, hole or other river feature with no shuttle required. Also what the local teenagers are doing in the backseat of their cars at the take out after dark.

PFD - Personal Floatation Device. AKA life vest or life jacket. Federal law requires one per person and requires that children under 13 wear a PFD when on the water. Thirteen seems like an odd cut-off age, since we all know how responsible teenagers are, and what good decision they can be counted on to make. Adults too for that matter. Wear one.

Pin – The final result when your bowman misses a critical draw stroke and your boat broaches against an immovable object. Watch as the force of the water folds your boat up like a cheap tortilla shell. Hopefully you are not in it at the time. See Z-drag.

Pogies – Mittens that attach to the paddle shaft for cold weather paddling. Not to be confused with pierogies, which make poor cold weather hand protection since the mashed potato filling makes the paddle shaft very slippery.

Poling – Using a long wood or aluminum pole to push the boat upriver from a standing position. Also known as going up a creek without a paddle.

Portage – An opportunity to labor up a trail wearing a really large hat that weighs sixty pounds. Unless you own a Kevlar boat, in which case this is an opportunity stroll merrily up a trail wearing a thirty-pound hat while your fellow paddlers shoot you nasty looks.

Primary Stability – Also know as initial stability. What big ole flat-bottomed canoes have gobs of, so that they are hard to capsize. Up to a point. In calm conditions. But lean the canoe past that point of primary stability, or take on some quartering waves, and a flat bottomed boat will roll over faster than a Ford Explorer with Firestone tires.

Pry – A stroke performed by placing the paddle near the gunwale with the blade parallel to the hull and prying the shaft outward off the gunwale. Not good for the paddle shaft. Or, after a while, for the gunwale. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Put-in – The place where you start a trip by putting your boat in the water. Unless you are paddling in a circle, poling upriver or are simply out for some park-&-play the put in is almost always upstream of the take out. See Take Out. See Shuttle. See your State’s laws on hitchhiking if you leave the car keys at the put in.

Ramp – The place where the river pools up before dropping through a chute. Also a boat launch shared motorized vessels. Not to be confused with ramps, which are foul wild onion weeds that West Virginia natives trick visitors into eating.

Rapid – See the current speed up and the water cascade around rocks, over ledges and down drops. See whitewater. See carnage if a novice trip.

Rapid Floss - Throw rope

Release – An event that draws hordes of boaters in which water is let out of a dam. Accent on “horde”; some baseball teams draw fewer people their home games. If you value solitude run like the devil. Also what a trip leader may have you sign so your next of kin don’t sue.

Ribs – Structural material, often wood, that form the frame of a canoe on the inside. Also pairs of curved bones that are less likely to break when you slam into a rock during a swim if you are wearing your PFD. Broken canoe ribs are easier to repair.

River Right - The right-hand side of the river when facing downstream. The opposite of River Left. Not to be confused with River Wrong, which is when you mistakenly leave the take out vehicle in a different drainage basin.

Rocker – Longitudinal curvature in the bow and stern of a boat along the bottom of the hull. A heavily rockered boat will turn easily and track straight only with practice and good technique. Novice paddlers in heavily rockered boats are an endless source of entertainment.

Roll – Recovering from a capsize while remaining in the boat, requiring a coordinated hip snap and paddle stroke to bring the boat back upright. Kayakers often use a sweep roll or an Eskimo roll. Most canoeists prefer a deli roll, with ham, pepper jack and mayo.

Scouting – To disembark and look over a section of river before running it. Or portaging it, if you happen to espy a large waterfall with sharp rocks at the base. Not to be confused with Boat Scouting, in which you convince yourself that it isn’t necessary to get out of the boat to have a look, and so don’t see the large waterfall before plunging over the edge. Also not to be confused with Boy Scouting, in which merit badges are awarded for bashing the hell out of Grumman canoes.

Secondary Stability – Also known as Final Stability. What round bottomed canoes (hopefully) have gobs of, because sitting quietly in one is like sitting quietly on a unicycle. These boats are however less likely to capsize suddenly when leaned over. Mostly because you’ll have fallen out long before the boat gets that far.

Shuttle – The shuttle is the thing besides paddling that needs to happen between the put in and take out. This usually involves vehicles, but can sometimes involve hitchhiking and arguing about who left the keys back at the put in. The shuttle is a strangely unfathomable concept for some people. These are usually the same people who propose harebrained variations to an established shuttle routine, resulting in all the drivers arriving at the put in but none of the boats, or whose inability to count higher than ten without removing their shoes and socks forces twelve passengers to cram into a single Corolla at the take out.

Shuttle Bunny – A female non-paddling person who agrees to run shuttle.

Shuttle Buns - A male non-paddling person who agrees to run shuttle. Shuttle buns willing to wait at the take out without drinking your beer are thought to be an urban myth.

Skid Plate – AKA bang plates or grunch pads. Additional materials, usually Kevlar, fiberglass or vinyl, added to the stems of canoes to protect against damage from scratches and sharp impacts. See Outfitting. See buying a car without fenders or bumpers.  Also see helmet when roll doesn’t work in shallow water.

Spray Skirt – A tight fitting waterproof tutu kayakers wear around their waist that fits around the cockpit rim to keep out water. I guess you need to be very secure in your masculinity to wear a skirt and sit in something called a cockpit.

Stems – The pointy ends of a canoe hull. What you remove along with the sticks and seeds.

Stern – See bow. The stern is the part you don’t see, provided you are sitting in the boat facing the right direction.

Strainer – Woody peril. Strainers are trees that have fallen over into the river, sometimes including other trees and debris that have washed up against the original tree. Consider these hazardous to your health. Called a strainer because the water will go thorough, but large particulate matter like you and your boat will not. Ponder the consequences.

Sweeper – Trees or branches that overhand the river, or sometimes just barricade the river with their branches. Before those overhanging braches knock you out of the boat you’ll have a faceful close up of spiders, hornet nests, assorted rusty fish hooks and something brown and disgusting and you really don’t want to know what that was, do you? Don’t worry about it, you are taking a bath in a second anyway.

Sweep boat - The last boat in a group. This is a good position for an experienced paddler, who can ride herd and bring up the rear. Unless you paddle with the Squatters (Motto: Not as fast as they look”), who can out dawdle any sweep boater ever born.

Sweep Stroke - Stroke used to turn the boat to the side opposite the paddle by reaching out and forward and pulling the blade in an arc from bow to stern. Not to be confused with the Sweeper Stroke, which is a modified breaststroke, used to extricate your entangled and exhausted body from a mass of in-water branches.

Take-out – The place where you take your boat out of the water and put it back on the roof racks. Also the place where your paddling partner gets huffy and shouts “No, I thought you had the car keys!”. Not to be confused with put out, which is what you forlornly hope the attractive young shuttle bunny will do.

Tandem – A two-person canoe or kayak. In kayaks this is sometimes called a divorce boat. There are also canoes and kayaks designed for three (or more people). These are known as a reason to buy a portage cart.

Throw Rope – AKA Throw Bag. Floating rope in a throwable bag used for rescue. Since it is difficult to throw a rope to yourself you better hope your friends carry one too. For that reason they make ideal Christmas gifts.

Thwart – The crosspiece between the gunwales that braces the sides of the canoe. See Yoke. See the imprint of your kneecaps in the rear thwart after the bow slams into a barely submerged rock below a step drop. See thigh straps.

Tie-Downs - Ropes or lines used to secure a boat to the car top. Boats should have belly lines (often tied off o the rack) and bow and stern lines tied off to the car. Any lost boat plea that begins “Flew off my roof somewhere between…” indicate the lack of a bowline and a foolhardy dependence on belly lines alone.

Trim – The angle of the boat in the water along the keel line. Heading downwind the boat may perform better bow light. Into the wind, bow heavy or neutral may be advantageous. Trim can be altered by shifting gear, moving a sliding seat or knocking your bowman out of the boat with a convenient low-slung tree limb.

Trip leader - A god-like creature who has volunteered shoulder the burden of responsibility, make arrangements, coordinate meeting times and organize the shuttle, not to mentions leading who-knows-what down the river of his or her choice. In homage to these great souls trip participants typically proffer an unending supply alcohol, tobacco, drugs of choice and undying respect. Trust me on that, it’s the norm. I’m partial to India Pale Ales, non-filter camels and 200mg Ibuprofen.

Tumblehome – The cross-section shape of a hull that decreases in width from the waterline to the gunwales. Not to be confused with stumble home, which is what you do after the post-paddling libations have been consumed.

Undercut – A shelf, rock or ledge with a cavity or recess below water. Avoid at all costs, even if this means flipping over from the proscribed feet-first position and swimming for your life. Better battered and bruised than stuffed back in an undercut trying to hold your breath for several days.

Volume – The total overall capacity of a hull. The knob you don’t touch in my truck if you are a shuttle passenger.

Wet Exit – Popping the sprayskirt and going for an impromptu swim. See roll, missed again, must breathe. Canoeists forego the egress nomenclature and simply call it going for a swim.

Wet Suit – A form-fitting neoprene suit that helps prevent hypothermia by trapping a thin layer of water between the neoprene and your skin. Or a thin layer or urine. Combine a colorful wet suit with a matching spray skirt and you too can live out a secret fantasy life as an incontinent transvestite superhero.

Yard Sale – The appearance of the downstream eddies when your gear floats away after a capsize. See a good reason to write your name on your gear.

Yoke – A scalloped amidships thwart that rests on your shoulders when portaging a canoe. After several hundred yards you will begin to appreciate the wonder that is lightweight Kevlar construction.

Z-drag – No, it’s nothing to do with inhaling a hand rolled Zig Zag. It’s a rescue rope technique using pulleys or carabineers for mechanical advantage to free a pinned boat. The river runner’s version of Archimedes’ big enough lever