I was watching a YouTube video featuring clips from award winning kayaking films.

One thing I immediately noticed was multiple instances of kayakers running waterfalls who seem to be intentionally throwing their paddle away during the drop (you can see what I'm talking about pretty clearly at about 2:20). This seems to be contrary to what I always learned that your paddle is your life. I understand that for the initial landing not having your paddle in your hand might reduce the chance for injury, but it seems like the almost complete lack of maneuverability due to no longer having a paddle should make holding onto the paddle worthwhile. Not the to mention the expense of losing paddles if they run away or the time involved in trying to find your paddle.

Are these people just dropping the waterfalls and immediately bailing out of their kayaks at the bottom when the camera stops so they don't care about maneuverability? Do they just count on friends out of frame that have an extra paddle to give them at the bottom? Or is the risk of injury just so great above a certain height that the paddle has to go?

2 Answers 2


The reasons for doing it include:

  • not breaking your paddles (this is the main one)
  • not breaking your face
  • it is (was) cool
  • it's fun

The last two are why it's being done in the linked video.

Re: your concerns, it's something you only do on pool drops where you can just hand-roll up (if needed) and hand-paddle into the eddy - or at least have someone at the bottom fetch you your paddles. You'd never do it if the drop is followed by a (significant) rapid.

Are they swimming at the bottom? No. Why would they, that's too much effort and you'd get all wet.

Note: you never have to do this. Just holding onto your paddles and tucking in to the side is the standard way to run a bigger drop.

  • That makes sense. Holding onto the paddle and tucking to the side is what I expected was normal. I'm clearly not running big water nor do I hang out with those who do so it was surprising to me when I saw it in the video.
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 18:09
  • @Erik yeah, it was kind of a fun trend a few years ago. I doubt you'll see many people do it now, but it's still fun.
    – Niall
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 18:13

OK, going by the first part of that video mainly, as the other two seem to be more technical and not so steep:

When they are throwing the paddles away, they always seem to be falling from very high, the kayak pointing straight down, and they are going to hit the water flat with their face. In the first 2 or 3 falls, you see they not only throw the paddle, but also cover their faces with the hands to avoid hitting the surface hard on the face. I guess that's related - throwing the paddle so they have both hands for the face.

Markedly, in all other falls, which are either not that high or where they are flying with a horizontal kayak, there is no throwing-away going on.

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