Despite the neck injury from one of my submerged Shoshone head whacks, my Upper Colorado River broken hand, and my fellow student's near drowning experience on the Neuse River all within my first 17 days, whitewater kayaking is not an activity that I would call imminently life threatening at the beginning levels. As with most adventurous endeavors, progressing slowly and staying in areas that are within your abilities should provide a good level of security.
My broken hand came about as the result of me trying to do something beyond my skill level, namely keeping hold of my boat in rapids that I should have just tried to get out of. There was someone with me to help get my boat later. Swimming safely to the bank should have been my priority.
The low water year created limited river options for me to choose from as progressions beyond the Upper C, and I was extremely eager to progress. Many accomplished boaters don't paddle Shoshone at low water. Despite my eagerness to advance, I could have given more weight to the small amount of discussion I had heard on the Shoshone low water topic.
On top of all that, on the days I had the most trouble, the demo boat I was renting was a very squirty Ace. With my limited skills, I'm sure I would have been better off in turbulent water with a much less catchy stern.
Boating five days in a row to a point of exhaustion probably didn't help either.
In case you are curious, it was #3, the side impact, that actually caused my neck injury. The other two may have killed a few brain cells, but they didn't hurt too much.
On the subjects of judgement and progression...
But... he was a better boater than myself and he was in a more stable kayak. He never flipped in Shoshone.
Although in the past he may not have been as aggressive in developing a reliable roll, he was certainly more qualified to paddle Shoshone at low water.
My point is simply that kayaking can be as safe as you want it to be. I am generally an obsessive safety nut. I like to progress with new skills rapidly when possible, but I like to do it safely. Shoshone at low water and at my skill level definitely represented more risk than would be mandatory for a new boater to assume.
Concerning the "trapped under the boat" near drowning incident back in North Carolina on the Neuse River, my advice would be to consider avoiding rivers with hurricane debris for your first lesson, and don't hesitate to tell your instructor you would like to practice wet exits a few more times before heading downstream.
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