Paddling Terminology and Slang: Nobody Says ‘Up a River Without an Oar’

By Stephen Mullaney October 30, 2020

Outdoor Lingo

Welcome to our third — and final segment in our series about sports terminology and slang terms. In this post, we’ll be talking about whitewater paddling, and right off the bat, we’ve got a warning for the novice paddler.

Those who might be unfamiliar with whitewater kayaking or canoeing might think rowing and paddling are the same thing. But those folks would have another think coming. Because nothing raises the hackles of a whitewater guide or enthusiast than hearing a newbie describe canoe and kayak propulsion as “rowing.” Strike One!

The only thing worse would be referring to a paddle as an oar. Paddles are used for paddling. Oars are used for rowing. Strike Two!

We apologize for the harsh tone, but we are professional educators and guides here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE), and our primary purpose today is to support you in your efforts to make yourself a more confident person when you emerge from the river. That means that, during the course of a conversation, if you were to say you were rowing a river and got your playboat stuck in a ‘sticky hole,” you would need to take a “wet exit” from the conversation without the opportunity for a “brace” or a “combat roll.” Fact!

So, let’s pack our dry bags, pull on our skirts and PFD’s and hit the river.

We’ll start with the name of the vehicle in which we will be paddling. Your first thought might be to call it a kayak. Don’t. Yes, in every design aspect and shape it’s a kayak. But when you talk about your kayak, you will be saying “boat.” No, really. We insist. And we understand you might be confused but trust the process.

Here are some terms you’ll need to know about the boat (kayak) and it is various and sundry accessories:

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