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Thrill of the Paddle: An Illustrated Guide to Extreme Canoeing

by Paul Mason and Mark Scriver

Portaging is the bane of the canoeist’s existence. There may be rugged satisfaction in scrabbling up the rocky shore, feeling like a coureur de bois, but most can do without the dull pain that comes from trekking with an 80- or 90-pound canoe on your shoulders.

Some canoeists will do almost anything to avoid portages. Once they learn to paddle their way down a set of rapids, most will forgo the portage around them. That’s how white water canoeing begins, but the sport is addictive, and soon it becomes an end in itself. Many paddlers who begin by looking for the safest and easiest way down the river soon find themselves scouting rapids to play in the danger spots.

Paul Mason and Mark Scriver have written a comprehensive guide to what they call “play boating.” Informally written, with illustrative and humorous anecdotes, Thrill of the Paddle reads like a campfire chat. The enthusiasm of the two white water medallists is contagious as they share their favourite tricks and most hair-raising experiences.

Mason is the first to acknowledge that Thrill of the Paddle is indebted to its predecessor, Path of the Paddle, written by his father and canoeing partner, the late Bill Mason. Mason shares his father’s sense of adventure and showmanship, and his ability to describe a river-running situation in compelling detail. Wisely, though, Mason and Scriver don’t try to rewrite or improve upon Bill Mason’s basic but definitive introduction to white water paddling; instead, they use it as the starting point for their own writing.

Thrill of the Paddle covers basic play boating techniques for both tandem and solo canoeing in a “classic” open canoe, as well as the more advanced techniques that are made possible when paddling solo or tandem in the shorter, custom-designed play boats. The mechanics of surfing, carving, endering, and boofing are all covered here, but the authors never leave the novice reader up creek without a paddle. Wherever the authors assume knowledge of river reading, maneuvering, or rescuing, they refer novices to a library of books on those subjects.

Just don’t expect them to suggest an easy way down the rapids.