Fast forward over 100 years, bring yourself to Voss, Norway, and you will find yourself staring at one of Northern Europe’s best rivers for whitewater sports: Raundalselven. Now a glorious playground of varying sections, the river attracts some of the world’s greatest kayakers, year-round. Fed by the surrounding tributaries, which are in turn fed by multiple mountain giants, the river runs strong, cold and crisp, providing waves, play-holes and waterfalls for those who visit.
Outdoor Norway offers three kayaking options to help you explore the wild beauty of Voss’s rivers as safely, and authentically, as possible. The first is a one-day kayak experience where you can learn all the basics needed to help you navigate low-grade rapids and beginner flows. The second option is a two-day course, where you get the opportunity to dive deeper into the techniques, challenges, language and knowledge that comes with reading and tackling rivers. The third option is a guided tandem tour, lasting around 3 hours in a double kayak alongside a professional guide. Whether you are leaning towards a thrilling experience, or an educational one, Outdoor Norway is ready to guide you down the path less traveled.
Last week, I had the opportunity to swim down this less-traveled path when I joined a kayak experience after work with the team. My tandem companion was Chief Director of Good Times, Marcio, who made me feel confident and comfortable as a this-is-my-first-time-ever-in-a-river-kayak kayaker. After suiting up, we took a beautiful and scenic drive up the valley to the first put-in point. We double checked our safety gear, rehearsed what we needed to do in case we flipped, and confirmed body positioning and paddle technique. After what seemed to be only a few quick seconds, we went hurdling down the river.
I quickly realized that river kayaking and mountain biking require much of the same technique. Lean into the turn, stabilize your core, relax your shoulders, don’t panic, choose your line, trust your gut. Of course, the hardest work and choices were coming from my guide, but my presence was nonetheless necessary for us to make it through each drop and rapid. One of the most important things I learned on the river, whether kayaking or rafting, is the critical importance of paddling: if you cannot travel faster than the river it will eat you up.
By the time we reached the first pull-out point, my body was well-warmed through and I was smiling ear-to-ear. I truly felt like I was learning how to work with the river, and not against it. We had turned, hit pockets, and literally surfed waves. So when the time had come to hit the second section, I was more than ready. With a quick shuffle of equipment and people, we were soon at the next put-in point.
As we loaded the boats into the water, I immediately knew we had taken a step up in difficulty. The energy of the river felt chaotic and uncontrolled. Here, it was not possible to avoid whitewater or waves. Here, you needed full mental clarity and dedication. But reminding myself that real personal growth occurs outside of our comfort zones, I pulled on my best pair of big-girl pants, told myself that I was more than capable, and resolved to overcome my fears to experience the river like I never have before.
As we launched ourselves down the second section, I could feel the power of the water building beneath us. Reaching the crux, I was given clear directions on what I needed to prepare for: Paddle hard, keep your weight forward, prepare to ride the wave. We entered the current and I watched my colleagues disappear, one by one. As the nose of our kayak peaked over the edge of the drop, I saw the waves below and could not believe a river could create such raw power and force.
The next few seconds felt like a thousand. I can still see the waves above my head, their tips curling over in shades of blue and white. I can still hear the thunderous roar of water, so loud it created its own type of silence. Yet somehow, despite all the commotion, the world felt still, giving me a brief and rare opportunity to see nature’s beauty unfiltered, untouched and uninterrupted.
After the waves spit us out like watermelon seeds, the hoots and hollers of Marcio brought me back down to earth, helping the incomprehensible magic of the experience settled in. Even now, having had ample time to reflect on the experience, it feels difficult to find the right words to describe my time on the river.
Perhaps the struggle comes from having spent so little time with this element, but what I have seen in the eyes of others has spoken louder than any words. From everything I have taken away from my tandem kayak experience, the feeling that stands out as the strongest is this: I believe there is some type of truth hidden beneath the waves, and I strongly recommend you find the time to discover it for yourself.