Confluence Kayaks goes (small) toe to (big) toe with REI

While kayaking can be an exhilarating sport and a great way to stay cool in the summer while pursuing adrenalin rush thrills, getting into it can be intimidating to the novice. Since 1995, Confluence Kayaks, a small shop in the Platte Valley area of Denver, has been the place to go for expert advice on kayaks. Confluence also carries telemark and alpine touring ski equipment, and has ski tuning services. The shop recently moved to a new location, under the Vitamin Cottage at 15th and Platte.

Confluence was started by Jonathan Kahn, who grew up in Denver.

"We've been in this neighborhood since before REI," said Kahn. "I lived in the mountains after college and worked as a raft guide all through college and for a few years after that and decided it was time to get serious about life and figure out what I was going to do, so I moved back to Denver in 1994 and started the shop in 1995."

What separates Confluence from many general outdoor stores that sell kayaking gear is the instruction that Kahn and his staff offer. Every Tuesday night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., they have a roll class in a pool at Denver University. From April to October, they run an Intro Lake Lesson class at Chatfield State Park, and an Intro River Class where students learn about river features like eddies and running rapids. These are offered as a two-day package, with the lake lesson on Saturday and the river lesson on Sunday.

Confluence also offers more advanced instruction, including private lessons, and classes in playboating that teach skills such as wave surfing and stern squirts.

"Our lessons are really geared to beginners," said Kahn. "We do more advanced instruction and private lessons, but most of our programs are for beginners. Pool lessons are a great way to get started in a warm water situation and comfortable environment. It definitely helps to learn the roll where you can see through the water. We do those starting in January and running into August. We have a three-day pool lesson that is equivalent to the lake lesson that is split over three weeks."

Transitioning from the pool or lake to the river is a big step for novice boaters.

"When you get on the river, there's a lot more variables involved," said Kahn. "You have to understand current. You have to understand how to read and navigate a river. It's not just about transferring the skills directly to the river. People have to understand that tipping over is part of the sport, and if you don't have a roll, swimming is part of the sport."

Confluence also has an extensive selection of rentals, and its proximity to the Platte River whitewater park allows people to demo a selection of boats on the same day.

"One of the nice things about being so close to the river is people can try out multiple boats in the same session," said Kahn. "If they are interested in getting a playboat, they can try out a selection of playboats from different brands on the same day without having to drive back and forth. They can just walk to the river and back."

The Platte in Denver is a good place to learn kayaking as well, since many of the drops are man-made and have calm pools after each rapid. Kahn also recommends the upper Colorado and stretches of the Arkansas.

"It's important to be familiar with where you are going, and when you are learning, you want to stick to easier stretches of river, Class I and Class II rivers, and especially you need to be aware of high water making stretches of river more difficult," explained Kahn.

Those interested in taking a lesson can call the store book classes online.

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Candace Horgan