Paddling down a lonely stretch of whitewater grants you access to the places that most people don't think exist anymore—wild, untrammeled, off-limits. Start your education slowly. "The biggest mistake," says Peter Sturges, owner of California's Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School, "is letting your buddy convince you that you're good enough to go on the river the first day." Learn to roll in flatwater first. Then learn how to execute turns by carving your edge. Hook up with an experienced paddler when you do decide to tackle moving water, both for safety and smart pointers. Or go with Sturges himself. His weeklong courses on the Salmon River ($2,190; otterbar.com) have introduced thousands of newbie paddlers to the sport—all without the prospect of downing a PBR from a wet booty.