A River Different

With a world-class guide, far-flung kayak expeditions are now within the layman's reach

KIWI CLASSIC: Kayakers playing on New Zealand's Upper Perth River     Photo: Jason Arbetter

Intermediate Steps

Solidify your skills with a week-long course at Bryson City, North Carolina's Nantahala Outdoor Center. $1,225; www.noc.com

"SEE THAT MORPHO BUTTERFLY?" asks our guide, Don Beveridge, owner of Ecuadorean kayak outfitter Small World Adventures. "Line up right below it, heading right." We've already followed ducks over drops and used parrots as reference points in the jade-tongued rapids of the Lower Misahualli, an Amazon tributary five hours southeast of Quito, so keying on the iridescent insect comes easy. And alongside Beveridge, 41, who authored The Kayaker's Guide to Ecuador, so do the rapids. Indeed, the secret to exploring the world's exotic river canyons isn't a Class V boof stroke; it's going with a ringer. And with many of the world's best kayakers supporting their habit by guiding, more foreign territory is becoming accessible to intermediate paddlers every year. "You can travel virtually anywhere in the world and have a great Class III experience," says Willie Kern, 34, an instructor at Montana-based Tarkio Kayak Adventures who's led clients on new runs across four continents. "We take care of logistics and risk management, but the river experience is always your own." If you have a roll and a brace (see "Intermediate Steps" if you don't), these five outfitters have far-ranging trips with guides who will take you there and home again.

Foot in the Ecuador
A nine-day trip with Beveridge and his Small World Adventures partner Larry Vermeeren will put you on seven Ecuadorean rivers. From each takeout, you'll return to a nine-room lodge on the banks of the Rio Quijos and feast on empanadas and fresh banana flambé. Afterwards, get a Kayaker's Special from the staff masseuse. November–February, $1,485; www.smallworldadventures.com

Fú for Thought
Expediciones Chile sits on the banks of the Class V Futaleufú, with the Class III Espolón, Azul, and Palena rivers right up the road. Your guide, Olympian and freestyle pioneer Chris Spelius, knows the area better than any other gringo. Follow him down the Futa's tributaries, then master the big, rolling waves of its Class III El Macal section. Seven-day trips, December–April, $1,950; www.exchile.com

Down Under, and Over
On New Zealand's South Island, a helicopter is the preferred shuttle. Meet up with New Zealand Kayak School cofounder Peter Kettering and Jason Arbetter, of Northern California's Otter Bar Lodge and Kayak School, for an Airwolf-style assault on the Class III Maruia and Matakitaki rivers. Then dine on mint lamb at the Blue Spur Lodge, in Hokitika, and watch glowworms from the veranda. Class III trip (February 2–12) or Class III–IV trip (February 16–26), US$2,250; www.otterbar.com

Runnin' With the Buddhists
After pioneering its Bhutan itinerary last year, Montana-based Tarkio Kayak Adventures is leading its second paddling trip in the Himalayan Buddhist kingdom. The Paro Chu, Mo Chu, and Puna Tsang Chu drainages may cut through the world's highest mountains, but with Willie Kern—one of the world's most skilled expedition paddlers—guiding you, that means awe, not dread. November 9–December 2, $4,400; www.teamtarkio.com

Roll One in Jamaica
North Carolina's Nantahala Outdoor Center combines whitewater thrills with the hedonist pleasures of Negril's Lost Beach Resort. Brush up on your strokes in the seaside pool and then follow two-time Olympian Wayne Dickert down the Class I–III Cabarita River all the way to a surf break in the Caribbean. After paddling, experience the potent nightlife of Negril's club scene. December 3–9, US$1,450; www.noc.com

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