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Kayakers get their first lap of the season on the Payette River

Posted at 1:31 PM, Mar 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-20 21:36:51-04

BANKS, Idaho — Idaho has a unique attribute where outdoor adventure seasons overlap and this weekend there were people skiing and kayaking on the same day.

Many kayakers are getting in their first laps of the season, but it's also a time of year where the water runs cold, and warm weather gear is a necessity.

We were lucky enough to spot a group of paddlers that included Mike and Connor Voorhees, who were making their first run through the Staircase section on the South Fork of the Payette River.

“This is my first time this year and it was fun, it's always fun," said Connor. "Kayaking just kind of represents my personality too, just kind of going with the flow.”

Every time a kayaker hits their water they should have certain safety gear like a helmet, a PFD and a throw rope, people should also paddle in groups.

But this time of year proper layering and special gear are necessary to keep paddlers from freezing on the water.

"Fleece layers are nice along with a drysuit or dry top," said Connor.

Drysuits have changed kayaking and turned the sport into a year-round activity that even holds true on the South Fork of the Payette during winter as evident by these photos taken by Paul Butterworth of some kayakers in November.

Kayakers on Staircase in November courtesy: Paul Butterworth

But drysuits are also very expensive, I have never had enough money to purchase one so I wait until spring and use a dry-top.

The obvious drawback to a dry-top is I have nothing protecting my legs so if I happened to take a swim that would be really cold and potentially life-threatening, so I make sure to stick to runs I'm comfortable with.

Plus it's important to get some warm-up runs in before all the snow melts and the rivers start raging.

It looks like we will have an average year according to the NRCS Snow Survey most of the rivers in Idaho have a snowpack of around 100 percent and how high the rivers get will depend on any future snow and how fast the snow melts.

The Voorhees family represents the royal family when it comes to paddling in Idaho, Mike Voorhees told us his two oldest sons are currently in Hawaii chasing some huge waterfalls.

Last year Hayden Voorhees was named the under 21 male paddler of the year by Kayak Session Magazine, and Alec is the only kayaker to compete in every North Fork Championship, he has two top-five finishes.

"It’s always fun to have two older brothers to teach me new things," said Connor Voorhees. "I want to go to Colorado this year and compete in some competitions and do well in the North Fork Championship.”

The North Fork Championship was canceled last year because of the pandemic, but NFC IX will return this summer on June 17-20.

This extreme whitewater race has historically brought the best kayakers from all over the world right here to our backyard in Idaho.

James and Regan Byrd created this adrenaline-driven event and after running it for seven years they turned the reins over to the Voorhees family.