by Dave Hammond
Quite often you can see paddlers on whitewater with face guards on – the sort used for canoe polo. They may look cool and will keep a paddle out of your face but they are not to be worn on the river. The cage like construction means they are easily snagged and could lead to a broken neck or being held by the snag as there is no quick release system. If paddlers feel the need for facial protection there are helmets available with removable face guards, this is a one piece guard so snag potential is limited. They are locked into place by clips that will release if the guard is pulled rather than pushed.
Some people wear full face motorcycle helmets. The lining of these absorbs water making them very heavy and thus increasing the risk of neck injury.
Train yourself to tuck into a screw roll position immediately upon capsizing with your face to the front deck. This will expose the back of your helmet to the river bed and save your face.
These can be bought purpose made or quite easily made yourself – mine is a sun visor riveted in place, others glue a wedge of foam. Whatever you do don’t compromise the structure of the helmet. Beside shading your face and reducing the chance of skin cancer they have another use. If you are ever unfortunate enough to experience a vertical pin a peak may be a life saver. As the water streams over your head the peak can cause an air pocket to form under it giving you an area in which to breathe and buying time for rescuers.