I meant to post ages ago on this but have been slack (& very busy at work).
From my point of view there are some valid points from both sides on this; although being a keen whitewater kayaker/paddler and instructor/OE teacher who is now infatuated with packrafting I would love to see PWS open it's doors to packrafts! Living overseas these days (Tassie)
its not worth my while to fly to Sydney to make use of the venue but I can see that it would definitely be beneficial for others.
There are obviously now a number of different threads under this topic heading.
As with others I also suspect that any packrafters hoping to change PWS's policy would need to come across as serious and experienced whitewater paddlers/kayakers and that only after a significant period of use of packrafts at PWS by such individuals would beginner packrafters be allowed in. The other option is to try to 'convert' some of their key staff by taking them on a serious packrafting trip.
I certainly think that there is some degree of ignorance on both sides and agree that most kayakers and whitewater instructors have very little experience or understanding of the capabilities of a packraft. Some of my ignorant and uninformed instructor friends (yes you Bernie
) call my packraft a 'pool toy'. However as we know in the right environments and paddled by highly experienced WW paddlers they are easily and safely capable of paddling serious whitewater (i.e. serious 'low volume' grade 4 creeks). This should be obvious to anyone from a quick search on YouTube.
On the other hand I can see that for many in the whitewater paddling community it is very hard for them to to take packrafting and packrafters seriously. Use of bicycle/climbing helmets, paddling solo and often inappropriate clothing, footwear and PFDs certainly doesn't help packrafters to be taken seriously (kayakers havent cottoned onto going lightweight) but I think the even bigger problem is a lack of understanding by some packrafters of just how potentially dangerous moving water, let alone serious whitewater, is. This is also obvious from YouTube.
Jack Hodge is certainly right in saying that packrafts allow inexperienced paddlers quick and easy access to decent whitewater. It is one of their biggest advantages and instead of it taking years to master a kayak on grade 3-4+ water a packraft can allow a beginner to sometimes survive such challenges after only a handful of river experiences. As Jack apparently alluded to in his negative response to packrafts being used at PWS this though is not always a good thing. Eventually your luck WILL run out and such complacency will lead to a serious mishap.
I unfortunately agree that we will see a serious near miss or worse relatively soon as more and more experienced bushwalkers tackle remote and serious whitewater environments as relative beginners in terms of whitewater paddling. I am a strong believer in all paddlers undertaking both swiftwater/river rescue training as well as whitewater paddling training. These are actually two distinctly different areas although they obviously compliment each other. Packrafters actually have much more of a need to understand the principles of swiftwater rescue than many kayakers (eg slalom) do.
Swift water rescue tecnichian training (SRT) particularly though does not need to necessarily be based around packrafts so long as the instructor understands the needs of the clients and consequently the limitations (and benefits) of packrafts. Many SRT courses are often located along a very short section of river with minimal use of any form of river craft. Swimming, walking and ropes are used more than kayaks/rafts/inflatables/packrafts to access or rescue 'victims'. This means that most courses are certainly accessible to packrafters. The most important lesson of SRT is learning how not to get yourself or others into a situation where you/they require rescuing in the first place.
Rescue3 courses are certainly internationally recognised but there are other equivalent options. In Tassie the Tasmanian Polytechnic runs great 2-day river rescue courses: http://www.yourchoice.tas.gov.au/cis/EC ... ourses.pdf
at an ideal venue and one that makes a great base for many packrafting missions.
On AdventurePro's Paddle Australia forum there was also a message posted recently about a SRT level 1 course soon after Easter on the Nymboida. Absolute beginners however would want to do some homework prior to signing onto any such course to ensure they show up with the right gear and an understanding of the basic principles of moving water and dangers on WW. I try to encourage people to do SRT in the colder months of the year on cold rivers as perhaps the biggest danger on southern rivers in Oz is hypothermia. Understanding this is an extremely valuable lesson to learn!!
From my past (limited) experience in playboats at Penrith many years ago it's actually not a great place to learn skills. It's a good place to hone more advanced skills but there are many other places (ie real rivers) that are much more user friendly and potentially more valuable for learning packrafting. Apart from SRT and WW paddling skills the third area that most short courses dont focus on is leadership and river running skills. To combine all these areas into a single decent instructional course would really require 10 days and the majority of this needs to occur on a real river rather than an artificial slalom course (PWS). It also needs to be remembered that it takes years to become experienced with WW.
I suspect that Goolang Creek near the Nymboida is actually a much better place to learn than PWS despite the latter being so conveniently accessible. In Victoria the equivalent would be on the Goulburn River at Blue Gums Caravan Park near Eildon and in Tassie it's at the Mersey WW Forest Reserve near Lake Rowallan. There are lots of Australian instructors that would do an equivalent job to an Alaskan instructor at a much cheaper cost. That said flying to Alaska to do a PR course sounds like a lot of fun!!
Just my two cents worth.