By: Sawyer Smith

Andy Thunell, trip facilitator, kayak instructor, and Desolation Canyon enthusiast, didn’t always have a passion for water sports. In fact, he discovered his love of being on the water after a devastating knee injury cut his high school soccer career short.

“At the time, soccer was a huge part of my life,” he told me. “And so when I found out I couldn’t continue playing, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to go through. My friend group and early high school experience revolved around a sport I couldn’t continue to participate in, and I found myself in a pretty dark place.” 

Thankfully, for Andy’s sake and for the sake of all those who take kayaking lessons from him or attend his trips in Eastern Utah, this painful experience is what led him to seek out a new sport—kayaking, which he said he quickly fell in love with. “Paddling and being on the river gave me an outlet and helped me navigate those difficult times. Over the next decade, kayaking became my main hobby and I spent countless hours paddling.” 

rapid progression kayak school kayaks lines up on the grass near waterRapid Progression Kayak School- Sharing the Love

Andy didn’t want kayaking to be just another hobby, however, he wanted to share his expertise and his love of the sport with others. So, in 2009, Andy and some of his paddling buddies founded Rapid Progression Kayak School. They began sharing their knowledge and passion for kayaking through classes offered all along the Wasatch Front—from Logan to Salt Lake. As of today, the school is still going strong, and its curriculum continues to grow! 

“Our main focus has been on whitewater kayak instruction; teaching foundational skills in classes held in swimming pools and flat water and also offering classes on different sections of rivers. Over the years we have added other services, including paddle boarding classes and SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) yoga, along with inflatable kayaking river experiences.” 

Sound intimidating? Don’t worry, Rapid Progression has courses for people of all experience levels, and their number one priority is to “provide an experience that will leave each participant with a deeper appreciation for the outdoors and a sense of fulfillment as they learn new skills and accomplish their paddling goals.” 

In other words, Rapid Progression is a safe, fun place for people of all ages to explore the world of kayaking. If you’re interested in learning more about the services they offer, check out their list of classes and trips here —

Partnering with Holiday River Expeditionskayaks close up in desolation canyon

As Andy tells it, “Rapid Progression partnered with Holiday River Expeditions over ten years ago.” During the last decade, these two fantastic organizations have been pooling their resources to offer week-long kayaking workshops on the Green River through Desolation Canyon and Gray Canyon. 

“Teaming up with Holiday River Expeditions has allowed us to offer some of the best kayaking instruction and river experiences possible. There is no better way to experience the river and accelerate learning than spending 6 consecutive days on the water during this workshop.” 

What can you expect from a trip like this? Well, besides a learning opportunity and an all-around great time, Andy as a trip facilitator hopes people will “become more confident with their paddling abilities, [and] most importantly, live an unforgettable week spent on the river in the company of amazing people.” 

Why Desolation Canyon?

When asked why Desolation Canyon in Eastern Utah was the best place to hold this workshop, Andy didn’t mince words. “You couldn’t pick a better stretch of river to offer a week-long kayak workshop on,” he said. “The Green River through Desolation and Gray Canyon not only has incredible scenery and wildlife, it is also full of fun rapids and riffles (mostly class 2 range).” For those of you who don’t speak the lingo, riffles are shallower and faster-moving sections of the river, and class 2 is listed as being ‘moderate’ in regards to difficulty. 

But don’t let the class 2 riffles worry you, even if you’re a beginner, Andy and the other trip facilitators are excellent teachers and experts in keeping everyone safe while on the water. Not to mention, the dedicated and, in Andy’s own words ‘top-notch’, guides at Holiday River Expeditions, are there to make sure the rest of the trip goes smoothly. They ensure that “Rapid Progression is able to focus on whitewater rafting instruction during the day. Holiday River Expeditions provides the raft logistical support, carrying our gear and providing meals, allowing us to be able to offer this one-of-a-kind experience.”

Still feeling a little unsure if this trip is right for you?

We get it. Kayaking is a unique sport, one that requires a lot of focus and physical stamina, but maybe Andy’s breakdown of the river itself can help set you at ease. 

Kayakers in Desolation Canyon- rapid progression“You won’t encounter any rapids for the first 15 miles,” he assured me. “Which allows us to teach proper paddling technique and work on fundamental strokes. As we make our way downriver during the week, the river offers fun rapids throughout with a few of the bigger and more noteworthy ones coming towards the end… The buildup is exciting, allowing us to work on downriver skills such as eddy turns, peel outs, and ferrying in an environment conducive for learning those skills.”

Other perks? There are too many to count, but Andy did share a few!

“The water temperature is fantastic and at camp, we are able to spend time working on rolling/bracing in the eddies. We have a lot of time to work with each participant,… to help each of them become proficient with basic river-running skills and whitewater safety that will open up a world of paddling opportunities and experiences on other rivers and waterways.” 

Another thing worth mentioning is that although this trip is geared towards beginners and OK intermediate paddlers, because of how varied and engaging the waters in Desolation Canyon are, more accomplished kayakers have participated in the trip and had a wonderful time. 

What Andy ‘Lives For’ 

What is it about kayaking? 

Andy ThunellAs someone who has never kayaked on a river, and never navigated a small boat through any class 2 riffles or whitewater rapids, I wanted to try and view this activity through Andy’s eyes. Try to understand why this sport means so much to him. His answer resonated with me as I think it’ll resonate with many others who might be considering signing up for one of these trips. 

According to Andy, the reason kayaking intrigued him so much as a teenager, as opposed to other sports he tried over the years, is that kayaking provided him with a deeper appreciation for nature. 

“Being on the river is an incredible experience; so much power and energy moving its way downstream and it’s pretty special that as a kayaker, you get to be a part of that. Kayaking requires you to be 100% present and to live in the moment. The fulfillment that comes from your commitment to paddling downstream, however hard or easy the stretch is, is what I live for.” 

Our most recent trip with the Rapid Progression Kayak school just concluded, but our 2024 trip will be from August 5-10. For more information or to book your trip, call our office at 800.624.6323!


Sawyer Smith WriterSawyer Smith is a Utah native currently residing in St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t working as a freelance writer or hiking through sections of the Mark Twain National Forest, she is planning trips in her head back to her beloved state to once again climb on the red rocks and ski down the snowy mountains.