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New study finds that many helmets for kayakers lack protections against brain injuries

A whitewater helmet being tested at the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab.
Roxy Todd
Radio IQ
A whitewater helmet being tested at the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who go whitewater rafting or kayaking— you may want to check your helmet. Researchers at Virginia Tech just released their findings after testing thousands of whitewater helmets, and they found only a handful offer enough protection against brain injury.

“What we found is about half of the helmets are very low performing,” said Stefan Duma, a professor of Engineering at Virginia Tech and led the two-year research project to test thousands of whitewater helmets. “When you hit your head with one of those, there’s very little protection."

Duma said the standards for whitewater helmets are the lowest of any other sport. “If you look at whitewater, there’s quite a few more fatalities in that sport than in any other sport. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it myself, but we want to make sure that people, when they do this, they have the opportunity to buy the best protection possible.”

The study gave only four helmets a five star rating—they’re all produced by Sweet Protection. Their helmets tend to have more padding, and the risk of getting a brain injury with one of these is half what it would be in most of the helmets the researchers tested.

The Virginia Tech Helmet Lab is the only facility in the country that rates helmets on their ability to protect against brain injury. It began testing football helmets ten years ago, and also rates hockey, soccer and bicycle helmets for adults.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Updated: September 20, 2022 at 2:36 PM EDT
Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.