Monday, October 29, 2007

NOC Surf Kayak Camp 2007

On October 19-21, we launched a brand new offering to add to our instruction programs, the first ever Surf Kayak camp at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. There is always apprehension when running a program for the first time, especially when depending on the environment to work in our favor; such as no hurricanes, good weather and of course good surf, which is essential for a successful Surf Camp. I am happy to say that our first Surf Camp was a huge success thanks to great weather, good surf, and most of all a great group of guests.

We started off Friday morning in the sound just paddling around and introducing some new skill sets. After lunch we were ready to head to the surf. We found ourselves standing on the beach staring down some less than ideal surf for learning, unless of course you’re the type learner that likes to learn from negative reinforcement. So we headed a little further up the road to check out another beach where we found some outstanding waves. The next morning we returned to the same beach where we spent the day in surf kayak utopia.

By the end of the second day we were starting to see some serious skill improvement and some happy surfers. We also got to see some excellent surfing compliments of our expert surf instructors Philip and Spencer.

If you have never had the chance to try out a surf kayak, it’s a must. But be careful though, you might just get hooked on these light, fast responsive boats that carve up waves like yesterdays Ginsu knifes. The good news is that once you do get the bug, be sure to check out our man Nigel down in Savana Georgia, he has a full line of Mega surf kayaks waiting for you.

http://www.savannahcanoeandkayak.com/

Next years Surf Camp is already in the planning process so be sure to check our website for updates. Don’t wait too long to sign up, this program is going to be a hit.


Here is a video Spencer put together enjoy!





(All photos are property of J. McClure/NOC, all video is property of Spencer Cooke/Effort TV.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Getting though holes and moving on

Second Ledge, Chattooga River
photo: Jon Clark



Holes suck - both literally and figuratively. In the last article I discussed ways of increasing comfort (assuaging fear) with regards to holes. I remembered a story recently that demonstrates what it means to be comfortable in a hole. So if you don't mind the digression...
I found myself paddling Yellowcreek near the Cheoah five or six years ago with Eric Slover and Team D member Andrew Holcomb. I always really enjoy paddling with boaters that are better than myself and that I can learn from. Without going into too much detail though, Eric "forgot" about the seemingly innocuous looking rapid below us. To make a long story short, Eric peeled out and disappeared over the horizon line, then Andrew, and lastly me. When I reached the lip of the drop I saw that Eric was stuck against a rock and Andrew was below me in this nasty little hole. As I approached the lip Andrew looked up and saw me, our eyes met, and as I boofed he flipped intentionally. I landed on his hull and skirted into an eddy. Downstream of this hole was an unpleasant looking sieve/undercut. Andrew rolled up (after I had boofed onto him), looked at me calmly, and without a hint of panic in his voice asked politely, "Could you please get me a rope"? He was being worked in a hole, just had another boater land on him, faced a sieve immediately downstream, and still thought to use the word please. That's being comfortable in a hole.

Cascades, Low water
photo: Chris Port

Assuming most of us aren't pro paddlers though, and aren't that relaxed while a hydraulic is peeling our eyelids back, we should think carefully about our strategy for punching holes to avoid these unpleasant situations.

Many beginner and intermediate paddlers believe that the most important key to success for punching a hole is the strokes you do when you hit the hole. Others conversely believe that its simply a matter of "paddling hard",and building up speed before you get to the hole. (For more on "paddling hard" click here.) While there are some elements of truth to these beliefs, they are not the most important keys to success. The primary key to success is boat angle.


Lower Wacas, Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica

I was taught, as I imagine many were taught, to hit holes perpendicular, or "dead-on" as the common phrase goes. This approach does often work, but usually only because the hole you were punching wasn't that sticky to begin with, or you executed a well-timed stroke to lift the bow onto the foam pile. The reason it often doesn't work is due to the factors which create a hole in the first place- namely a quick change in elevation and water recirculating upstream. Because you are travelling from a point of higher elevation to lower(the hole itself) your bow will naturally point downward, even if only a little bit. If you hit the hole perpendicular, your bow has no choice but to submerge, or partially submerge under water (or the biggest part of the foam pile) which kills your speed. You now are either stuck in the hole, about to get backendered, or paddling aggressively to exit it.


Rob Barham punching holes in Panama

A better approach is to hit the hole with slight angle. (Slight being the key word here - too much angle and you get to practice sidesurfing and windowshades) With a little angle, the brunt of the hole hits your boat around your knee bump (which unlike the bow is difficult to submerge), allowing the bow to clear the hole and not killing all your downstream momentum.


About to get worked at the bottom of Oceana, Tallulah
photo: Rob Barham

As far as the strokes go, think about using only two strokes to punch a hole. The first stroke is a boof stroke, designed to lift the bow, and generate a little speed. (If you don't feel comfortable doing a boof stroke, do a forward stroke). When you hit the hole, your next stroke should be a reaching, SLOW, forward stroke somewhere around, and preferably past, the foam pile. If that stroke didn't work you're probably in trouble - more strokes, bracing, and sweet sidesurfing will be necessary.


video

Anne smoothing her way past some holes, Rio Reventazon, Costa Rica

For consistent success think about where you're hitting the hole as well. If possible hit the corner of the hole and not the center, as many holes are weakest at the corners. (There's also eddies many times on the corners of holes). The type of hole will dictate where you hit it. Sometimes you've got no choice but to hit the meat. In any case, think about boat angle the next time you see yourself facing down a hole. Good boat angle is guaranteed to cut down on the times you look at the boater in the nearest eddy and politely ask, "Could you please get me a rope?"


Facing down a big one on the Rio Futaleufu, Chile
photo: Jon Clark


Herm

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Better Boat to Boat Rescue?

Thanks for the help!

A traditional bow rescue calls for the paddler who is upside down to have their hands out of the water on either side of the kayak while also rubbing back and forth along the boat. This rubbing is advised for two reasons: first, so the rescuer who is paddling aggressively toward them will be less likely to hit his/her hand and second, as a means to search for the bow of the rescuers kayak that might have come in behind or in front of their hand.

While professional kayak instructors have the experience to approach upside down kayakers slowly and the precision boat control to ensure that their bow makes contact with the kayak at the right angle, many kayakers who have taken it upon themselves to teach their friends and loved ones do not.

Ouch!

I have seen it many times. . . someone in the group is upside down on the lake, hands rubbing patiently on the kayak while an intrepid rescuer accelerates toward him only to create an inadvertently painful kayak hand sandwich or to have the bow of their kayak veer off in the wrong direction at the last second, leaving the kayaker to pull his skirt and swim.

The traditional bow rescue does have the advantage of keeping the rescuer at boats length from the upside down paddler but it comes with some risk of possible injury to the hand of the person you are trying to rescue. There is also a slightly lower success rate if the person grabs the bow incorectly as illustrated in the photograph bellow.

Uhh....

There is another way to execute a boat to boat rescue that is friendlier, reliable and more controlled. It consists of paddling up along side the upside down kayaker and physically guiding their hand to your boat. This results in a much more controlled rescue and has two big advantages. The physical contact with the person generally has a calming affect and also allows for excellent communication when the kayaker's head is resting on your kayak.




video

While this type of boat to boat rescue has a high success rate, it does have one draw back in that it puts the rescuer at risk of being capsized by the person pushing with their arms, hence lifting their head and not hip snapping. This can be mitigated by leaning slightly away from the side of the kayak that is being used to help the person rolling up.


The technique for this rescue works as follows:
  1. Paddle up along side of the kayaker.
  2. Grab the wrist of the their closest hand (this is important)
  3. Guide their hand to the side of your kayak.
  4. Have the kayaker proceed with placing the other hand on the boat laying their head on the boat than a hip snap as usual with a bow rescue.
Grabbing the wrist and not the hand allows you to take control of their hand as you guide it to your boat. It is important to be aware that you are exposing part of your body to someone who is upside down in the water. Generally paddlers who are calm enough underwater to be asking for a rescue are much less likely to be in a panic when they feel your hand. As a general rule though, if you are approaching an arm and hand that appears like some sort of possessed periscope, it is best to just let that hand reach for their grab loop.

video


So next time you are on the lake and one of your friends is upside down asking for a rescue, this is just one more option to choose from. Which one will depend on your commfort level, ability, situation and understainding of the limitations of each type of rescue.

Stay tuned for some tips on how to use this on the river.


Chris

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bad hydraulics are like bad relationships

Have you ever noticed that holes are never placed in a very fortuitous position in a rapid? Very rarely are they situated up against the bank on the opposite side of the river, safely isolated from where you’re trying to navigate and cordoned off with yellow police tape. No, most of the time they’re positioned somewhere in your direct line of travel, transforming a relatively easy line into some sort obstacle course, which by the time you’ve safely completed, leaves you with a feeling of vertigo as you’ve just utilized fourteen strokes to turn eight times in a rapid that’s only twenty yards long - all for the sake of avoiding holes.

It is my contention that of all the hazards one may find on a river, it is a hole which gives the common paddler the greatest concern. In scouting a rapid we might see an undercut, a pin rock, a strainer, a hole, and al-Qaeda on the bank (scary rapid indeed) – yet it is the hole that we will focus on the most. The reason for this is that most paddlers have experience with the unpleasantries of holes, and very little experience with the other aforementioned hazards. We know exactly what will happen if we get stuck in that hole, because it has happened before – we flip, we struggle to roll, we get windowshaded again, we pop the skirt, get recirculated a bit, and end up swimming through the rest of the shallow, crummy rapid while everything inside of our boat becomes flotsam in the froth. It is our brain’s evolutionary duty to remind us of these past experiences, in hopes of persuading us to not make the same life-threatening mistake again. We are therefore victims of past experience.









In this aspect, bad kayaking experiences are similar to bad relationship experiences. Kayak carnage stories share all the same themes of relationship carnage stories – you didn’t see it coming, you were taking it all for granted, not paying attention, couldn’t find the surface, were fighting for your life, and left the encounter with fewer positions than you started with. In both kayaking and relationships, sometimes you just need to pull the skirt and swim for it. The problem is that after a bad experience in a hole or in a relationship we become gun-shy and don’t want to have anything to do with either for a long time. And while we may be able to avoid dating for a while, we certainly can’t avoid holes for any extended length of time, unless we want to give up boating all together.

I could tell you to get back on the horse but that’s a dumb analogy. There’s a reason you just got your lunch handed to you in that hole – it was mean, it was tough, and it didn’t like you. Don’t go back in that same hole right away. Seek out smaller holes in safe areas of the river, preferably with some flat water behind them. Try sidesurfing. Try flipping. Try rolling very slowly and relaxed. Try only paddling on the downstream side. Try to fix your vision on a downstream point. Try leaning forward, engaging the abs and obliques to hold the boat on edge instead of your paddle (you need that to dig your way out).

This last point is something you can practice without a hole. Put the boat on edge and lean all the way forward until your head touches the deck. Without using your paddle slowly sit up. Where does it feel like you have the most control of the edge? Where can you hold the boat on edge without it wobbling? (It’s probably half-way between all the way forward and sitting up straight. This is the position you should be in when in a hole. It’s also a position conducive to shoulder safety.)

Why is it that we feel perfectly comfortable executing a forward stroke but not swimming out of holes? Is it because we practice one but not the other? Probably. Practice swimming out of mild holes. The Devil’s Dip is a popular play spot on the Tuck. On my last ride of the day I’ll always flip and swim intentionally in the hole to practice such things as tucking, “balling up”, holding on to my paddle, and swimming my gear to shore. We are quick to tell beginners the importance of learning to wet-exit and swim in whitewater, yet we often forget to apply that lesson to ourselves.

The bottom line is that if you want to be more comfortable in holes you’ve got to spend more time in them – both in and out of your boat. Yes, this is scary. But it is also extremely rewarding as you come to the realization that the majority of holes (unlike my first girlfriend) aren’t man-eaters and you don’t need to fixate on them or always avoid them.

Part 1 of 2. Next week: How to punch through holes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Glossary of Whitewater Terminology


We have been asked multiple times by guests to produce a glossary of common whitewater terms so that paddlers can communicate more effectively and understand the sport better. The beauty of having an online glossary is that we can add terminology as the sport grows and link to more detailed explanations of the terms with video and pictures as this blog grows in content. We plan on adding more terms to this post as we get time,


A Glossary

Awareness- having a broader scope of vision that encompasses not just one self but the surroundings and other paddlers on the river. See our previous post on river awareness.

Back Face – the convex side of the paddle blade

Back Ferry- going from one side of the river to the other without moving downsteam as in a ferry but in this case with the bow facing down stream. A "backferry" can also be used to maintain a stationary position in the the river, as the bow faces downstream this allows the paddler to look at what is coming up.

Backband – An adjustable brace that provides support in the lower lumbar region that encourages a neutral to aggressive posture. Helps encourage a better posture by rolling the hips forward.

Beatdown-If you have to ask, you have not seen one and definitely not experienced one. A beatdown typically describes any situation when the river exerts supreme power over puny paddlers. This is usually accomplished through large hydraulics but can apply to many situations when thing do not go according to plan. Examples include getting pinned, randomly flipped, trashed in holes, dragged over rocks and other events of such nature. River Gnomes are usually the instruments of beatdowns though they recent these duties.

Belay- In climbing refers to when a rope is used to prevent or arrest a fall. In paddling it can be used to lower boats, gear or a paddler in a controlled fashion down river.

Big Water-usually refers to rivers that are flooding or that have large volumes of water that produce very large river features. Typically flows in excess of 5000cfs are considered Big Water.

Blade – The end of a paddle (either canoe or kayak) that provides the "catch" in a paddle stroke. The Blade has a back face (convex) and power face (concave). Blade shapes for kayak paddles are typically asymmetrical or symmetrical, though most modern blade shapes are asymmetrical. Asymmetrical blades catch the water near the end of the blade early in stroke placement, whereas symmetrical catches along the entire length of the blade throughout the entire stroke. Canoe paddles are symmetrical and utilize only one blade with a t-grip on an opposing end.

Blunt-see our previous post on the Blunt

Boat Angle- boat angle is the angle, as viewed from above, between the imaginary line formed between the bow and stern of the boat, and the primary direction of the current flow of the river. Boat angle is sometimes designated by numbers (one o'clock) but more often in less precise terms (slight left boat angle, or strong boat angle). Two boats can be following the same line of travel but have completely different boat angles.

Boil- this is a water feature created when water churns upward and creates an elevated region in the river. In big water a boils can elevate and move kayaks several feet in random directions.

Boil Line- this is the line that delineates the water going down stream from the water that is flowing back toward a hydraulic. The further downstream a boil line is from the hydraulic, the more hazardous the feature.

Boof- a boof is a maneuver where a kayaker uses his paddle, rock or water feature to lift the bow of the kayak over a drop, usually performed to avoid a piton or getting stuck in a hydraulic. There are many reasons to perform a boof and this maneuver is the staple of advanced kayaking. See our earlier post on Boofing

Bow – The front of the kayak

Bow Draw- a correction stroke used to pull the front of the kayak or canoe to the side toward the paddle blade.

Bracing: Any paddle stroke that helps the paddler maintain his/her balance. The high and low brace are the most common bracing strokes but forward and turning strokes also work as bracing strokes in many situations.


High Brace - in a high brace the paddle is positioned perpendicular to the kayak, the power face is facing the water and the elbows are positioned bellow the hands.

Low Brace -in a low brace the paddle is positioned perpendicular to the kayak or canoe, the backside of the blade is facing the water and the elbows are positioned above the hands.

Bulkhead Brace – A plate mounted by aluminum bars in the hull that your feet rest on to help provide desired leverage and posture in the kayak

C to C Roll-A roll technique that has the paddler extend the paddle out perpendicular to the boat. The C to C describes the curled body position when the hip snap is executed and when the roll is finished. The first C (turn this C on its side so it looks like a U) is when the paddler extends his body upwards underwater from the side of the boat . The second C refers to the shape of the body in the finished position when the boat is upright.

C-1 – Single-person closed deck canoe

C-2 – Two-person closed deck canoe

Carabiner – an oval metal ring with a spring gate; typically used in mountaineering but used in river rescue as well

Catch- the first part of any paddle stroke is referred to the catch, a properly executed catch seats the blade in the water effectively and will have minimal aeration when the stroke is executed.

Channel- a division in the river, stream or flow that can created by an island, set of rocks or river feature.

Clean- executing a play boating move without using the paddle.

Cockpit-the area of the kayak where one gets into and out of the kayak. The size of the cockpit can vary depending on manufacturer.

Compound Stroke- when two or more different paddle strokes are executed in successions

Control Hand- refers to the hand that controls the angle of the paddle blade. For example in a "right hand control paddle," the right hand controls the angle or twist of the left blade. Hence you have to twist the right hand back to get the left blade perpendicular to the water.

Correction Stroke- any paddle stroke taken to adjust the angle or veer of the kayak, any number of different strokes can be used as corrective strokes: forward sweeps, back sweeps, forward strokes, bow draw, side draw, stern draw,

Deflection Current- the deflection current is one component of eddy lines. Technically this is the current that is flowing off either side of the rock or other obstacle in the stream. This current is typically faster than the current in the middle of the river, hence when a kayak approaches this current there is a greater deflection force toward downstream.

Displacement Hull- a displacement hull describes a kayak or canoe with a rounded bottom with no defined edge on the hull.

Downstream- direction of the current.

Downstream “V”- describes the shape of the current when it passes between two obstacles. The V points downstream and could be further delineated by wave trains.

Eddy- a river feature formed by an obstacle in the downstream flow. A well formed eddy will have a defined eddy line and a calm pool behind the obstacle. Being able to "catch" or stop in these calm pools is one of the keystones of whitewater paddling.

Eddy Fence-this very powerful eddy line feature lives in large volume or fast flowing rivers. The "fence" describes the area of the eddy line very close to the obstacle creating it, that is raised from the eddy pool. On the Grand Canyon River in Colorado there exists an eddy fence that can be two to three feet higher than the eddy pool. Usually an eddy with an "eddy fence" can very diffilcult to get out of.

Eddy Hopping-describes a boating style in which a kayaker works his way downriver or down an individual rapid by catching eddies. The paddler uses these eddies to scout, to set up moves, and to break up long stretches of whitewater into manageable segments.

Eddy Line-delineates the downstream flow of water from the upstream flow found in an eddy behind an obstruction. Eddy lines in faster water or created by above-water obstructions tend to be narrow and more well defined than those in slower water or those created by underwater obstructions. Eddy lines in slower water or created by underwater obstructions or by the banks of the river tend to be wider and "muddy" or unclear.

Eddy Turn-the act of catching an eddy. When a paddler crosses the eddy line the turn within the eddy is aptly named the eddy turn.

Ender-usually considerd an "old school" playboating move, though sometimes done by accident. Can be done on the stern or the bow, more often when done on the stern it is by accident. An ender is done when a paddler get's a vertical ejection from a hole, when done with grace the paddler will stand on their foot bracing system with the paddle high in the air and a grin from ear to ear. This move is best done in a boat with length.

Feather-refers to the off-set of your paddle blades, most common is a 45 degree although paddlers now are using a wide variety of feather now. It can also refer to feathering your blade in the water, which are minor adjustments you might make on your blade while it is still in the water to make a more effective stroke.

Ferry-the act of crossing a section of river without going downstream. While usually thought of as crossing the entire river, a ferry may simply involve moving out into the current a certain distance before allowing the boat to move downstream.

Flotation- inflatable airbags that displace water in swamped boats, usually placed in the rear of the kayak, canoes usually have bow and stern flotation.

Foam Pile- foam pile is usually reserved for the white frothy water washing back into a hole.

Forward Stroke-while the kayaker may be able to move his boat in a straight line with a wide range of paddle maneuvers, the Forward Stroke may best be thought of as an efficient way of accelerating the kayak in a direct path. Efficient acceleration or forward strokes tend to be close to the boat with a vertical or nearly vertical paddle shaft. Powerful strokes enter the water far towards the front of the boat, at or past the toes, with the entire paddle blade anchored firmly in the water. Unless linked to another stroke (such as a stern draw), recovery takes place somewhere between the knees and the hips. The paddler may consider that a firm and constant "grip" or anchor in the water with the paddle lends much more power than simply focusing on a fast stroke rate. As with any strokes, many variables come into play to affect actual execution: water depth, obstructions, speed required, and necessity of linking or combining strokes. However, all strokes can gain efficiency if the paddler focuses on engaging core muscles to move the boat itslelf rather than just moving the paddle.

Freestyle-the commonly used name for modern playboating.

Gauge-measures river volume in feet (physical height of the water in the river), cubic feet per second (CFS) which is the amount of water passing that particular spot on the river. A visual representation of this is to imagine that the water in the river is made up of basketballs thus the CFS in this case would be the number of basketballs passing a given spot in a second. A higher CFS means more water in the river. Can also be measured in meters per second (MTS).

Gradient- the amount of vertical feet a river drops over the course of its length. Rivers that loose a lot of vertical feet in a short distance are said to have a steep Gradient.

Grab Loop-loops placed in the front and back of the kayak typically used to carry the boat or tie it down to a vehicle. Grab loops can also be utilized to rescue swimmers by giving them a place to hold onto while you tow them to shore.

Green Wave-a wave feature that does not break at the top.

Horizon Line- when looking downstream this is a line where the river drops off. The steeper the vertical drop, the less visible the bottom of the drop will be. This is the proverbial waterfall line.

Hull- the bottom side of the kayak

Hydraulic- also known as a hole, is a river feature where water drops over a obstruction (rock ledge or a rock) into deeper water on the downstream side. This causes water on the surface to be drawn back toward the rock or ledge. This can be a potentially hazardous feature but it could aslo be a feature used for playboating. Low head dam's are the most dangerous example of a hydraulic.

J-lean-A way to tilt a kayak by keeping the head centered and raising one knee while slightly shifting bodyweight slightly to one side. A properly executed J-lean allows the kayak to be tilted without losing stability and balance.

K-I- a solo kayak

Line-a path through a rapid

Low Brace Roll: this is the roll used to right an open boat.

OC-2-Open canoe for 2 people, also known as a tandem canoe

Offside-In rolling, offside usually refers to a roll in which the kayaker initiates the paddle sweep with the left hand. The setup position puts the left hand at the right foot and the right hand near the right hip. Offside can also refer to a roll in which the kayaker initiates the paddle sweep with the non-dominant hand. Outside the context of rolling, offside may be used to refer to a paddler's weaker side.

Onside- In rolling, onside usually refers to a roll in which the kayaker initiates the paddle sweep with the right hand. The setup position puts the right hand at the left foot and the left hand near the left hip. Onside can also refer to a roll in which the paddler initiates the paddle sweep with the dominant hand. Outside the context of rolling, onside may be used to refer to a paddler's stronger side. Canoeist also have an onside and offside.

Outfitting - outfitting can be the factory pieces that came with your boat; seat, thigh hooks, foot brace, backband. It can also be custom fit pieces of foam you have placed in the boat to make it fit you.

Peel Out- the act of leaving an eddy and entering the current. A paddler exits the eddy with an angle slightly toward the current, paddling until the boat is fully into the current then leans to the inside of the turn until the boat is pointed downstream.

PFD- Personal Flotation Device, also known as a life jacket.

Pillow - is the water that builds up on the upstream side of an obstruction.

Pivot Turn- a pivot turn is a quick turn done on the stern of the kayak when a paddler drops one edge of the boat and performs a back sweep on the opposite side of the boat. This turn is done most often in slalom kayaking.

Planing Hull- is the flat bottom design of most modern day kayaks.

Playboating- a type of kayaking where kayakers get onto a river feature such as a wave or hole and perform tricks. It can also be done while going downriver using a varity of river features. Also referred to as freestyle kayaking.

Pool- a section of river that is calm in between or after a rapid.

Portage- the act of walking around a rapid because it is not safe to run. Sometimes mandatory and sometimes by a paddlers personal discretion.

Pothole- a geological feature on a river where water has eroded out a hole in a rock.

Pour Over - when water goes over an obstacle like a ledge or other feature. Large steep pour overs or will generally have a hydraulic on the downstream side.

Power Face- the scooped side of the paddle blade.

Power Ferry - also called a "jet ferry" is a ferry done in very fast moving, irregular water.

Pulley- a pulley is a simple mechanical device that is used sometimes in a kayakers "pin kit". A pulley will give a rescuer a mechanical advantage when trying to free a pinned boat.

Recovery- regaining control after after running a rapid. It could also be the act of regaining control after performing a roll or another manuver such as a freestyle move.

River Etiquette: is the curtsey and respect shown to other paddlers on the river. Basic River etiquette says that paddlers with Down Stream momentum or paddlers going downstream have the right away. This means that if you are in an eddy you must look upstream before pulling out to avoid possibly getting in some paddlers way. These rules are largely un written but are essential to regulating traffic on the river. This is also related to River Awareness.

River left- the orientation of the bank in relation to the downstream current.

River ratings-


Class I: Easy. Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.

Class II: Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium- sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated "Class II+".

Class III: Intermediate. Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated "Class III-" or "Class III+" respectively.

Class IV: Advanced. Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require "must" moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong eskimo roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated "Class IV-" or "Class IV+" respectively.

Class 5: Expert. Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential. Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class 5 is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc... each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. Example: increasing difficulty from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0.

Class VI: Extreme and Exploratory. These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class VI rapids has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5.x rating.


River Right- the oreintation of the bank in relation to the downstream current.

River Signals- a set of designated signals that gives paddlers a the ability to comminicate at a distance while on the river.

Rock Garden: usually describes a rapid with many, many boulders. Usually good for eddy hopping but bad for swimming.

Roll- a maneuver that will right a kayak after it has been turned upside down. There are many types of rolls, most of which were developed for sea kayaking, (see Greenland Rolls) The most common rolls used in whitewater kayaking are the C to C, the Sweep Roll, Hands Roll and the Back Deck Roll. The open boat or canoe roll is typically done with a Low Brace Roll.

Scout- the act of looking ahead at a rapid either in the boat or on foot to find the line.

Self Rescue: when a paddler swims and gets him/herself to shore with or without their boat and gear, it is called a self rescue.

Shaft- the area of the paddle in between blades on a kayak paddle, and between the t-grip and the blade on a canoe paddle.

Shore- the bank of the river.

Sidewall- this term refers the side of the kayak between the deck and the hull.

Sieve- a very dangerous feature on the river usually caused by two rocks where water passes through, but a boat or paddler my not pass through.

•Slalom- a type of kayak and canoe racing where paddlers must pass through a series of designated upstream and downstream gates in a timed format. Slalom is currently the only kayakink event in the olympic games.

Spin- could refer to a playboating move where a paddler does a 360 degree turn on a wave or in a hole. Also could refer to how a boat reacts when a paddler uses a wide sweeping stroke.

•Spray Skirt- the neoprene deck that a paddler wears on their waist that attaches to the cockpit rim of the kayak in order to keep water out of the boat.

Squirt Boat- a specially designed boat for a specific type of kayaking where paddlers do manuvers such as "mystery moves" a manuver where the paddler travels below the surface of the river into the narthex.

Stern- the back of a whitewater kayak.

Stern Draw- a stroke in which a paddler uses a wide sweeping stroke placed into the water at the hip then sweeps water toward the stern of the boat. A very effective stroke for quick turns when done correctly.

Suckhole- a very powerful hydraulic.

Surf- a surf is a manuver in which a paddler stays on a wave or in a hole. Can be done on purpose or by accident.

•Sweep Roll- in a sweep roll the paddler rolls the kayak while the paddle sweeps an arc on the surface of the water.

Sweep Stroke-a wide arcing stroke that when done correctly is very effective for initiating turns.

Take Out – Where the river-journey ends.

T-Draw – a stroke utilized to move the boat sideways. The blade is planted with a vertical paddle shaft and power face directing torwards the side of the boat and pulled torwards the boat. The blade is then turned, power face facing stern, and sliced back out to the original position.

Throat – Where the paddle blade and shaft meet on a kayak paddle.

Throw Bag – A rope made out of either poly or spectra rope that is flaked into a stuff sack that makes it easily stored.

Throw Rope – A rope coil made out of a high flotation rope preferred by raft guides for its ease to throw and recoil quickly

Trim – How a boat sits in the water based upon where the paddlers weight is focused. A balanced trim would be if the bow and stern are the equidistant in the water.

Undercut Rock – A rock with a void on the underside. There are many types of undercuts varying in danger. The most dangerous of these being an undercut with an upstream face having a void and the flow leading into it.

Upstream – Where the flow comes from

Upstream “V” – found on either side of a downstream “V” which represents the shape an eddy makes. Obstacles on both right and left will create downstream “V’s” and those obstacles create eddies.

Veer – A kayaks natural tendency to want to turn, this due in large part to a kayaks length, width, rocker and shape of hull. Hence, a long narrow boat with very little rocker has less veer i.e. sea kayak. The shorter fatter boats with lots of rocker veer much more i.e. creek boat.

Wave Hole – A wave that has a breaking foam pile

Standing Waves – or wave trains are associated with constricted areas of water most commonly called Downstream V’s. Water can only be pushed out downstream so fast so the water pushes upward into waves.

Wet Exit – The most fundamental skill of self rescue. The Wet-Exit includes four basic steps in case of a capsize, this would include tucking forward onto the deck of the kayak, tapping on the hull of the boat to call attention, pulling the skirt off the cockpit and pushing yourself out of the boat while staying in a tucked and safe position.

Wildwater – A discipline of downriver racing which utilizes a specialized assymetrical kayak typically made of a composite material.

Z-Drag – A mechanical advantage system involving carabiners, rope, prussiks, and pulleys to aid in removal of a pinned object. A typical Z-drag gives a 3:1 ratio, meaning for every pound you enter the system it multiplies the force by 3. For a more detailed description and its practical uses reference River Rescue by Slim Ray and Les Bechdel. See our previous post on the Z Drag.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

River Awareness: The Big Picture

Part one of a three part series.

NOC Instructor training on Wilson Creek
Photo: Jon Clark

Whitewater paddling is a sport with a curious mix of personal and group elements that makes it very dynamic on many levels. On the one hand you are captain of your own kayak, making decisions and executing maneuvers based on your experience and ability while on the other your paddling mates are looking out for you encase you have any problems. Looking out for your paddling buddies is just part of a larger awareness that we call river awareness.

One extremely important concept about good river awareness is being able to take in the big picture while still being able stay focused on what you are doing and what is happening to you. What I want to focus on in this first article is the big picture that surrounds good river awareness. A great way to start is to remember that having good river awareness does not begin when you put on your spray skirt; it begins about the same time that a decision is made to go and paddle the river. There are many things that need to be thought over before committing to running a river, including, thinking not only about yourself and your personal skills, but how do these relate to the group you are paddling with and the run you are thinking of doing. Rather than start with the decision about whether you are ready for a run, ask yourself about the other people who are paddling that run; Is a typical group on this particular run super strong or super weak? Then think about your own particular group and their strengths and weaknesses. Is your group going to be one of the strongest out there and benefit the rest of the paddling community or are you going to be a disaster waiting to happen? After you feel confident about these decisions, ask yourself how you feel about the run. By joining this group are you going to make it stronger or weaker? When all of these factors have been considered, only then can you begin to make a wise decision about your upcoming river trip.



NOC Kids Camp learning about good communication
Photo: Jon Clark

Thankfully the sport of whitewater paddling is a very dynamic sport that is constantly changing and keeps us thinking very progressively. Unfortunately, this makes it very hard to make a statement that is inclusive enough to relate to the entire community and that will endure for any length of time. The above process will always have to be modified slightly to fit your personal situation but as a base line starting point it helps to keep the big picture in a much more easy to understand perspective.

There is nothing like having good backup on the river!
photo: Jon Clark

Another very important skill that is mandatory for creating good river awareness is effective communication within the group, both on and off the river. Again, good communication starts long before you arrive at the put-in, it starts from day one as a group is being formed. Communication sometimes can become awkward when factors like self-image, peer pressure, self-imposed goals, and community standards begin to have an effect on ones ego. It is important that each individual within a group of paddlers feels comfortable talking with each and every other member of the group about anything they need. This lets EVERYONE'S thoughts and ideas flow smoothly through the group so that when a decision has to be made, it is done effectively and concerns the entire group. Before a hard run I always ask my group members a few standard questions: How is everyone feeling today? Is anyone excessively tired or sore? Who has a throw rope and what other gear do they have? If you are on a more remote run or there are very few people around, ask, who has the car keys and where are they located? If anyone is feeling a little nervous, I ask him or her if they want to follow me for a while until they are feeling more comfortable. This needs to be done so that the entire group can hear what is being said. Good pre-trip communication can have a huge affect on the outcome of an incident.

There are so many factors that go into having a well-planned, safe day out there on the river but even the smallest detail will sometimes save a life. There are handfuls of other very important skills not mentioned here, but good group awareness and communication are two examples of skills that we ALL need to strive for excellence in.


Coming soon! River Awareness: Tools for Assessment

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Seven steps to Huge Loops


Looping
is really big fun and the newest playboat designs have made this once elite maneuver attainable and within reach of aspiring playboaters everywhere. Loops may be performed in virtually any type of hole or wave-hole. Here are seven steps to get you looping like a rockstar. Remember, the best way to learn is to practice by getting out to your local playspot and going for it. Oh yeah, make sure its deep!


Step 1- Lining up at top of pile

1) Begin at the top of the pile


Step 2- Shift body

2) Shift your body weight to the back of your seat by bending slightly from the hips.


3. Accelerate down the face of the feature

3) Accelerate down the face of the wave or wave hole, making sure to keep your boat angle perpendicular to the incoming greenwater. At this time shift your weight rapidly to the front of your boat by bending forward at the hips and forcing your heels down.


4. Jump up

4) This will cause your boat to “initiate” in the greenwater upstream of the hole. As you feel your boat start to pop or ender out of the water jump straight up as quickly as possible. Tip: As you jump look up at the sky


5. The Snap around

5) As soon as you are standing, snap back forward bringing your chest towards the front of your cockpit while trying to throw your heels over your head like a forward somersault.

6. Use your paddle to help bring the boat around

6) As the front of your boat passes over your head pull back on your paddle to help it along.


7. Finish the maneuver with a forward stroke

7) Finish by sitting up straight with a recovery forward stroke!

Cheers and happy looping!

Be Safe

Andrew Holcombe

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Slow Roll

Rolling is undoubtedly the most difficult skill for the novice kayaker to master – and also the one they invariably want to master the most. Consequently, the roll is the second hard-skill attempted (after the wet-exit) for many beginner boaters. They hop in a kayak, do a couple of wet-exits and then proceed immediately into learning the roll, often with mixed results. Learning to roll is not something that can be rushed, or forced, and it is our opinion that it is much easier to learn to roll if you spend some time (a day or two) learning the other fundamentals and hard skills before attempting it.


People will often say that the most important part of the roll is the hip-snap, or keeping the head down, or arching or sweeping properly. While certainly these are important factors to success they are not the most important factor to success. The determining factor to achieving success in rolling is comfort in the boat, and under water. Rolling is not an aggressive maneuver built off brute-strength – it is a fluid maneuver built off relaxed, slow, and coordinated movements.


So many people though when learning to roll are not completely comfortable hanging upside down in the water and hence, they tense their muscles, they rush their steps, they have difficulty concentrating on more than one process, they do not feel how the boat reacts to their movements – all because they are on some level still nervous about getting out of the boat, running out of oxygen, hitting their head on rocks, etc.

We actually see quite a few intermediate paddlers in our instructional clinics who suffer from this fear and either have not admitted it to themselves are, or as is more often the case, are unaware that this fear is even present. When this fear is present, even if it is buried within the subconscious, it has an adverse effect on rolling because the paddler is not as relaxed as he/she should be. Because they are tense they often pull too aggressively on the paddle, engage both knees against the thigh hooks, don’t come fully out of the tuck, and have a difficult time relaxing their body into the arch/sweep position.

There are various methods to help alleviate this fear and become more comfortable in the inverted, under-water roll position. You can practice wet-exits, try to swim upside down while still in the boat, or just test the possible ranges of motion upside down by stretching forward, backwards, and side-to-side, and then either wet-exiting or having someone give you a bow-rescue. Often when we see someone struggling with a roll and we suspect it is because they are too tense/nervous we will ask them to take their air bags out, fill their boat completely with water, and then put their sprayskirt back on. If you’ve never done this I highly recommend it the next time you’re at the lake or pool. If you do this and feel nervous than to some extent you are probably still anxious about being upside down in the boat which adversely affects your roll.


The interesting thing is that it is far, far easier to roll your boat full of water than it is empty as normal. The roll unfolds much slower which gives you time to relax and focus on one step at a time. Because it is slower you will also be able to self-diagnose the weaker parts of your roll. For example, when you hipsnapped, did your upper body stay in the water, allowing the boat to re-right itself first, or did your upper body come up first? Is your paddle diving into the water by your knees, or is it sweeping across the surface towards the stern of the boat? The advantage to practicing a roll with water in the boat is that you can actually feel the mechanics of the roll and how your body moves in relationship to the boat.


If you’re struggling to learn the back deck roll, off-side roll, or a hand roll, filling the boat with water is also a valuable tool. Relax and feel how the boat slowly responds to your mechanics and body position. Regardless what roll you’re learning, once you’ve played around with a full boat, empty it out again and try a normal roll. I bet it feels much stronger and more confident.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Building a Better Bulkhead











Bulkhead footbraces have become standard issue on most river running and all of the creeks boats on the market. The reason is for their strength, durability and adjustability. It’s hard to have all of those things in one package that works on all boats. Most of the manufacturers offer different sized foot plates to allow longer legged paddlers use of the boat. If the small bulkhead is used by a shorter paddler, often there is a large gap between the bulkhead and the deck and hull of the boat. This can not only be uncomfortable, it can be dangerous in a piton situation.

If you hit something hard enough, especially when creeking and running waterfalls, with a bulkhead that is too small, your feet can slide past the foot brace and trap your feet between the brace and the hull of the boat. Some people have broken various leg bones from the impact of a piton (hitting a rock with your boat and immediately coming to a complete stop…like hitting a brick wall with your car) in a waterfall.

You are not likely to generate the force to cause any serious injury while running class III drops and below but you might consider beefing up your bulkhead if you’re running anything harder. Here are some tips to help you make your bulkhead footbrace more bomber than the bulkheads on the supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk.

Stabilizing the Bulkhead
This is useful for everyone using a bulkhead. It will help keep the footbrace from moving around while you are paddling. It is amazing how much more balance and power you will have by reducing the movement of your bulkhead.

Move the footbrace to the place this is right for your foot and comfortably holds your knees into the thighbraces. Measure a 2 inch or thicker piece of foam and trim it to completely fill the area in the hull when pushed against the footbrace. Cut U-shaped notches in the foot foam that allows the adjustment rails to fit where they need to be to reach the footplate part of the bulkhead. This usually is about an inch or two away from the side of the boat. You want to foam to be against the sides of the boat. Glue the foam to the footplate with contact cement. For additional lateral stability, add a foam shim to take up the space between the side of the boat and the rail.

Waffle House Special
In our area there are a lot of technical creeks with good drop and sometimes a hard rock landing. If you’re going vertical, and need an extra cushy shock absorber, order up a Waffle House Special. This type of bulkhead got its name from looking like a waffle and our tendency to stop at a Waffle House on our way to and from the river.
The concept is simple and effective. Glue several small blocks of foam onto your bulkhead. Make sure you leave plenty of space between the small foam blocks before gluing them in place. Glue on another large piece of foam shaped like your bulkhead, (don’t steal your buddies bulkhead foam!) so that it looks similar to this one.

If you are in a crunch and don’t have small pieces of foam, order a couple of extra waffles on your way to the river. Duct tape them into place. The waffles serve double duty, working almost as good as the foam and are a great backup in case your day trip turns into an over nighter. Mmmm, tasty.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Joys, Aggravations, Lessons and Chinese Buffet


When our “Kid’s Weeks” camps were approaching this year I quickly reminisced on last years adventures and thought about how big of a smile it put on my face at the end of the week. First, for the great times I had just experienced, and second, handing the children back over to their parents with a new perspective on life. Many of the newbie instructors received advice from me on what to expect, “It is a constant test in patience and humility, as well as a contest for the kids to find out how many different ways they can ask the same question.”

The premise of our “Youth Kayak Adventures” is to build confidence in a special week of “camp” packed with fun, adventure and kayaking all in a supportive environment. This could not be closer to the truth. Our core instruction programs from novice to advanced focus on skill progressions to become better paddlers, whereas “Kids Weeks” focus primarily on group awareness, support and fun. In my typical clinic format I have a tendency to focus on skills and drilling, where everything is focused and goal oriented. This is a common quality of an adult world. Kid’s just wanna have fun, and if they learn something… cool! I do find however if you brief children on daily expectations, what to anticipate, group awareness and group safety, they will have more fun and they will learn their lessons from the river as they go along. This aspect of “Kids Weeks” has taught me the virtue of play in my daily instruction.

The coolest thing about working with children is their raw emotion and their ability to express their feelings, as opposed to adults who for the most part are largely guarded with their emotions on the water. This requires us as instructors to do a lot more talking to either feel out, encourage or reinforce particular skills or emotions on the water for adults. Simply stated, with children you just do not have that. I am not saying that it does not happen, but in large part the majority of children and teens wear what they are feeling on their sleeves. They will let you know when they are not happy, if they are bored, hungry, scared, ecstatic or tired. They do not need the constant reinforcement of what they are doing right or wrong (on the water). To them, if they are smiling, they are doing something right. And if they are not, something is wrong. Our biggest job during these weeks is to facilitate a positive experience and reinforce this positive experience with some hard skills and soft skills that they have unknowingly learned.

Initially I had a hard time coping with all of these ideas, especially when my kids decided that they would rather swim in the rapids as opposed to ferry, peel out or eddy out. Afterall, if this was any other clinic these basic skills would be the primary focus of the first day for a novice. It personally frustrated me that they would be so immature as to jump in the river and play instead of learn. Then it hit me like a brick wall. The children were actually learning to become comfortable with their new environment and were learning the most fundamental self-rescue skill. Maybe if I jumped in the river a little more often I would not be so petrified to swim! An opportunity had suddenly presented itself and a teachable moment arose from the ashes like a phoenix. Before too long I had the kids doing aggressive swimming techniques and understanding how their “play” is useful as a tool. This is also where I realized I cannot control the entropy of the group dynamic, but instead have to find a way to fit into it.

Let me clarify some things before I lead people to thinking that these weeks are some scary, disorganized blob of children screaming, kicking and biting their way downstream. We focus tremendously on group responsibility and awareness. On the first night of a clinic we spend some time establishing group goals as well as individual goals and how the group will have to work together to achieve them. As Jon Clark so succinctly puts it, “you have to have the respect talk.” In my past experience with team-building we would have called this a “Full Value Contract.” Though I never do anything as structured as a “ Full Value Contract,” It is always good to have a verbal agreement with the group to bring those individual and group goals back into focus.

The most important aspect of our “Kids Week” is simply, play. We as adults get so wrapped up in our “real world” that we have forgot the virtue of play and how much it teaches us. When an adult begins to play like a child there is some level of embarassment or immaturity associated with that person. However my personal experiences learning and teaching, the student always learns best when smiling, laughing, or playing. Children typically will listen when they are ready for a lesson, and we as adults can take a lesson from our children.

“Family Fun Day” is where the kids are reunited with their families after five days and the fun and chaos takes a float down the Nantahala River. This has to be one of the most spectacular sites on the “Nanty” as a group of fifty kids, parents and instructors start moving downstream. This becomes a great time for the kids to showcase their newly acquired kayaking skills to their parents. However, what stands out above all to me is that despite their families being there, they pay more attention to their new friends in their respective groups and make sure that everyone is together and safe. This makes me beam like a proud parent because I feel this is the effect we have as instructors here at NOC. This demonstrates that our instruction with the kids not only showcases kayaking skills, but life skills such as self-reliance, group responsibility and awareness. Not too mention social skills that they utilize to make new friends throughout the week. In conlusion and after all of this being said, “Kids Week” is on the top of my list for best times on and off the river. Head Instructor Rob Barham sums it up pretty well, “Woohoo! Kid’s Week… Chinese Buffet! Woohoo!”

All photos courtesy of Jon Clark