Thursday, June 28, 2007

Best Days: First trip to the Green Narrows, Aug. 2005

My first river experience was on the Lower Green when I was ten years old. I remember sitting at the put-in with my purple Dancer XS and watching the water release from the section above. I didn’t know anything about the section above except that that’s where the water came from. Fifteen years later I found myself standing at the same spot and staring upstream once again waiting for the water, only this time we called the area where I was standing the takeout, and not the put-in. I remember thinking that my kayaking was coming full-circle.

I was paddling with three of my best friends that day – Mark, Eric, and Israel. It was Israel’s second time on the Green but Mark and Eric were Green regulars, and even comfortable enough on that section to run it in a Topo-duo later that summer. (As an aside, their run through Gorilla was priceless. As they drove through the Notch, Mark, in the front and weighing about 140lbs, tried to catch the eddy. Eric, in the back and weighing 200lbs, wanted to go direct. The bigger boy won out and they went direct. The bigger boy also rolled them up at the bottom.) But I digress…

The first rapid we scouted that day was Frankenstein. Mark explained the line to me as Eric made it look easy. Israel went next, blew the line, and got hull-pinned over the ledge on river left. Mark and I scrambled down to his boat to try and free him. Israel was calm and had his head above water, but after many attempts, Mark and I could not budge his boat. It was at this moment that I looked downstream and saw Eric wading up the rapid like an aquatic Hercules with muscles bulging and a determined look in his eye. He bent over and picked both Israel and the boat up, and threw it over his shoulder using some sort of modified dead lift. (It should be mentioned that Eric lifted weights twice a day, and was built like a brick out-house) Both he and Israel swam the last part of the rapid. It was a pretty exiting start to our trip. We had only made it through two rapids before someone got pinned (usually it takes us about five rapids before that happens).

Anyways, we paddled the remaining rapids without incident until Chief at which point Eric in one of his dyslexic moments described the line completely backwards to me. I couldn’t see his whole line, but I could see enough to realize that he was doing the exact opposite of what he had described to me. I was forced to remember the picture on American Whitewater that showed a boater running the left line at Chief. Whoever that boater in the picture is, I am forever in your debt because I took your line (or what I assumed was your line) and it worked wonderfully.

Of course this brings us to Gorilla. Mark went first and ran it direct, and Eric and I eddied out after the Notch. I’m rather fond of that eddy, and I would have liked to have stayed there a bit longer. In fact, I’m willing to label that my favorite eddy on any river. Eric, who had been in that eddy 100 times before, did not want to chit-chat though and pealed out and over the drop. It was at this point that I realized I should have taken a look at the actual waterfall, and not just the Notch when we were scouting. Nonetheless, I had a great line, although I did get held up in Speedtrap for a bit. After finally making it out I paddled over to Eric in the river-left eddy. After some congratulatory words I turned to look back up at Gorilla when I felt myself getting pulled back into Speedtrap. (As it came out in the car ride home, Eric had actually pushed me back into Speedtrap). I surfed some more and did a few of those weird rolls where you’re pinned on your backdeck on dry rock. After escaping the hole for the second time I was too tired to reach the eddy again. I would be running the next two slides blind, which I felt comfortable doing at that point. The first slide was fun, and I went deep into the hole at the bottom of the second slide. I remember thinking that I was under water for a long time. I rolled up, cleared my eyes, and much to my astonishment found myself staring at a naked women on the rock in front of me. The first thought that popped into my head was, “Am I dead?” I quickly realized that she was not indeed an angel and I needed to catch an eddy to regroup, which I did.

I honestly don’t remember any of the other rapids that day, although I do remember having a great time on all of them. Occasionally I make it back to the Green, although not often. My returning trips have all had memorable moments, although none as memorable as that first time.

For me, kayaking has never been about what I’m paddling, but who I’m paddling with. I can have an equally fun time on the Lower Green, the Upper Green, or the Narrows if I’m with good people. The good people from that first trip down the Narrows have all moved on to other things in life – Israel is going to law school, Mark is in nursing school, and Eric is a helicopter pilot in the Army. I don’t get to see them very often anymore, but I think of them every time I visit the Green - and those memories make me smile.

Instructors on the Green

Following Herms report of his first day on the Green, here is a short video of some Instructors paddling Zwicks Backender, Chief's and Groove Tube. I did not film very much this day so there is only footage of those couple of rapids. The highlights are Wayne's run at Zwicks and Anne's seal launch that never really gets off the ground. This was just a great day of creeking with good friends and fun times, this is what paddling is all about.

A Day on the Green River Narrows from Christopher Port on Vimeo.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Hop Blunt

The blunt is usually the next move playboaters learn after the flatspin, and one of the more versatile playboating moves as it can be done in a hole or a wave. Learn the blunt on a small wave or the corner of a small hole to start with, as the mechanics of the move will be easier to figure out on a smaller, slower feature first. Here's a couple of points prospective blunters should keep in mind:
1. Lots of people struggle with the blunt because they forget the basics - start high on the foam pile and angle your boat away from the direction you will be blunting. For example, if you're blunting right, point the bow of your boat to the left.
2. Body position is important. Lean back slightly to get the bow to raise, and then lean forward aggressively into the reverse sweep to get the bow down and ensure stability. Remember to edge into that sweep stroke.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Mythical Z-Drag

Most boaters have heard of the Z-Drag – they may have even thought to themselves at some point, “This might be one of those times when we need that z-drag thing”. Very few though, (at least in the novice/intermediate ranks), it seems actually know how to set up a Z-drag. And for good reason – you just don’t need to use one all that often. In my boating career, I’ve only set up one z-drag, and I’ve seen lots of pinned boats. Most boats can be unpinned with good old-fashioned elbow grease and/or vector pulls. Exhausting those options though, and assuming you still want your boat back, here’s the simplest Z-drag you could assemble. At a minimum you will need a rope, three prusiks, and two carabiners (preferably locking). The prusiks and carabiners should be in your PFD – it doesn’t do you any good if they’re in the pinned boat.

Jon's basic pin kit shown here is not expensive:
8' of 7mm rope:$3.36 (Tree saver strap, this is the one that goes around the tree.)
12' of 5mm rope: $3.60 (Makes two prusiks about 3' long, 5mm bites better on your typical 1/4 through rope)
2 Carabineers: $12.00
1 Locking Carabineer: $15.oo
2 Nylon wheels, $12
Roughly $35 dollars in addition to the throw bag you already own, remember the post about essential gear here.

Prussic loop completed

Tie one end of the throw rope to the pinned boat. Now hold up a second, if you are going to span part of the river with a rope, you need to make sure that kayakers coming from upstream have some warning and can pull over before they are clotheslined by your rope. Okay now you can proceed with tying the figure-eights or bowlines to the security bar, both of which are good knots for this purpose. Attach a dampener to the rope – this could be as simple as hanging a pfd or shirt over the rope. If you apply enough force, those security bars/grab loops on the boat can pull out. The dampner knocks the security bar down before it reaches you or your friend’s face. Tie one of the prusiks around a tree and clip your first carabiner to it. Run the throw rope through this carabiner. Now run that rope through the second carabiner and attach your second prusik to the second carabiner and the first length of rope via a prusik loop. Pull. (See picture below)
Using two pulleys in conjunction with the carabiners is admittedly a more efficient option – some of the mechanical advantage is not sluffed-off through friction. There is also the option to use a third prusik as a break for extended pulls. There are certainly better z-drag systems, this is just the most simple.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Kids rule Family Fun Day

The first kids week ended this past Friday with Family Fun Day, a special day when parents join their kids on a paddling trip down the mighty Nantahala River. It was fun to watch the kids show off all their new kayaking skills to their parents as they went down the river. I asked some parents what they liked most about sending their kids to a week long kayaking camp and the resounding answer was that they see an amazing amount of character growth during this week of kayaking. The kids are easily sold on how much fun kayaking is but hidden in the kayaking secessions are many lessons about life that they do not get at other camps. Kids learn an amazing amount judgment, self awareness, self reliance, responsibly for oneself and others, and that feeling of personal achievement when they complete a rapid upright is priceless. Well for the parents anyway, kids love swimming just as much, so coming out of the boat is just as fun for them.

Jon.Clark's Family Fun Day photosetJon.Clark's Family Fun Day photoset

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pyranha Burn Review

Pyranha Burn rated with respect to the following criteria.
(Rating are from 1-5 with 1 being the worst possible score and 5 the best.)

Stability: 4
Initial: 4
Secondary: 5
The Burn’s secondary stability is the feature that sets it apart from other creekboats on the water. No boat locks in it’s secondary stability more than the Burn. Put simply, you place the Burn on edge and the Burn stays on edge for confident, precise carving.
Speed: 4
Not as fast as something like the Jefe, but certainly faster than many of the other creekboats we’ve paddled. Easy to accelerate, the Burn reaches top speed in very few strokes.
Rolling: 3.5
This rating needs to be quantified. If you’ve got a reliable roll, then this boat isn’t going to feel any harder to roll than any other boat out there. If you’re still figuring out the combat roll than this boat won’t be as easy to roll as something like the Jackson Mega-Rocker. The paddler sits low in the boat, the edges are a little hard, and the sidewalls are somewhat high.
Turn/Carve: 4
The hull is pretty responsive. See comments under “stability” for carving rating.
Outfitting: 4.5
The seat in the first-gen Burns was a little narrow. Pyranha has fixed this problem in the current Burns; the result being a very comfortable ride. The seat is a little difficult to move, but that’s probably a good thing in a creekboat. The ratchet backband is nice and big for maximum support. The “step-up” center wall is a nice safety feature in this creekboat as well. Some smaller boaters have mentioned that they don’t feel that the burn fits them snug.
Weight: 4
It’s a creekboat – you don’t want it if its light. This 45lb boat has a strong layup.
User Friendliness: 4
This really is an easy boat to paddle. It has a nice balance between tracking and turning, floats the paddler high on the water, boofs well, and accelerates quickly.
Additional comments: We’ve had a lot of luck putting beginners in this boat as an introductory river-runner. They appreciate the stability and ample volume. This is one of those boats you can’t outgrow. You can learn in it, use it as your reliable river-runner when running rivers right on the edge of your limit, or take it creeking. I used this boat exclusively when I safety-boated the rafting trips on the Cheoah this year and always appreciated it’s speed, maneuverability, comfort, and volume. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed creeking with it on some of the Southeastern classics.
For more info and detailed specs click here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Musings on the Charlotte Whitewater Park

I had two days off last week and decided to check out the whitewater park in Charlotte that I’d been hearing so much about. The Charlotte Instruction Manager and my good friend, Sarah Harper, was nice enough to paddle with me, show me the cool moves, and yell words of encouragement such as “Stop sucking!”. Here’s a few thoughts and mediocre advice I formulated on the drive home:

1. It’s not really a river, it’s a quasi river – a “quiver” if you will. The best part about the quiver is that you get the great rapids without worrying about such dangers as foot-entrapments, strainers, or fishermen casting over your bow. The quiver is also 3 feet deep everywhere which is nice for taking a leisurely walk through class 3 whitewater. Lastly, the water temperature of the quiver is about 75 degrees, which is way better than the Nantahala where the water temperature hovers somewhere around “arctic”.

2. Rivers have shuttles, quivers have conveyor belts, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks to Sarah for showing me the spin move off the rollers. I could do that all day. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, stick your paddle in the metal hand rail when you reach the rollers and do a reverse sweep)

3.Here’s my mediocre advice worth about a nickel for anyone struggling with the eddies there. Forget the “always lean downstream mantra”. Sometimes the eddy water there is going upstream, sometimes its downstream, and sometimes its sidestream, if there is such a thing. Keep your boat flat when you’re in the eddy, and lean forward into that good posture (especially if you’re in a playboat). Peel out at the top of the eddy (most of the time the eddy water is sending you in that direction anyways). When you reach the exit point fight the urge to use a forward sweep on the upstream side to turn yourself downstream. Instead, lean in the direction of your turn and take good forward strokes on the downstream side. Many people flip getting out of eddies because as they place a sweep stroke on the upstream side they also subconsciously drop that upstream edge to get the blade in the water. The good news is that 95% of the time you don’t need a stroke on the upstream side during a peelout. (By the way, the same thing applies to getting into the eddies. You don’t need a sweep stroke on the downstream side to turn yourself into the eddy. The water will turn you – you just need forward strokes on the inside of the turn to drive deep into the eddy, which is also the side you’re edging towards. Your stability and power will increase exponentially if you commit to only paddling on the inside of the turn, and not both sides)

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Need for Speed

Some of the NOC crew participated in a Speeder race on the French Broad River last night put on by the Pyranha boys. There were about 25 competitors and three heats of head-to-head action. Our rising female instructor Jackie "Fear the Reaper" Newmann put on a strong showing, finishing first amongst the females who participated (and ahead of a few dudes as well). Chris "Here comes the Pain Train" Wing also did well, winning one of his heats. Ultimately though, in the finals it came down to a battle between the Legend and the Olympian. The legend, Dan "Greystoke" Dixon hails from parts unknown, is a long time NOC instructor, adventure travel leader, and once paddled a class V rapid with a small dog shoved in the back of his kayak. Wayne 'Wayner" Dickert is the director of the NOC paddling school, Olympian, and 10 time national team qualifier. After a heated battle, Dan was crowned champion with Wayner earning the silver. Thanks to all who helped put on this great event!

(Top picture) Chris drops the hammer on the outside (Right picture) Dan checks over his shoulder as he crosses the finish line

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Rethinking our thinking

There are two phrases in kayaking that make me cringe every time I hear them. The first is: “Always lean downstream”. The second is, “Just paddle hard”. While there is an element of truth in both these phrases, I can’t help but wonder if this advice often does more harm than good.

“Always lean downstream”
The reasoning behind the phrase: When sideways in a rapid (especially one with big waves) if the paddler is not edging the boat downstream their upstream edge can catch and they’ll flip upstream. This is also an applicable adage for peelouts or if you're about to broadside a rock or strainer.

“Kayaking” and “always” are not two words that go together very often. Paddlers can often lean upstream in a rapid, even when they’re completely sideways. There are many times where leaning upstream in a rapid is even desirable, ie. center line at Oceana, at least until you reach the pillow. The point of the matter is that you only need to edge the boat when there is a change of speed or a change in direction. Catching eddies is a good example of both – you’re changing direction (making a turn) and changing speed (faster water to slower water). If you’re moving at the same speed as the current though and not trying to make any turns then it often doesn’t matter which way you’re leaning. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of the time you’re in a rapid floating sideways, you’re not leaning upstream or downstream – the boat is probably flat. You can experiment with this and see if it’s true for you. The next time you’re in the middle of a rapid and have turned your boat sideways in preparation to accelerate towards an eddy, see which way you’re leaning as you’re paddling towards the eddy. I bet your boat is flat, at least until you reach the eddyline.

“Just paddle hard”
The reasoning behind the phrase: By paddling aggressively you one, get good purchase on the water which acts as a brace, and two, gain speed to punch through holes and/or waves.

Imagine you are on a bike on the top of a mountain about to descend down. When you get to the steepest part of the descent, do you peddle more to increase your speed? No, most people would probably reach for the brakes. In kayaking though, we tell so many beginners to “peddle” faster when they reach the steep parts. Very seldom do we need a lot of speed to punch holes or make it through big rapids. We would be better off paddling slowly, waiting on that one well-timed stroke to carry us through. Most of us aren’t running the Zambezi or White Nile; we don’t need the speed – we need the control and placement. When we’re paddling fast we build up speed which makes corrections and turns difficult to execute. Think about Broken Nose on the Ocoee. You could take slow controlled strokes, and give yourself the option to either run left or wait on the final boof stroke. Or you could “just paddle hard” as soon as you enter the rapid, kung-foo fighting your way through the ledges and holes. Next time you’re watching a paddling video pay close attention to the pros. Very seldom are they paddling furiously – most of the time they look to be floating on a bow draw, or waiting for one good stroke at the crux – and they’re encountering holes and waves much bigger than the ones we usually see.

Secondly, when we paddle fast we often don’t bury the blades completely in the water. Thus, we’re expending energy on strokes that aren’t doing a whole lot for us. Also, when we paddle hard our muscles tense, our hips lock-up, and our knees (and feet) engage the thighhooks. The boat now loses the ability to rock in the water and we flip.

Photos courtesy of Jon Clark

Friday, June 1, 2007

Nantahala Falls: 6 Ways To Skin A Cat

The new instructors have been trickling in over the past month and today seemed like a good day to get the old and new together for a little fun at Nantahala Falls. For being such a short rapid, there’s actually quite a few different lines and moves that can be tried.

The standard line, or A route, as it’s called in the rafting business, is to paddle down the left side of the falls, catch Truckstop Eddy, and then run left to right out the back of the eddy. Undoubtedly you have run this line at some point in your paddling career. Here’s a few more lines for you to try next time. (in order from easiest to hardest)

Creek line: Catch the last eddy above the falls on river right. Paddle right of the triangle rock (which is river right of top hole) and make the right turn into the slot between the big rocks. You can actually boof the right side of the triangle rock for an added degree of difficulty and land in macro eddy (see right picture). The creek line (sans boof) is the easiest line to run at the Falls. If you’ve never run the Falls, have a beginner with you, or are still a little nervous at the Falls, the creek line is a great option. You miss both the holes…which is nice. Be careful about flipping in this line though - it's very shallow. EASIEST

Race line: No eddies, run just right of top hole but left of the triangle rock. It’s a fast line because if done properly you will miss both holes. EASIER

Standard line: Truckstop eddy on the left, then left of top hole, right of bottom hole. MODERATE

Left-ledge line: Catch the last eddy above the falls on river right. Run just to the right of top hole and cut across the current, driving left in the backwash of top hole. (see left picture) Boof chicken ledge on the far left into the eddy on the left. MODERATELY HARD

Micro/Macro: Catch the last eddy above the falls on river right. Ferry above top hole and catch micro eddy on river left above chicken-ledge. From there, ferry across the backwash of top hole and into macro eddy on river right. HARD

Big Boy Move: Catch micro eddy on the left. Ferry across top hole. (see left picture) Make the attainment upstream (river left of triangle rock, right of top hole). Eddy out river right above the creek line. (see right picture) You’re basically ferrying over from micro eddy and attaining up the race line. If you mess this one up you get to practice your side-surfing skills. VERY HARD