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.

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


No comments: