Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Big Jump

Part of the fun of kayaking is the challenge. Nothing feels better than running a hard rapid successfully. It doesn't really matter if "hard" is class three or class five for you - the joy (and relief) of styling a hard rapid is universally shared by all boaters.
It is our contention that on the five scale rapid rating system, the jump between class 2 and 3 is the largest. Class one and two rapids are very similar and often difficult to differentiate. Think about paddling the Nantahala - most of the time you're not thinking about whether that rapid you paddled was class 1 or class 2 - they're pretty similar. When you get to class 3 Nantahala Falls though it's pretty easy to tell that the rapid is much bigger/harder than everything else you've paddled. For beginners, the jump from class 1/2 to class 3 is often a very big one. This is primarily because they're now facing a larger rapid with more serious consequences. Not to say that there aren't consequences to messing up a class 1/2 rapid, but the consequences are much greater to messing up a class 3 rapid. Deciding to run a class three rapid for the beginner therefore is often a difficult decision because they must factor the consequences into their decision making process- something they haven't really had to do on class 1/2.

Once a boater gains experience though factoring the consequences aspect into the decision-making process it becomes easier to make future decisions, for instance stepping up from class 3 to class 4 rapids. We have plenty of boaters in our beginning clinics agonize over the decision to run or walk Nantahala Falls. We then see those same boaters in our intermediate clinics spend only a fraction of the time agonizing over the decision to run a class 4 rapid. The same boater that spent 20 minutes deciding to run their first class 3 rapid now often spends less than five deciding to run their first class 3+/4.

This is not to say that the decision to step up from class 3 to 4 should be a cursory one. We are merely saying that it's often easier for paddlers to decide to run their first class 4 rapid than it is to run their first class 3 rapid. This can be attributed primarily to the fact that a boater has very little experience when he/she makes a decision to run that first class 3 rapid, and much more experience when they decide to run their first class 4 rapid.

The same applies to the jump between class 4 and class 5.0. Class 5 is certainly harder than class four and entails greater consequences, but the jump comparatively isn't as great as the leap from class 2 to class 3. There's a much bigger gap between running Surfer's and Nantahala Falls than there is between running Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein. (The jump between class 4 and 5.2, well, that might be another story.)

The long and short of it is, if you're a beginner, it's ok to take your time deciding to run a class three rapid - it is indeed a big step up. For the advanced boater paddling with beginners, be aware of this. Don't downplay a class 3 rapid because it's "only class three". For the beginner, deciding to run a class three rapid is a big step because for the first time they're factoring in consequences to making a mistake. They should be given all the time they need to make this decision.