As the momentum lifts at the top of
Coming into the 2008 season I needed a new whitewater paddling challenge. Being a Dad had suppressed my desire to run scary creeks and I was feeling a little uninspired to master the newest playboating moves. On March 28th I put my Prijon 89 Wildwater boat in the Arkansas and committed to getting as fit as possible and learning to steer this unwieldy composite Kevlar kayak through whitewater. A wildwater race kayak is a strange looking craft which is made to do one thing really well….go fast down a moving river. All of the other things that are required in whitewater paddling: turning, spinning, coming in and out of eddies, bracing, rolling, running holes, boofing, etc.; are on the list of things a Wildwater boat does not do well. Basically the boat is really tippy, turns really slowly and makes Class III feel every bit as hard as Class V feels in a plastic boat. The boats are about 14feet long and steer by leaning opposite of the direction you want to travel. Wildwater racers use a wing paddle, which has a blade shaped like a big serving spoon. These paddles grab a lot of water but, once again, are basically worthless doing anything other than cranking straight downstream. In june of 2008 I finished my first FIBArk 26 mile race. After I recovered from the race and training in early July I was back at it in my Wildwater boat and the hook was set.
When I learned that Salida would host the Wildwater National Championships in June of 2009 the idea of giving that race a go started to really inspire me. Through the late summer and fall of 2008 paddling Wildwater was starting to feel almost normal to me. In fact jumping in a plastic boat with a regular whitewater paddle was starting to freak me out; “Which way do I lean this thing? Why is this paddle grabbing so little water? Why would I want to eddy out?”
I paddled the
December hit and winter came with the change in the date. We were finally skiing powder on
Gerbil wheel paddling. Not as much fun as real paddling.
With ice on the river and snow on the hills; I kept on paddling. Only now I was sitting in my office, with a t-shirt on visualizing Cottonwood rapid with the constant drone of the wheels on the trainer a poor replacement for the rushing waters of the
As the winter progressed the ice melted and the Banana Belt (
The National Championships format is based on World Cup Wildwater racing. One day is a Sprint race; typically about 90 second run through whitewater. You complete two runs and your times are combined. Sprinting puts a premium on being able to keep from making mistakes, as a small mistake in a sprint equals a larger relative amount of time. The second race is called a “Classic” and is a race of between 15-20 minutes, roughly 4.5 miles through a mix of flat and whitewater. As the spring progressed I focused a lot of my training on the Classic. Learning to paddle at your max, over 20 minutes is not easy. I started doing intervals; short periods at a very high effort. Then I started linking those intervals so that I would paddle ever longer periods at my max. The whole time I was learning that keeping a Wildwater boat on line at cruising pace and at top speed were two different things all together. There were many humbling moments for sure.
Keeping it straight in
As the race approached the
Friday morning I came into the Classic knowing all I had to do was hang on. Of course I wanted to go as fast as possible, but the Classic course goes from Salida to Bear Creek rapid a course that is made up of 90% easy water and one rapid at the end…a hammer fest. I am still developing the fitness and pain tolerance to hammer 20 minutes without some whitewater to help trip up my competition. I also am learning to keep focused on every “piece” of water which is a requirement of a short race in easy water. The typical internal conversation for me over 20 minutes goes a little something like this: “grab the back of that wave…reach, catch, rotate….what was the name of the one track I heard on Pandora yesterday?...FOCUS!....inside on the next corner…hammer this flat water….man it would be fun to go surfing with Johnny in September…” and so on. I gave a hard effort and finished within 3% of the day’s winner and while I slipped a spot in the overall ranking to 5th, I won my class. I guess I qualified for the US National Team although I am not sure racing in
I am not going to feign casual guy, too cool to care, for readers of this blog…I was (and am) stoked! I set a goal and spent a lot of time preparing and thinking about and I am happy to have a result to show for it. Plus I got a belt buckle that says “Champion” on it so I got that going for me the next time I am hanging at the bar with my shirt tucked in.
The 26 mile mass start is one of the coolest experiences I have had paddling a kayak. Total chaos. That is me in the yellow top on the right side of the picture right behind the two guys that are all tangled.
By far the coolest race all FIBArk weekend was my son Miles racing in his first kayak race, the 2 mile novice DR race from Salida to
Miles milking every bit of speed he can out of that Fun 1 in the 2 mile DR race at FIBArk.Wildwater paddling is without question a somewhat obscure segment of our sport and you can’t log on to coloradokayak.com and order a Wildwater boat. However, what I have rediscovered through Wildwater, and what you might find if you try it, is the joy of tapping into the speed of a river heading downhill and the fitness that comes with that sort of paddling. Boats like the Pryana Speeder are a good commercial option to try out that feeling of gliding through a pool or rocketing off the back of a wavetrain in a kayak. Who knows? You might get hooked and find yourself waking up and thinking about boil lines in