Looks mean doesn't it? The model is called a Stomper - only time will tell if I'll be stomping lines in the river. It's what is classified as a creek boat, which means it's meant for big rapids, and technical lines/drops through rivers and big creeks. Hopefully in time my skills will get me to this point - big water on the Tallulah.
I have some big goals to get much better this summer. Unfortunately I didn't paddle for six months from September to April so some of the skills I gained last year have been rusty. I've been struggling with my combat roll (how you right yourself in whitewater after you get flipped upside down) this year. My flatwater roll is fine, which just means it is all mental and I'm probably rushing my set-up. You can always self rescue, which is where you pull the cord and can get out of the boat and to the surface. Not ideal situation though as now your swimming in the rapids, your boat is filling with water and along with your paddle is hauling ass down the river without you. Not a big deal at the whitewater center, but on a river can be a more dangerous situation - not to mention you can lose all your shit. So I'll be doing drills and getting a little more instruction over the next month to help get my combat roll more consistent.
Once the roll gets better "bombproofed" then it's a matter of continuing to work on peeling into and out of eddies. Again, the whitewater center is a great place for this skill. For those that don't know what an eddy is; very simply, it is the calm spots on the river that sit just outside the main current. Most are near the sides of the river bank or behind a rock or boulder. It becomes an important skill to learn how to get into and out of eddies. They give you a break, chance to catch your breathe, sometimes allow you to scout the next rapid, and offer a safe place to discuss your next move. Your saying, that's great this whole kayaking thing sounds really easy. Wrong. You have the main current in the river, which depending on how strong a class of river your running (class I thru V with Class I =easiest, Class V = most difficult) could be very strong with surging water. Then just on the other side of the current is the eddy line with a current moving in the opposite direction. If you don't use your edges right peeling into or out of the eddy then you will very quickly learn a term we like to call "window shaded". You can always get Taco'ed in the main current as well. These little things called hydraulics that recirculate water back at you and create a "hole". They are known as keepers, because they hold you in place and beat yo ass. Check 1:39 in this video for an example of being window shaded and being stuck in a hole.
So, as you are learning, it pays to keep cool, calm, and not panic in all situations on the river. This is a another skill set you need to learn as a whitewater kayaker - the mental game is possibly the biggest part of it all. It separates the good from the best and if your gonna run big, pushy, class V water then you had better have it locked down. Hell, you even need it in class III and definitively class IV as well. I believe a lot comes with practice and experience. Why we are so lucky here in Charlotte to have the Whitewater Center.
I've got a little work ahead of me over the next month as I plan on the possibility of running some big water rivers by my birthday in June. In case your wondering what the progression of rivers is in my area (western NC/Northern GA/Eastern TN) it goes a little something like this:
Lower Green River (class I/II)
Tuck (class II)
Nantahala (class II/III)
French Broad River section 9 (class II/III)
Chattooga section 3 (class II/III)
Upper Green River (class II/III/)
Nolichicky River (class III/ one long class IV)
Pigeon River (class III)
Ocoee River (class III/IV)
Wilson's Creek (class IV)
New River (class IV)
Chattooga section 4 (class IV)
Cheoah (class IV/V)
Tallulah (Class V)
Green Narrows (class V)
Gauley (class V)
This is not a complete list, but covers the majority. Lot's of people do these in their own order depending on how comfortable they are with the current set of skills each paddler has. The whitewater center basically prepares folks to start somewhere around the Pigeon. The eddies at the whitewater center are much more difficult due to the facility being man-made. The eddies become big whirlpools with very strong currents, whereas in a river the current is much calmer in the eddy. I see me spending a lot of time on the Chattooga, Nolichucky, and Pigeon with a possible trip to the Ocoee before summers end. When the cool temps and rain comes back in the fall and the rivers start running at decent levels I'll be hitting Wilson's Creek, The New, Tallulah Fest, Green Narrows and maybe the Gauley depending on how comfortable I am.
I'll be trying my best to document some of my river experiences with you on here as I just bought a new gopro hero. Look for some point of view sickness in the coming months.