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Drysuit in June

I wore my drysuit today. It was a little overkill, but at times I was glad I had it and not a wetsuit or simple drytop. As I write this, it’s June, which – why the heck would I wear a drysuit in June?

Whitewater.

AP, my friend from work, is a whitewater guy. While I’m a sea kayak girl, we get on and geek out over boats and maneuvers and equipment. AP is a member of a club that has a lot of activities, whitewater among them, and he invited me along on a beginner course near Jim Thorpe, PA.

A few words about Jim Thorpe: Every Okie, such as the Cowgirl, knows two superstars from Oklahoma, Jim Thorpe and Will Rogers. Thorpe was an all-around athlete who went to school near the Lehigh Valley. The town changed its name in an effort to become a Jim Thorpe tourist destination. That’s how Jim Thorpe, an Okie, got his name on a Pennsylvania river town.

These were Class 1 rapids – relatively easy, benign. When I first saw the waters, I thought, easy, no problem. I could plow right through them in the Argonaut. Then I realized I would be in much shorter, flatter boats.

We started with a stay-and-play – we  passed under a railroad bridge, and tried surfing back in current. I practiced my roll, but when I needed it I flubbed it. I swam twice, making it to a small island where I dumped water and looked back.

The main trouble I was having was that my instincts are wrong. In sea kayaking, you edge away from the direction you want to turn. In whitewater, you edge towards the turn – and more importantly, always edge away from the current. After some practice though, I got the hang of it and was able to ferry across current.

After that, we went on a float (I don’t know what else to call it – we drove someplace, put in, and went with the current). That was actually nice – and terrifying. The current does not stop. You will have to decide, very quickly, how to manage obstacles, find the path, find the eddy, and turn out.

So, I did that. At first, I plowed through everything. I barreled past the leader. I just went straight through, as if I were in some harbor chop. Eventually, I was told: don’t.

Glide. One difference between the two sports is that in sea kayaking, the paddler powers through obstacles, or maneuvers the boat to ease them. In whitewater, the river is the power. The paddler is just maneuvering to take advantage of that power.

We went through several rapid. One in particular was very dramatic – a churn of water against a wall on the left, with relative calm on the right. At another spot, we had a sharp turn in the river, requiring us to turn quickly and take shelter in an eddy. I had no trouble, but it was a blind corner, meaning I made that turn not knowing exactly where I would land.

Our canoeist was amazing to watch, and the more experienced whitewater paddlers were pretty amazing as well, rolling in current, which I did not try. I did practice my roll, but I need to do more of that before I’m confident doing that in conditions.

All in all, it was a pleasant outing, and a real departure from my regular work. I learned a few things that would come in handy in sea kayaking, as well as new things unique to whitewater.

Published in 2013 Backpaddle Whitewater

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