Saturday, 30 December 2017

'Tis the season for kayaking

The Vaal River has been up and down like a jack-in-the-box. 100 cumec one day, 40 cumec the next... High water or low water, we've been on the river. Tripping with kids and other people, car shuttles... it takes time so you need a few hours at a time to go play. Celliers can't remember being on the river this much since many years ago.

For the past three months I've been paddling a sit-on-top whitewater kayak. In November two years ago, Celliers taught me to roll a sit-in whitewater kayak. I had one session on the river a week later and then we had very, very low water for the rest of the summer. Last year we didn't paddle much.

Sit-on top whitewater kayaks have a lot going for them. If you fall out, you just climb back on. Easy-peasy. They're a great way to build confidence, learn skills, practice skills like ferry gliding, attainment (paddling upriver using eddies), edging and also surfing in rapids.

The big downside to sit-in kayaks is that if you fall over and pop out, then you have to swim to the side with your kayak full of water (at this stage it floats just below the surface), drag it out to empty it, get back in etc. This whole process can be quite exhausting and it wastes a lot of time. To paddle a sit-in, I totally recommend that you spend time on a sit-on-top, learn to roll a sit-in and then start tripping. You'll just enjoy it more.

Last Saturday we went to Gatsien, a great rapid with a good wave (at the right level), numerous eddies, the chute and options. Celliers worked with me on eddy-catching, ferrying and edging.

We had a friend visiting this week and so we took him down the river on Wednesday. He has paddled a little in the past but not for a long time. We put him on my sit-on-top and we dusted off my sit-in. It was time for me to put my skills to the test. The river was up at around 150 cumec. I had an excellent runs with no swims. Not even a wobble!

Ruben and Kyla and our friend Marinus took big swims going through Theatre, a lovely long rapid with great wave trains above Gatsien. I saw both Kyla and then Marinus go over - in the same place. They were ahead of me. I figured that Marinus could take care of himself so I paddled for Kyla. Celliers had turned to see her swimming but he hadn't seen Ruben go over a bit more downstream. Celliers went to help Kyla, I went to help Ruben - collecting Kyla's new river shoes, which had popped off her feet, in the big waves on the way to Ruben. It was quite exciting. As Celliers later said, "I was so relieved to see that you were not swimming too!". The kids had a bit of a shock - their longest and biggest swim ever. But they handled it well and after a few tears were back on their sit-on tops (same as mine, just smaller sizes) and paddling towards the take out. They rarely swim. The learning experience that came out of this for them is that you can NEVER become complacent on water. NEVER.

Yesterday we were all back on the river - it was really low at maybe 30-40 cumec. I practiced some rolls at the start and later too. I nailed them 100% of the time, improving my technique with each roll. I still have more practice to do until rolling becomes second nature. This was on flat water, which is much easier than rolling in current.

I had an excellent run with good lines. And then I swam at the bottom of the chute at Gatsien. I really shouldn't have fallen over. It was silly. Whatever. I fell over and found myself upsidedown in an awkward position, only one hand on my paddle (I need both hands on it to roll). I did a half-roll but realised I was really in a wonky position. I popped my spray skirt and swam, dragging my paddle and water-laden kayak to a nearby rock.

Fortunately there is this great rock shelf in the middle of river so I huffed and heaved and hauled my kayak up there to empty it. It is such a waste of time and energy to swim! I got back on the river above the rapid to run it again. Easy-peasy.

My rolls are looking good but my rolls in current need work. I aim to be back on the river later today to play at Gatsien. My objective is to capsize myself in the rapid so that I can practice rolling in the current. Again and again and again.

I'll ask Celliers to take some photos. It really is lovely out here on the river.

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