Singletrack Paddling! --Another New Sport!
March 24, 2012
Dang, here's another new sport for us to enjoy and develop!
Man, these things are everywhere if you just open your eyes.
Here we have a culture where outdoor activity seems to be bizarrely shrinking in some ways and booming in others. Yet there's so much room every which way for more fun, creativity and growth.
The rule is: start where you are. Look around. Is there a situation that you might be inclined to call "bad"? Maybe if you look at it differently or turn it on its head you might find that it's actually something supercool.
OK, around here we have a lot of shallow, narrow, twisty rivers and creeks. They're often choked with obstacles or have narrow slots you can squeeze through. Is it fun to paddle such places? Well, it all depends! What is required? SKILL! ...Relaxed looking ahead.
I was just out blasting along the other day. As I flowed around a tight corner, leaning my boat way over, and on through a narrow cut in a logjam, all without missing a single forward powerstroke, I thought, Hey, I'm running a nice line here -- just like I was mtbiking some SINGLETRACK. Just like I was skiing some SINGLETRACK. And it was just as fun! Then I thought, Does everyone know about this? I think only a few local nuts even paddle this river. Most folks -- the thousands of skilled, athletic, outdoorsy young people around here -- probably think, "Who'd want to paddle the Red Cedar? What a dumb river. Let's drive somewhere instead and play indoors and pine for when we graduate and can go have fun outside far away in the mountains."
Well, we don't have big sky but we do have a lot of intimate detail. It's a lush organic scene around here, not a Rocky one. Offering plenty of action for anyone to wallow in.
Yeah, whitewater is popular, flashy...and can be dangerous, where dudes strive for ever-more extreme situations. They call it "creek boating." They explore for...shallow, narrow, twisty creeks to try to descend. They call it great and design boats for it. We can do the same.
Around here we have the same kind of conditions -- only they're not whitewater and not dangerous. They require the same kind of skills, though.
Whitewater is a river dropping in elevation, humping over rocks. In contrast, twisty creeks make S-turns and wrap horizontally around objects instead. They have plenty of eddies and sometimes they have whitewater rapids in small doses. You still need skills to enjoy them. One set of skills isn't better or more fun than the other.
Our local river is hugely neglected. People consider it dirty. Yet it's been water tested and gets a very clean rating. So people should go play in it.
(Actually, they could get dangerous here, too, if that's what they wanted. Floodwater offers power like whitewater. Go for it.)
In mt-biking, what kind of riding is considered the most fun by many? Singletrack! Why? Because it requires skill. If you have it you can smoothly flow such a trail and it's not difficult at all. It's not fun because it's a strain. It's fun because it WORKS!
As you know, we've recently launched and started promoting singletrack XC skiing -- trail skiing or adventure skiing. It's like BC mountain skiing, only without the avalanche, falling and impact dangers. ...And with 1000X more venues. Many of which are still "secret" -- stashes waiting for you and your pals to revel in. (I push Backcountry and Off Piste mags to start including the rest of the world's ski terrain in their purview.)
Now it's time for WATER!
As people get old sometimes we do get a little smarter or more aware or maybe it's just that the obvious finally breaks through our thick heads.
My local top canoe racer pal Tom says now that he's old he's not as strong as the big young bucks in canoe racing, but he often finds that when the racing or training gets into a twisty, narrow section of river that he can still put time on the powerhouses. The youngsters express bafflement: "One minute you were there, right ahead, and we were following you fine, the next minute you were GONE!" Tom also says that to an extent when you've paddled one wide flat stretch of water you've paddled 'em all. It's the tricky stuff that's FUN. Due to his experience when technique is required he can come on strong.
Well, as we know with BMX and any stunting sport, youngsters can have skilz, too! They just gotta give it a try, hang out with it awhile, and practice. Heck, they might even be able to develop MORE skill than us old farts. It's up to them.
Then again, who cares? I know I want the fun. If nobody else follows, no sweat. Let 'em do what they do.
Here's what I found...
It's fun to paddle a fast, light boat (canoe or kayak). The shape of a boat and what is "fast" depends on the water. But as downriver and wildwater racers know, even a boat design that's close to being a tippy superfast Olympic-type boat can often be used on BIG whitewater. All you need is some skill. Of course, you can go short and add width and rocker and maybe shrink the volume and get yourself a playboat. But playboats work best with gravity -- just like wide, edged skis are best for skiing mountains and not so hot elsewhere. Allrounder skis are best for normal terrain -- they make it max fun. An allrounder -- or fast -- boat makes normal water max fun. Just like one ski or kind of skiing isn't more fun than another -- it's about matching terrain -- playboats aren't "more fun" than other boats -- it all depends on matching your water. A boat that matches the water lets you use all the skill you have. Flatwater and choked local creeks included!
So what ya do is head to your local river and creek and try to blast down it fast. What about the jams and hard corners and tight spots? Learn to handle your boat and keep your speed up! Practice over and over. Learn to LEAN THAT BOAT RIGHT OVER and hammer around the corner. Jam that gunnel down as you squirt thru a tight spot in a bend and DON'T MISS A STROKE. Can you run your river clean? No dabs! All forward strokes. (Did you really have to do that braking turn?) But, ya know, I don't mind a rudder -- turn on a dime! Or, perfect your dance in a bare hull. Anything goes.
Unlike skiing, but like biking (even more than biking), canoeing is often done either tandem or solo. Either kind of boat can be DANCED through tricky situations. Thread the needle, power full on. Momentum in a tandem is BIG -- one wrong move and the boat might be crushed. You go so much faster in a tandem race boat! It's just like on a good, fast tandem bike. Locomotive here we come! I remember canoe race training with Tom on our local river. Tom was in charge of our boat since I was always the amateur but he got me well up to speed on handling. We could just FLY through a series of tight S-curves, never missing a stroke, taking the PERFECT line. Yes, the line with a boat is just as sweet as with a bike. It's a challenge to smoothly navigate our little local river with a C1 -- now picture doubling your speed and still not missing a beat. The wind actually blows your hair back. We used to be pretty good. Tom still is. You don't need to lose your skill as you age. In fact, he seems to enjoy it more than ever. I do, too! How about you?
Total blockages are a pain for the uninitiated, but even they can be included in the fun. Learn to mount and dismount smoothly -- just like you were a cyclocrosser! They have fun with it, right? So can boaters! Eyeball the jam at full speed, hit the bank and keep flowing on around the jam and put back in. Smooth portages are fun, too. Actually, this can even be a separate sport -- another new one I invented called "Boatocross," as some creeks are so choked you're portaging half the time, but it can still be fun. So go learn your creek, scout it out, practice, then let 'er rip. Fun is never a gimme. If you botch a transition go back and try it again until you get it. (I used to be pretty bad at technical XC ski downhills. If I crashed, I'd go back halfway up the hill and try it again until I sorted out the combination and I could start at the top and ace it. Eventually, I could just fly over the top and take it doublepace.)
In shallow water you can add the especially exciting angles of poling and standup. They turn obstacles into an amazing breeze. Since you're already standing you can often just leap out of the boat, grab it and keep moving. Sometimes you can seesaw over a low log. --Lean back, lift the bow, ram over, step forward, lift the stern, then power-flow clear.
Boats can be tossed around a LOT without them tipping over. You just need to feel out the limits. It doesn't hurt to get wet. Go past the limits to figure them out.
As we grow this sport we should see fast, light boats that are shorter than a race boat plus with a bit of rocker -- just like we have the new midlength trail skis that are fast but still so easy to handle.
Right now, boating is in the situation of skiing. It has its track scene and its big huck mountain scene. But what about in between? That's where there's still a lot of fun to be mined, waiting and glimmering. But the middling boats tend to be designed for loads and mellow use, like an allrounder bike with upright bars. They might be shorter and have some rocker but they tend to be a lot heavier and wider and just not made for PERFORMANCE. No, that's not right: maybe it's just a reputation or marketing thing. Those boats can be rocked. But just like with skis and bikes, you'd be surprised what paces you can put both racing skis and racing boats through. Of course: use what ya have. A middling designed boat might be kind of high-end, might look too pretty to toss around, but you can do that anyway, if you like. I don't mean to put down the Bell Magics, by any means! Rock 'em! Scratch 'em! More dyno-performance paddlers should head their way
What we need are the performance XC mtbikes of boats. The roadies, touring bikes and DH mtbike versions of boats are fully developed. We're missing the 24-lb hardtail version of a boat. Or, if we have the boat, I'm not sure the scene is developed enough in its sport/peformance aspect.
I don't need a boat designed to haul a load for a week. My camping gear for a boat weighs 25 lbs, food'n'all, no more -- that's just 15 lbs of gear. And that'd be for a rare trip. This is a boat designed for sessions. Are playboats and squirtboats designed for carrying loads? NO! Boatocross boats shouldn't be neither nohow. It's still a case like our sport mtbike: you can strap racks and rackless gear onto them and they'll tour fine, but you can also race them. They're versatile. I want a boat with pretty low volume -- let a boat suitable for Clydesdales be a bigger model. It should be like a ski and fit me at my size, no more, no less. This won't be a lake boat or a load boat. I'd like it to be 20 lbs to portage like a feather and be easily flung over obstacles.
Don't forget the Eurostyle wildwater paddlers and the South Africans: they blaze the whitewater with their tippy eggshell Olympic boats. You might not be able to peel into an eddy with one -- but maybe you can! You can make them do more than you think. Just try!
Singletrack paddling is here!
C2 racers can easily turn so sharp they dip their center spray deck underwater.
Think of how much more you could toss around a C1? But a coordinated C2 is a thing of joy. Work to get smooth with a pal then BLAST THOSE TRICKY CREEKS!
Related Articles & Good Stuff
Views From a Wider Range of OYB