Recently a whitewater athlete asked me how I was sponsored by a whitewater company when I don't do whitewater, it's not the first time someone has asked so I let them know Level Six & Astral are for those that love being on the water, regardless if it's paddling flat water, ocean waves or whitewater rapids- which I was not. In fact I've stayed pretty far away from the whitewater. Growing up in Colorado I've been whitewater rafting, I know the difference between a class 2 and a class 4 rapid, and that water levels play a major role in how the river is running. Last year I even tried sup surfing a river wave and after a brief 5 minutes of instruction from a friend on the Ottawa river I didn't stand up, but I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to even get on a wave that isn't going anywhere? Despite being thrilled with the fact that my PFD kept me floating down river and banging parts of my body on rocks instead of getting worked under the water like you do in the ocean waves, I decided whitewater SUP has not been for me anymore than rafting was. I don't like being cold and the river always seems to be cold to me even with all the extra gear you have to wear to be safe.
So when I woke up one day last month with the idea I was going to do whitewater, no one was more surprised than me. I'm way better at talking myself out of an idea than into one, so I had to act fast before I changed my mind. Fellow Level Six Athlete, Dan Gavere, had told me if I ever wanted to come check out Hood River and paddle some fun rivers to let him know so 2 days later I was on a plane heading west. I spent one afternoon in a safe zone on the Hood River learning eddy turns, river techniques, and ferrying across the river which gave me some more confidence especially since I hadn't spent any time on moving water outside of my Ottawa river swimming session. I asked another L6 athlete Heather Hebeck if we could change our flat water plans for the next day to some whitewater fun, she picked a part of the Klicatat river in Washington that she's taken many inexperienced paddlers down in kayaks for their first river experiences. With Heather leading in her Kayak and Dan behind on his board we we're off from the "put in" to do a proper "river run" which was about 5 miles downstream to the "take out". They both took turns reminding me what edge to lean on and making sure I was ok when I'd confuse left from right and land myself in the water, but I was having fun practicing my deep water mounts while in rapid moving water. It was so much fun, I couldn't wait to do it again.
Two weeks later when the chance came at the US National Whitewater Center during Tuckfest I jumped at the challenge to go down the course there in Charlotte, NC. When I arrived I met up with Dan Gavere & Mike Tavares who are 2 of the best in whitewater bad asses in the industry so how could I turn down the opportunity. When would I ever get better instructors to take me down and considered myself in good hands even though they were romping around and surfing every possible wave on the course. It was rainy and cold, two of my least favorite conditions, so even after not even making it down the first part on my first try on day one I decided to watch and learn rather than swim and get frustrated. Better for me to get out when I'm still stoked on trying it than to deal with the weather conditions, not have a great time and not want to do it again. So the next day after the guys competed I got another chance to go down with them again. Thankfully Mikey T was there waiting in the eddy to catch my paddle and Dan to yell at me to get back on my board as quickly as possible- so many things to remember! I had a blast going down run after run on the class 2/3 channel known as the "Rodeo Channel", and although I never made it to the bottom standing the entire time I did get halfway and swam the rest, behind, beside and in front of my board to the bottom where the river ends in a nice deep flat water lake. By the time we had to go I was exhausted, all that jumping back on to my board worked muscles in my arms, abs, and chest, I don't normally feel with SUP flat water. Now I was hooked, and trying to figure out when the next time I could get on a river would be?
That didn't take long as Washington DC was on my way up to Ottawa and the home to US Kayak Team Member turned SUP friend, Jason Beakes and the Potomac River was apparently a perfect spot. I met up with him to go play, we spent a few hours running a rapid and even SUP surfing! When I told Jason that I didn't know how, and I had tried once before but with not much luck he showed me where to stand and where to enter at so that I could get feel for it. I even stayed standing for a bit and felt the sensation, but admit I still prefer moving downstream with the water and "river running" the rapids instead of being on a wave like a stationary bike not actually going anywhere.
It was a year ago this weekend that I had my first whitewater SUP/swimming experience on the Ottawa, but it's been the last month that's changed my mind about whitewater. I can't wait to get back on the Ottawa now that I'm home again and I'm already working on re-doing my schedule for the summer to allow more time for my new found adventure in SUP. I love the challenge, the change of conditions and the new possibilities it brings. If you're looking to start whitewater sup do your self a favor a take a lesson, there's so many little things to know. Going out with a experienced whitewater stand up paddler makes a big difference and can save you a lot of time and frustration. Dan G., Jason B. and Mikey T. the invitations open to come up anytime and take me down the Ottawa. Thanks to all 3 of you for your help and especially to Level Six and Astral for being with me regardless if I'm paddling in pools, lakes, oceans or rivers!