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10
Jan

Jonas Le Morvan / Nicolas Caussanel 2017 Showreel [Français]

2017 s’achève après avoir célébré dignement la nouvelle année il est temps de se retourner une dernière fois sur ce que je vais qualifier de ma plus belle année de kayak jusqu’à présent.

Cette saison fut pour moi la plus riche en matière de voyage 10 Pays 3 continents une année qui commence sur la Kaituna en Nouvelle-Zélande et qui s’achève en Tasmanie sur des rivières que je qualifierais de véritables bijoux, un tour des plus belles rivières d’Europe entre les deux difficile de rêver mieux!

Evidement 2017 c’est aussi un bon nombre d’évènements avec notamment une 4ième place à la PBR, 4ième place à l’Outdoor mix, 4ième place à la King of the Alps, 1er place à l’Extrem sport Veko, 2nd place au Sjoa river Festival mais aussi une victoire en équipe avec mon ami Jonas Lemorvan à la king of the alps , bien entendu il y a aussi cette 18ième place en demi-finale de la sickline qui reste dure à avaler. Mais si 2017 était parfaite comment faire mieux en 2018?

Mais surtout la principale chose qui donne envie de pagayer, c’est cette fantastique chance qu’ont tous les kayakistes de pouvoir rencontrer sur un parking ou sur une rivière des personnes qui deviendront plus tard de véritables amis. De ce point de vue 2017 était clairement incroyable, depuis le car-park de la Kaituna jusqu’à l’Oetz je me suis rendu compte que le monde du kayak et à la fois tout petit et immense, mais surtout à part!

Nicolas Caussanel

 

Avec Nicolas on a formé une bonne équipe à bord de nos 9R, parcourant les compétitions d’Europe, et voyageant à travers plusieurs pays. Une année 2017 très riche!

Riche en compétitions où nous avons réussis à progresser ensemble en partageant nos analyses. Les résultats sont prometteurs malgré des entrainements limités sur Paris. Une 20ème place aux championnats du monde et une 1ère place par équipe devant les Italiens battus à domicile.

Riche en trip, j’ai souvent rejoins Nico en train, on s’est retrouvés dans les Pyrénées, dans les Alpes, en Italie, en Autriche et en Norvège pour de superbes navigues et beaucoup de rencontres avec des kayakistes du monde entier.

Riche en vidéos, j’emmène maintenant mon Drone, mon DSLR, et autres GoPro dans un seul bateau. Un vrai studio de cinéma flottant.

Cette vidéo n’est qu’une fraction de nos aventures, pleins d’autres seront mises en ligne dans les prochaines semaines!

2018 s’annonce remplie de projets encore plus excitants… hâte de vous faire partager tout ça!

Jonas Le Morvan

10
Jan

Jonas Le Morvan / Nicolas Caussanel 2017 Showreel [English]

2017 is over now, so after some New Year celebrations, it’s time to have a look back on what has been my best year of kayaking so far!

This season was the richest I’ve had in terms of travelling, starting the year on the Kaituna in New-Zealand and ending it in Tasmania on some insane rivers; add some months on the best European rivers between, and I ended up with something like living the dream!

Of course, 2017 came with lot of extremes races and some good results too; 4th at PBR, 4th at Outdoormix, 4th at King of the Alps, 1st at Extrem Sport Veko, 2nd at Sjoa River Fest, and 1st place at King of the Alps in a team with my favourite paddling buddy, Jonas Le Morvan. I’m a little disappointed with my 18th rank at Sickline, but if 2017 was perfect, how would I make 2018 even better?!

To me, the main thing is that paddlers get to meet some of the best buddies you will ever find everywhere in the world on a car park or on the river; for this point, 2017 was so insane, from Kaituna car park to Oetz river, I realised that the kayaking world is both small and huge, but mainly unique!

Nicolas Caussanel

 

Nicolas and I have made a good team, paddling our 9Rs, racing in Europe and travelling across several countries. A very full 2017!

Full of exciting races where we managed to progress together by sharing our analysis; the results are promising, despite limited training in Paris. A 20th rank at the World Championships, and a victory against the Italians on their home run.

Full of beautiful trips; I often joined Nico by train, and we found ourselves in the Pyrenees, the Alps, Italy, Austria and Norway for great kayaking and many meetings with kayakers from around the world.

Full of awesome videos; I now bring my Drone, my DSLR, and GoPro on the water. My boat is now a kind of super cinema studio.

This video is only a fraction of our adventures, many more will be put online in the coming weeks.

2018 promises to be filled with even more exciting projects… I look forward to sharing these with you!

Jonas Le Morvan

04
Jan

Pyranha Ripper: Initial Thoughts

This boat has literally changed the way I look at the river.

To have the ability to dip the stern and either get vertical, or do a quick pivot turn, has transformed the river into an entirely different playground; the Ripper‘s design takes on the #FastIsFun ethos of the 9R, with the lower stern rocker even boosting its speed so you can punch through features and tear up lines in search of that next, deep eddy line.

The Ripper stays high and dry through features thanks to the full volume bow, and when you add in the extreme bow rocker you skip through features like you’ve been shot out of a canon; this makes for a kayak that can be enjoyed on all classes of whitewater. Recently, I found myself enjoying the heck out of a class 3 wave train with a good eddy line; surf across the wave, dip the stern, pirouette, set it down, and surf back.

I stand at 6 feet and 173lbs, and like the Medium Ripper for a little bit of everything; because all the sizes of this boat are right around 9 feet though, I can choose to drop to the Small Ripper if I want a boat that will be more playful. If I want to have more confidence for River Running and Surfing, I could even move up to the Large Ripper for a bit more volume and stability.

As my Team-mate, Kyle Hull says; “No matter if you’re in to chill laps down your local run, or getting recklessly vertical on some class 5, the Ripper is the boat for you.”

The Ripper Small and Medium are available now, with the Large coming soon… head to your local Pyranha Dealer today, and #RipperUp

03
Jan

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”; whilst this is often merely a clichéd, pretentious antimetabole that is used to ill-effect to motivate people of larger and softer proportions to stay on the treadmill for a few minutes longer, it is also what I wrote down in my journal during my last trip, when it seemed that the entire universe was conspiring against me to thwart one of my most sought after dreams, to drop a 100ft waterfall in my kayak.

When people ask me why I would want to do this sort of thing, they are often left disappointed by my explanation. They expect heroic reasonings of how I am “pushing my sport”, or tales of a quest to “break new ground”. Unfortunately, my answer can’t live up to their questions expectations, and my reply is simply, “Because I want to…”, which I think is actually the best reason to do anything.

There are, however, some people that not only accept that answer, but understand it. When I told my most frequent partner in crime, Adrian Mattern of my desire to run the 128ft Big Banana falls in Mexico, he smiled and admitted to having the same goal and so once again, we teamed up to take on another piece of challenging whitewater.

When we first made that decision, we knew there would be some challenges, but we were blissfully unaware of just how badly things would step out of our favour; flight prices were absolutely astronomical, and both of our bank accounts almost hit zero in order to pay for the tickets. We were both left horribly sick after a kayaking trip in Pakistan, so much so that it was a struggle to hold ourselves together long enough to board the plane to Mexico. The TSA glanced suspiciously as we sweated profusely going through airport security, and Adrian almost fainted a few times before we made it to our seats. When we landed, Adrian had his camera stolen within minutes of being in the country, and far worse, we found the levels to be low and the waterfall out of its prime condition, much like ourselves. One of the few people that knew how to access the top of the waterfall was repeatedly too busy to take us to scout the lip, and on top of all this, the only way to run Big Banana is to rappel into the gorge above with a climbing rope. Neither myself nor Adrian knew anything about ropes or climbing, and I am also relatively petrified of heights when I am not in my kayak. In short, it just didn’t seem like things were going to work out.

History is filled with an extraordinary amount of exceedingly brave people that didn’t listen to the warning signs and suffered the consequences. As I lay in my bed one night on the first week of the trip, I couldn’t help but feel like something was trying to stop us from running this waterfall. I thought long and hard about the risk involved, crashing off a waterfall of this height could at the very least seriously injure you, and at worst drastically alter the course or length of your life. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it was merely a series of unfortunate set backs, and that perhaps it was a test or an opportunity to reflect on why I actually wanted to do this.

The following morning I frantically Google mapped a way to the lip of the falls, and bought the help of a talented 18 year old climber and kayaker named Walker with the promise of future beers. In order to see the lip and to check whether the waterfall was actually run-able at these flows, we had to rappel down. Walker kindly provided us with yet another set back by forgetting the climbing harnesses at the hostel that morning, however he quickly fixed the problem by making a new harness out of two pieces of webbing and a carabiner; I looked at him apprehensively as I eyed up this motley assortment of webbing and metal, and he finished setting up the rope system and told me it was good to go. I looked at him apprehensively once again.

Would this actually work? Am I about to fall 70ft onto rocks and then be swept over the falls? How bad do you want this?

I eased myself over the edge and found to my great delight that the rope and harness held and that I wasn’t about to plummet to my death. The descent, whilst being initially scary at first, was actually the easy part, the hard part was getting back up. I am led to believe that if you have the right climbing device, getting back up a rope is not too much of a difficulty. Unfortunately, we didn’t have one of these magical devices. Walker had instead rigged up an ascension system with two webbing prusiks. I unsurprisingly couldn’t get the system to work, which left me in quite a predicament as I dangled freely over the waterfall, 70ft below the spot that I needed to return to; it is fair to say that I have not been this scared and clueless since my first time alone with a girl… Eventually I elected that my only way out was to climb the rope, like in school.

When I made it back to the top, I warned Adrian that he may have to Tarzan his way out of there, but said nothing upon my thoughts on whether or not I thought the waterfall was possible. In the interest of not letting each other’s excitement get the better of us and make us do something we would regret, we had made a pact to keep our decision quiet until each of us had looked at the falls. When Adrian came up, he was firmly on the fence as to whether he would run it or not, which put a lot of questions in my head; normally we are pretty much the exact same in terms of what we think is possible in a kayak.

Did I want this too much? Was I about to make a bad decision?

I had firmly decided when I was on the end of the rope and looking at the lip that, whilst not ideal, it was completely do-able and I could hit the line. I began making plans with Walker to run it the following day and rallying some friends to come and help with safety and filming. Adrian stared at the photo he had taken of the lip most of the night and eventually came to the same conclusion; far from ideal, but do-able.

I got sick later that night and barely slept a wink, I threw up repeatedly in the morning and couldn’t eat any breakfast. Surely this was not a final warning sign?

It took us a while to set up the rope system to descend down, and I was relieved when I was finally able to say my goodbyes to the boys up top, wish Adrian good luck and start the journey down. All was going quite smoothly with the descent and I was beginning to feel quite confident with rappelling when all of a sudden – Whoosh. The end of the rope whipped past me and fell into the river, I watched it all happen in horrifying slow motion as the rope was pulled tight by the current and began dragging me towards the falls. I didn’t have a prusik on the end of my belay device, which meant that if I let go of the rope I would fall all the way down into the water and be swept over the falls. I wrapped the rope around my hand (This is a big “No-No” in the world of climbing) and jammed it into the end of the belay device. I then began hauling in the end of the rope with my left hand and my teeth. Eventually, with much effort and several swear words, I was able to retrieve the end of the rope and pendulum over to the ledge. Safety at last, well, relatively… there was still the matter of a 128ft waterfall to contend with.

I signalled to the team that I was okay and to send my kayak down. When my kayak reached me, I wasted no time and started to get ready. I put in at a spot that, whilst being fairly secure, was also precariously close to the lip and I had to do a small attainment/ferry glide move to get into a good spot in the pool above the waterfall to warm up and take a minute to get in a good head-space.

I paddled around in the top pool, warmed up my shoulders and core, and then tried to find that magical feeling I get before all of my best lines; calm, excited, and clear-minded.

I gave the “go” signal to the team, took one last deep breath, exhaled, and sent it. The warm up worked, and I was in that beautiful head-space where you’re not thinking consciously, just re-acting. The brain does strange things to you when you’re in the air, and I remember everything slowing down, the air awareness taking over, and “watching” myself as I rode down the first half off the waterfall in what felt like a third person view point – weird. I set my angle, tucked up, and the first time I had a conscious thought was close to the bottom of the waterfall  – “Holy Sh*t, I’m still in the air… BANG!”

The impact was absolutely colossal… I don’t think I have been hit that hard since I was first caught swearing in front of my mum. As I was underwater, I realised that I was severely winded but unhurt, and my paddle had been torn out of my hands on impact; I snapped a hand roll up and tried to take a few breaths as I celebrated. I never normally claim anything because I think it’s hugely uncool, but I was just so stoked to be at the bottom that I couldn’t help it; I also wanted to let everyone know that I was okay. Thankfully, I think they got the message as my arms stayed above my head for several minutes after I had landed.

As stoked as I was, I couldn’t be fully relieved or happy until Adrian was at the bottom and celebrating with me. I relayed to the team via my radio that Adrian should take better care not to drop the rope in the water on his way down.

I spent the next 30 minutes hoping that Adrian would be efficient as always and stomp the line like I knew he could. The call came over the radio that Adrian was about to drop, and I watched, awe struck at how small he was and how big the falls were as he appeared at the lip and started his ride down. For a very brief second I saw his kayak wobble and his nose come up, and thought that he was going to eat it and that we would be taking a trip to the hospital. Thankfully, he corrected himself and rode it down like a boss. Adrian also took a tremendous hit at the bottom, but was otherwise fine.

With my best mate at the bottom safe and sound, it was finally time to relax and enjoy the feeling of what had just taken place. If you’re into facts and figures, then this is the second biggest waterfall that has ever been successfully descended, and is a new British record by around 50ft.

Upon reflection, this project should never have worked. Everything was stacking up against us and I think many people would have called it quits a long time ago. We muscled through everything though, and somehow made it work. Ultimately, it reaffirms my beliefs that all adversity really is, is a test to see how badly you really want something.

If there is anything to take away from this mission, it should surely be that if a small ginger bloke from Warrington, with a distinct fear of heights and no climbing knowledge, can rappel into a remote gorge and drop 128ft down a waterfall in a kayak, then you, my dear reader, should be capable of absolutely anything you put your mind to.

Wishing you all the best of luck with your goals for 2018, and a very happy New Year!

Bren Orton

*I do not recommend ever attempting to do any of the sketchy things that I had to do to make this descent happen. Please be smarter and more responsible than I was.

*For everyone that is rightly horrified by my climbing antics, and is considering flocking to the internet to criticise, please note that I accept it was dumb and I fully intend to work on my climbing and rope skills much harder in the coming year.

See the video of Bren dropping the 128ft Big Banana falls in his 2017 Highlight reel below:

 

Photos by Kevin Kennedy, Jan Laurre, Walker Davies, and Kristof Stursa

08
Dec

Pyranha Machno: The Creeking Machine

Pyranha Kayaks came out with a new creek boat this year and its called the Machno. When I first saw this boat, I knew it was going to be awesome. I then ordered one and took it up to Northern Canada and paddle some of the rivers there. I jumped in it and the first thing I did was roll it. I was in shock on how easy it was to roll. It popped right up, and I was stoked. I started to paddle it through some rapids and it did everything I wanted it to do. Catching eddies, boofing, and getting speed was so easy.

 

After doing some river running I took it off some waterfalls and I could not be happier with how this boat runs waterfalls. The first drop I took it off was Honey Pot Falls on the Valin River in Chicoutimi, Quebec. This waterfall is not straight forward, there is a bend in the entrance and a curler right above the drop that you must be on to go off in the right place, then you boof 20 feet into a small pool at the bottom.

I jumped in my small Machno and started to paddle towards the entrance and when I used my hips to turn the boat to go off the drop it instantly turned. Then I boofed and stomped the bow don into the pool as I landed. I was in shock on how easy running that drop was. The Machno did everything I wanted it to do and I was so stoked. The Machno has the perfect balance of rocker, which helped me run Honey Pot Falls the way I wanted too. Lifting the bow up and then effortless to boof. Then the hull is large and curved which helps making landings off drops softer, so when you stomp your bow down, it doesn’t hurt a bit.

The Machno also has a great amount of volume and this is one of the things I love the most about the Machno. On the Rouge River in Quebec there is a waterfall that is sloping and about 15 feet, and you can choose to plug or boof the drop. I first went off it and plugged this waterfall and I went off the lip and plugged it and I resurfaced quickly and it was awesome. I resurfaced so fast because of how much volume in the boat. Another thing I love about the new Machno is how easy it is to stay on line. On the Upper Valin there is a rapid called the Crack and it is a rapid with a small entrance. When entering, you have about 6 feet between the side of the rover. You then paddle towards middle left and boof into a 4-foot slot and paddle out the rapid. Though the Crack can be difficult because all the water is pushing towards a small seam that you don’t want to go in.

After scouting for a bit, I jumped in my boat and started pa

ddling the rapid. I was focusing on keeping my line and the Machno helped me do that. The Machno has a curved deck peak which helps the kayak stay on line and that was what I needed to successfully run this rapid. The boat stayed on lien the whole time and I paddled up to the boof and because this boat is so effortless to boof, it went right off the drop and landed right where I needed to be.

I am so stoked on this new boat and I hope everyone else is to! No matter how big or how small you are the Machno can be a perfect fit for anyone. This boat is available in small, medium, and large, so you should go to your local kayak dealer and try one out for yourself!

 

 

06
Dec

Machno Adventuring in Montenegro

A kayak can be a lot of things: it can be a toy, for surfing and playing; it can be transportation, covering long distances by freshwater or saltwater; it can be a school, an opportunity for constant learning and development. A kayak is also an incredible tool for discovery. From the seat of a kayak, with a paddle in hand you can go places few are able to go. With basic whitewater knowledge, those places become more remote, and much less traveled. Canyons inaccessible by foot become highways for river people. Raging rapids that would take days to portage become playgrounds.

 

This summer I spent the month of August living beside the Tara River, deep in the karst canyon, one of the deepest in the Europe. With Camp Grab and Ethno Village as our home base, my boyfriend and I were able to explore different pockets of the river-rich country of Montenegro. Located in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula, the country boarders Serbia and Kosovo to the west, Albania to the south with the Tara River acting as the boarder between Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina for a section, to the north.

 

We spent a week exploring Durmitor National Park where the high limestone peaks and deep glacial lakes are home to wolves, bears and birds of prey. The park is also home to part of the 1,300 meter-deep Tara River Canyon. After hiking in the arid mountains, we were ready to get wet and get away from roads, phones and car camping.

 

The Tara is a river trip where – on account of the mellow whitewater – you don’t have to be overly strategic in what you decide to pack. With the mellow whitewater we knew we would be paddling during the lowest month of a low water season and the desire to escape it all for a few days, we planned to take 3-4 days to paddle a river that – were you really motivated and with higher water levels – you could basically do in a day. One long day. This was going to be the kind of river trip where you can literally fill your boat to the cockpit rim, and as we were both paddling Machnos, we had lots of room. Weight distribution was still important, but the Machno is so stable that even fully loaded (whiskey, beer, fresh veggies, my book and watercolour paints), I was still able to put the boat on edge comfortably, pivoting and manoeuvring it easily on the water.

 

From the first paddle strokes I was blown away by how clear the river was. The undulating waves that acted as the entry ramps to rapids were like a curling piece of glass, so clear you could perfectly see the multi-coloured, rounded river stones for a split second before you were whisked into the mild whitewater. Low water season, due to small snow pack and a really dry summer season meant we could spend the whole day either gazing down as fish darted under our boats, or staring up at colourful songbirds, black woodpeckers and even a golden eagle that soared silently overhead just a few meters above the river.

 

For a river that is heavily commercially rafted (an estimated 40, 000 people from both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro go down the commercial section per year) we were completely alone camping on the pebble beaches, sitting around the fire and enjoying the bright star show, framed by the canyon wall.

 

For me, this is what whitewater kayaking is about. Getting away from it all, deep in a canyon or on some far away riverbank. Traveling on moving water, traveling on whitewater is a gift. Covering distance with little effort. Sure, running tough lines and challenging whitewater is a part of it too. But getting to tune out from survival paddling and tune in to what is all around is part of the journey with a paddle too.

 

I feel grateful to be one of those people that gets to experience a country like Montenegro, a region like the Balkans and a canyon like the Tara from the seat of a kayak. I feel lucky to share this river with it’s inhabitants, even just for a few days. I may not be pushing first descents for the sport of whitewater kayaking, but they are first descents for me, and feel just as good as far as I’m concerned.

22
Nov

Congratulations, We Did It!!

We’ve got some awesome news; the Pyranha 12R is officially going ahead, and will enter production in 2018!

Just a few weeks ago, we announced that we were opening speculative pre-orders for the long-awaited Pyranha Longboat, the 12R, and that if enough interest was expressed, development would begin;

We knew we wanted it to happen…

We knew Team Pyranha wanted it to happen (in fact, they wouldn’t shut up about it!)…

What we didn’t realise was just how many other people wanted the 12R to become a reality!

We were absolutely humbled by the response from both paddlers and dealers, and couldn’t be more excited for the 12R to take to the water in Summer 2018, perfect timing to get well acquainted with our new speed machine before the Autumn creek races heat up!

We’ll keep you posted with sneak peeks as the 12R is in development and testing, but in the meantime, if you haven’t ordered yours yet, contact your authorized Pyranha Dealer today as only a limited number will be available.

Follow the Pyranha Kayaks Facebook Page to hear all the latest!

 

#FasterIsFunnerer

14
Nov

How to Load your Kayak for a Multi-Day River Trip

Multi-day trips are one of the best ways to enjoy the river. Kayaking all day with friends, camping, and then doing it all over again—what’s not to love! Although river trips are exciting and amazingly fun, preparing for your trip and loading a kayak with days worth of gear can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Here are some tips to make your next multi-day packing experience a little easier.

Jo Kemper getting ready to load her boat on a float plane on the Klinaklini River in BC

Deciding what to bring:

I am a chronic over-packer, so I try to pair down as much as possible while I’m loading my boat. Basically, I try to bring enough base layers and warm clothes that I will be able to change every couple of days, and will have an extra set in case things get soggy. I also like to bring a change of clothes that I only use at camp like a puffy coat (can double as a pillow), a sleeping bag, and light flip flops or crocs for camp shoes. Depending on the weather, I will also pack a tent or light tarp to stay dry at camp.

It can also be really nice to bring a camera to stash in your lap bag along with some other essentials to use during the day, such as a headlamp, hat, toothbrush, and snacks.

Once all of my layers, sleeping gear, and daily essentials are packed, I start to gather my food and cooking supplies.

 

Darby McAdams testing after a long day on the river 

Food:

Food is usually best coordinated with your group of friends who will also be on the river. Typically, I try to skip prepackaged dehydrated meals and bring real food to cook. Unless I’m on a longer trip where weight is a major issue, I always opt for fresh veggies, cheese, and whole foods that will taste great and keep spirits high at camp. Depending on fishing regulations in your area, it can also be really fun to pack a break-down pole in your boat to use at camp. Fish tacos, anyone?

Most importantly, don’t forget to bring dessert to share with friends, and maybe a little whiskey for the campfire.

 

It’s also important to remember water treatment supplies if you will be paddling on non-potable rivers. Depending on the type of water (silty, clear, etc..) you can choose the most effective purification system for your drinking water. Usually, I use some sterilizing tablets or a jetboil to make sure that my water supply is good to go.

 

(Maranda Stopol loading her drybags for the day)

 

Organizing gear in your boat:

I like to try and distribute weight pretty evenly throughout my kayak. I will typically bring 3 drybags: one long stern float style bag, and 2 medium sized bags. The stern float holds my sleeping bag, layers, and some food. On the other side of my stern, I put my foam sleeping pad and another drybag with my stove, food, and other camp items. I try to pack heavier items so they sit right behind my seat—I find that the boat typically paddles better when most of the weight is centered around me. Then I wedge my tent poles or fishing pole along the inside of my stern so it’s cushioned by the drybag and can’t bend. Finally, I pack my lap bag with all of my easy access essentials. I personally don’t like putting a lot of weight in my bow, but it can be great storage for lighter items like tarps, produce/veggies, and a tent fly or sleeping pad.

Finally, loading all of your drybags in your boat can be a little tricky. If you’re really struggling to fit a bag in your stern, try to repack it and shape it a little so it fits the form of your kayak. It can also be helpful to give bags one final shove with your foot to really pack them in there—don’t forget to clip them in once they’re loaded!

 

 

 

 

 

13
Nov

High Water Raven Forking

“Cave Man” at less than half the flow. photo- Eric Bartl

The Oconaluftee gauge is at 340cfs and +100cfs an hour when I checked it before my last class of the day. Excited, I messaged a few people who I knew would be interested in going. Some people for their first time. “It won’t be over 15 inches,” I thought. Throughout my class period, dreams of the Raven Fork swirled in my brain. Not a clue what the professor was talking about. When the clock struck 1030, I zoomed out of the class, going full speed to my car in the soaking downpour. Throwing my things into the back, I drove carefully to downtown Cherokee where I met up with Levi Rhodes. Levi and I have paddled together some, and it was his first time out to the raven fork. As we drove upstream, I noticed what seemed like a massive amount of water in the Oconaluftee. “maybe it’s 20” I thought as we motored closer to our destination. Upon checking the gauge, it was nowhere to be found. Hidden under the brown nar-nar that had overtaken it. We continued upstream to the takeout to wait for Paul Griffin, a local conissuare of the Raven Fork. Amazed at the volume of water coming downstream the three of us and the generous keeper of the Raven Fork stood in the driveway, frosty beverages in hand pondering what to do next. I started splitting firewood to calm my nervous energy while the river roared, flexing its muscles behind me. After about 2 hours of waiting, Paul and I decided to send. Levi made a wise choice and decided to come back another time at a “human level” for his first run.
Paul and I carefully put on our paddling gear and loaded up in his truck to tackle the 4×4 road. After a quiet ride, we exited the vehicle and continued deeper into the Great Smokey Mountains. The forest floor was damp; our shoes were squishing into the mud and over fallen trees as we dragged and carried our 9rs closer to our destination. Fog hung over the valley and the trees swayed in the wind. Brightly colored leaves fell gingerly to rest on the forest floor. The sound of torrid whitewater that we could not yet see was intimidating. I told Paul “This is going to be legendary.” I remember his response being something along the lines of “ I wish we had a camera” to which I profusely agreed. We started our descent to the base of the valley. Steep, rocky terrain beckons the respect of every paddler who descends to the river. Especially that day because if one of us had dropped a boat, the river would have certainly swept it downstream and made a winter sled out of it. We arrived at the left bank to realize the pebbles we are accustomed to gearing up on were at best a foot below the water’s surface.
After gearing up, we ferried across to scout Anaconda which is one of the fewer run rapids on the river. At this level, it looked as though it were a fire hose on full blast that didn’t stop below the drop but continued directly into Headless Horseman. I spotted two eddies below Anaconda to catch so I could scout Headless. Paul decided to watch me run it and portaged on the right. I meditated briefly before dropping in. Visualizing my line, I yelped to Paul and off I went. Moc 1 down the unforgiving class 5. I whited out after the first boof and was at the bottom in a micro eddy in a split second. I hopped out to scout headless which was a large green tongue with a massive hole guarding the pool below. I waived Paul through with a thumbs up and a brown claw. He zoomed past me and down the rapid, enveloped in whitewater. Then, as soon as he disappeared he reappeared bow first, completely vertical, plopping into the eddy. I quickly jumped back in my boat and ran the rapid with a similar result.

Check out this video of the Raven Fork from a similar lap at slightly lower water. It was still raging!

We continued downstream painstakingly scouting each drop but running everything. When we arrived at Hale Mary we wheel chaired on the left into the turbulent pool below. The pour-over ledge directly below would compare nicely to a low head dam. It was chomping at me as I narrowly escaped the boils and the log circulating within the hydraulic. I hoped out and grabbed a rope knowing this hole had no way out if Paul got stuck due to the walls on both sides. He slid into Hale Mary after I gave him the best beta I could. “Hit it on the left!” I exclaimed. He copied what I said but the pool above was too turbulent, and he couldn’t get his bow up and commenced to a massive beatdown. I yelled, “You want a rope?”. From his side surf, he agreed that a rope was necessary to his escape. I proceeded to toss him a rope and pull him in. Paul swam in the process, but luckily he held on to all of his gear, so there was no chase down the river to retrieve a boat or paddle. Both of us humbled, we sat on the river bank for a while and collected ourselves.
We scouted through Jedi training and peeled back out into the flow. The normal class 3 boogie, transformed into class 5 ledge holes and 4-foot waves. There was a clean tongue down the normal center dome of Jedi. Riding that line was essential. Too far left there was a log jam, and too far right you would smash into the wall. After running Jedi clean we gazed at the horizon line of Mortal Combat, knowing it and Wet Willy were most likely one giant rapid. Our assumption was correct, and the rapid we scouted was steep and stout. We also knew Big Boy was right around the corner. As I was putting on my skirt Paul yelled “good line bro!” and he disappeared beyond the horizon line. At the bottom of Moral Combat Paul eddied out. Laughing and yehawing I flew past skipping the eddy and going straight for Wet Willy. Paul followed directly behind me, and we were above Big Boy in no time. From the boulder on river right, I could look downstream to Mike Tysons Punch Out. The spray shook the rhododendron and left a thick layer of water dripping down the moss, rocks, and leaves. Opting out of Boy Boy we both quickly portaged to the lip of Tysons. We scouted the rapid top to bottom. This rapid too had become demon possessed. The top boof that is usually 8ft high was a conservative 15 feet due to the water that was backed up in the pool above. The slide below was magnified, river bed full of raging whitewater. After some encouragement from Paul, I fired it up. I launched the top boof and began side surfing a small hole just above the 50-foot slide. I worked my way to the river right side knowing the bottom was about to drop out. Bracing for the worst but hoping for the best I dropped in and piloted my fresh 9r straight to the bottom where I skipped across the pool and gave a huge whooooop! whopp! Paul whooped back and portaged on the left. We boogied down to the most iconic rapid on the Rave Fork, Cave Man.

New wood made for a tight but doable line under a log. We fired off of it and continued downstream. One major rapid remained. Mangler. If there was a time to run this rapid its now, I thought. About a month ago Ryan Mcavoy and I had scouted it, thinking of running it for our first time, and left with our tails between our legs as does nearly every paddler who comes across the mess of boulders.

American Whitewater’s description of Mangler states-
“Mangler (Class 5.3, Mile 1.9)- It’s been run a few times, but it’s dumb looking. Big 12 foot boof that lands in a sieve that goes off another big drop that goes into an undercut with wood on the right.
The wood has since washed free, and I had never seen the rapid look so runnable than that fall evening. A green line of water leads directly to the top boof which was more like 7 feet, not 12. Some water in the pool fell through a trapdoor sieve while most of it haphazardly stumbled off of a wide 15-foot ledge. On the left of the ledge is a small hanging pool half way down. The rest of the flow goes into a crab trap slot and out into the large pool below. I left my boat at the top to scout. I looked at it from several angles and decided to give it a go. Paul gave me some words of encouragement and held a rope below. I found a flat rock at the top of the rapid near my kayak and had a brief meditation session. It was necessary for this one. After pushing all of the thoughts out of my brain, I then got into my kayak, put on my skirt and visualized the best line, knowing deep down that I could do it. Giving a brief whistle blast, I peeled out, following the line of green water to the left side of the top drop. With a hard right-handed boof stroke, I landed in the pool. I had time for three quick and powerful strokes before taking another huge right handed left pointing boof stroke with textbook follow through. I was flying wholly disconnected from the drop. I landed like a puzzle piece in the crab trap slot as soft as I could ever imagine. The spray around me cleared. Paul and I celebrated in the pool below.
We quickly kept moving through the high water boogie rapids until we reached the takeout at 5 pm. A mere hour before dark.. I told Paul that even though none of what we had just done was on video, I will remember this day for the rest of my life. He agreed he would not forget that day anytime soon either. We high fived and went our separate ways after running shuttle. Upon checking the gauge at 545pm, it read 23” which is not as high as I thought, however, we were on the water for several hours that day, so it had most likely dropped considerably from start to finish.

 

02
Nov

Prevention is better than cure

A lot of time when we talk about ‘safety on the river’ peoples minds are drawn to heroic images of throw bags spiralling across the river into desperately waiting hands, numerous Z-drags working in cohesion to retrieve a pinned kayak and a live baiter grasping someone from the clutches of a hole. These are all important tools to help rectify dangerous situations on the river but we must also consider what makes a situation go from good to bad and how to possibly avoid it in the first place.

I have spent a very large part of my kayaking career running hard whitewater and avoiding dangerous situations, aside from one notably emotional moment above a sixty-foot waterfall. This is primarily down to making good decisions, working really hard on basic skills and coming from a freestyle background. Sh*t does not simply happen on the river, there are always decisions and actions that lead up to those moments. Below are my top tips on how to avoid dangerous situations on the river.

Make good decisions

By far the best way to avoid getting into a dangerous situation is to always kayak within your comfort and skill level. If you do decide to step up to a harder rapid then do it for the right reasons, which should primarily be that you want to run it and believe that you can pull off a good line. Regardless of the grade, location, crew or amount of cameras there that day, I will only ever run a rapid if I think I can style it. There is very little to be gained from crashing in whitewater – except perhaps a new found appreciation for life and an exuberant joy for that wonderfully essential bodily function known as breathing.

Work on the basics

This has and will continue to come up in my recommendations on how to be better and safer on the river for the simple reason that it is the absolute best way to improve. ‘Practice hard moves on easy whitewater’ – Unknown wise river guru. In terms of being safer on the river, I especially recommend spending time in a freestyle kayak and learning how to surf out of a hole and finding a safe rock/wall/raft to practice working your way off of rocks and along undercuts.

Hang in there

The most dangerous place to be on the river is out of your kayak. No matter how awful a situation is, it is likely to only get worse out of your kayak. Dig deep, keep trying different things and stay calm. Chances are that you will be able to work your way out of most situations.

Get strong

The vast majority of swims I see happen are primarily from an inability to surf a hole and a lack of fitness. Being fit and strong will go a long way in enabling you to ride out those hypoxic situations. I highly recommend adding in some additional training* to supplement your kayaking.

*I should also add here that your training does not have to be monotonous gym workouts, that there are an abundance of other (apparently) enjoyable sports that will supplement kayaking fitness very well and that one of the most important pieces of training (breath holding) is best done lying down. I am planning to write another blog entirely about how to hold your breath longer in the coming weeks but if you can’t wait ’til then, you can download an app called Static Apnea Trainer that will teach you the practical side of training your breath hold time.

Prevention is always better than the cure but I also cannot stress the importance of going on a WWSR course and practicing the skills that they will teach you on a regular basis.

Here’s to being safe, smart and stylish on the river! – Bren

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