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Spring Tradition: Goshen Race 2019

On March 2nd, 2019 paddlers from four different states converged on the beautiful Maury River for a Virginia spring tradition: the 12th Annual Goshen Race.

A “Winter Storm Warning,” and uncertain water levels the night before did nothing to dampen the good vibes of this low-key gathering. The day was warming by the noon-time mass start; and sunlight flashing off of 45 furiously churning paddle blades signaled that it had become a gorgeous day. The beautiful weather came with an equally perfect water level as the river crested at 1330 c.f.s. during the race.

Everyone paddled a solid race and there was no awarding of the traditional “carnage panty” this year. It was a tight battle for the lead among the top three paddlers. Bobby Miller, from D.C., and Richmond’s Isaac Hull exchanged the lead multiple times throughout the race and the outcome was uncertain even as the dueling duo powered through the infamous “Corner” rapid. Ultimately Isaac Hull took the Overall and Wildwater Class win, with Bobby taking second. Maryland’s Geoff Calhoun was next, securing the Long Boat class win. Renee Powers took the women’s class victory, Phil Prince cinched Canoe class, and David Verde ruled the Rubber realm.

It was a primo day on the Maury River and now the spring season can commence. Think Rain!

The Goshen Race sends a huuuuge “Thanks” to Pyranha Kayaks for being a longtime supporter of this Virginia Whitewater Tradition! Thanks to Pyranha, and other generous supporters, everyone who raced walked away with a prize. 


Why Smashing 9R II’s Development Goals Isn’t Good Enough

A long-awaited, much-anticipated moment arrived a few weeks ago; the first 9R II left the mould.

At this point, you might be wondering why you haven’t seen photos all over Facebook, demos at your local dealer, or a listing on telling you just how good the 2nd generation of a kayak that changed the market is; we’re here to explain why.

Since the 9R hit the scene in 2014, we’ve complimented it with the Machno, Ripper, and 12R to create the most formidable line-up of kayaks around; we’re incredibly proud of those models, and all the smiles we’ve seen on paddlers in them, but that reaction isn’t something that’s necessarily the result of a ‘perfect’ design.

We’ve been doing this long enough to know that the perfect design is a myth, and all paddlers want something subtly different from their kayak; even individual preferences change with time. A desire to enable a broader range of people to enjoy the river, alongside enthusiastic curiosity, is why we offer such a diverse range of kayaks in the first place.

Designed with the creative freedom of a blank canvas, the original 9R took its time to win over sceptical paddlers, but eventually developed into something that even as typically reserved British folk, we aren’t ashamed to call an ‘icon’. It brought about a change of pace to both the market and the sport, and the sense of fulfilment it instilled in paddlers who learnt to take advantage of the latter led to us coining the expression ‘fast is fun’.

Jordy Searle with his original 9R in Norway, by David Bain

The brief for 9R II was to take what we had learnt with 9R over the past 5 years, and produce something even faster, with easier access to that performance and greater control at top speed; make no mistake, what we initially arrived upon absolutely nailed that design brief, so much so that we went ahead and had the mould cast… as kayakers ourselves, however, the testing never truly ends, and when paddling some Class 5, we couldn’t shake the feeling that although the new boat was undeniably faster, its ‘fun-factor’ didn’t eclipse that of the original 9R.

Everything we might do to make the design more fun went in direct contradiction to what we’d done to meet our design goals; was this compromise, therefore, something we just had to accept?

A few swear words later, a spark of an idea ignited; rather than stubbornly ignore it and take the easy decision to forge ahead with a compromise, we took a deep breath, stoked the flames, and encouraged it to develop. It’s times like these that we’re grateful to be enthusiasts making kayaks for other enthusiasts, rather than to please investors, shareholders, or a board of directors.

Graham observes initial float testing of the latest 9R II shape, fresh from the workshop

We write this on the back of some extremely positive, not-so-undercover testing conducted at HPP amid the NSR weekend; we’ll follow that up this week with more testing on something a little steeper and anticipate finishing tweaks will be made following this. The final shape will then be sent for casting, and after engineering and programming are complete, we should see the production of 9R II M begin towards the end of March.

Testing on the consistent whitewater of HPP – thanks to Tom Clare for the photos!

We’re aware of and genuinely humbled by the fact that many of you have been patiently awaiting the release of 9R II for some time now, but that’s the very reason we took the decision to ensure we develop the project entirely, wear our kayaking enthusiast hearts on our sleeves, and leave nothing on the table. You might never have known that there could have been more, but we would have.

Thank you for bearing with us; if we can promise you one thing, it’s that the result will be worth the wait!

#FastIsFun, and 9R II is set to be both in equal measures.


Join the Movement for Clear Access, Clear Waters

Regardless of your paddling persuasion, the one thing that binds us all is the need for access to water. Be it flat, steep, white, indoor, coast, rural, mountain or urban – if our access on water is limited, then so are our options for enjoying the sport which we all love.

Access on English Waterways has long been a topic that frustrates, mystifies and depresses paddlers in equal measure. To be more specific it is a lack of uncontested access that we face. With only 4% of water recognised as ‘uncontested’, there many rivers in England where paddlers are threatened and led to believe that they are committing ‘trespass’ when they paddle. This debate has raged for decades and has polarised river users.

It is not a simple question of anglers vs canoeists as many like to believe. That simplistic view undermines the bigger picture. This is a question of the freedom of the public to enjoy open access to outdoor spaces, equally and fairly – as many do already on mountain, moor, and heath.

Moving the debate around access on the water to the point of a resolution is not easy. In November 2018, British Canoeing launched its ‘Clear Access, Clear Waters’ Charter in Westminster, alongside MPs, Peers, Industry Partners, and Key Volunteers. It is a fresh approach to an old problem, seizing upon an opportune time to influence Government and build a movement within the paddling community.

And that movement is vital. A shift in the status quo cannot be achieved by British Canoeing staff alone. The efforts of volunteers and champions are crucial to support the day to day work – however, it is the action taken by the whole paddling community that will make the difference. Thirty-seven thousand members of British Canoeing; some 300,000 ‘regular paddlers; 1.9million paddlers each year – with these numbers being proactive we can and will move this issue forwards – but only if people are prepared to take action.

Now is an opportune time to address this matter. Our environment is facing more significant threats than ever before, declining biodiversity and plastic pollution are daily headline news. The Government has an ambitious 25-year plan for the environment – but again, none of it can be achieved without a movement of people. We paddlers can and should be on the front line in trying to preserve and protect our blue spaces. Vast amounts are already done by paddlers – but with access to many English rivers highly contested, our ability to make a difference is significantly reduced.

It is, of course, a question of balance. All parties deserve fair, shared access on water, so we can all be engaged in the enjoyment and protection of our waterways. All water users must agree to a code of conduct. Respect needs to be displayed on all sides, towards each other’s equal right to be on the water.

Protection of sensitive habitats and spawning grounds is essential; paddlers, anglers, rowers, swimmers can all have zero impact if when taught how to do things right. But primarily it comes down to people making responsible decisions of when and where to paddle.

So it is time to join the movement of paddlers, demanding the freedom to paddle on our country’s waters – and demanding protection of the environment which makes our sport so very special.

This Spring, we are encouraging paddlers to take part in river cleans to show what impact we can collectively have. We are also asking paddlers to write to their MPs to explain why we need fair, shared, sustainable open access on water. British Canoeing is working extremely hard to lobby the key Ministers, officials and parties who can bring change. But change will not come if we do not make some noise!

That is why we need everyone to join the campaign for Clear Access, Clear Waters.


Pyranha Memories: The Whitewater Warriors take on the rock slides and launch ramps of Flatekval Elva

Recently, Scott Lindgren posted a kayaking clip of me hurtling down a low volume slide in Norway before flying through the air; this clearly caught the attention of the internet world and has been shared quite prolifically. It’s quite amusing to read the spectrum of comments ranging from “wow”, and “cool”, to “idiot”, or “ego-driven stupidity”. When I look at the slide now, I can safely say that I would not do that again, but at the time it seemed a perfectly reasonable proposition.

Like many “extreme” clips you see on the internet, this snapshot represents a culmination of many years of experience, experimentation, practice, and preparation. At this stage in kayaking history (2002), slides were a big thing. Creek boats were in rapid development, and the boundaries were moving quite fast, as they do in our relatively young sport of whitewater kayaking.

Allan Ellard and I, partners in crime, warriors, were in our third season in Norway, and we were overwhelmed by the range of possibilities in our chosen neighbourhood, Voss. We spent a lot of time driving around looking for new rivers and more significant challenges.

Feeling the crazy at Buttcrack Creek

After acclimatising on local favourites like the Branseth and Myrkdal Slides, we found and ran bigger slides like the Tunnel Drop, Lake to Lake, Hommedal Slides, and Buttcrack Creek (better known as Vangjolo to locals in Voss). Then we saw Scott’s latest film where Dustin Knapp and Dave Persolja ran Tenaya Creek; we were blown away, and inspired to find something similar in Norway.

Allan running Tunnel Drop

After many kilometres in Western Norway looking at streaks of water running down gigantic slabs, we finally saw something out the car window which could be a possibility; Flatekval Elva in Eksingadalen.

Walking up to the creek, we began to feel nervous when we saw how possible it was. It looked like we could do it. The corner in the middle looked like a problem, with a chance of sliding out of the river bed (similar to Buttcrack; see the video below or ask Anton Immler himself about that one) or maybe catching air and losing control.

We paddled the Pyranha H2 at the time, which was a flat bottomed creek boat, not dissimilar to the Burn III. We had paddled this boat for a few years at this stage and loved it. We also did not agree with the school of thought that edges had no place on creeks. At this stage, many of the competitors’ creek boats were round bottomed sausages. We felt that on this particular slide, specifically the corner, that if we edged our boat away from the corner, the bottom edge would help to trap water and form a kind of a buffer wave under the boat to help it track around the corner.

I doubt that anyone who knows Allan and myself well would class us as risk takers; we tend to allow quite large margins for error. We discussed in depth how we would do this, and what kind of safety we’d use. Allan had a pair of heavy duty elbow pads that he made as a project at high school which we shared for the day. If we had a full face, we would have shared that too! We decided we were not 100% sure and made a plan to run the slide from halfway, starting just above the corner so there would be less speed into the corner. This worked beautifully, and we both had clean lines left of the kicker, then we ran it from the top, tracked around the corner, and had clean, smooth lines. We noted that there were slides further up the river, but we were pretty satisfied with the day already and headed home with smiles on our dials.

Allan nailing Flatekval

Olaf Obsommer and Jens Klatt were in town and thought the photo looked pretty spectacular. We told them there was even more upstream, so they decided to come and film. The water level was slightly lower, and we headed further upstream and ran another high-speed combination of slides. We hoped we could link these together with the big slide, but the midsection was a bit too dodgy.

Al and I discussed at length if the lower water level would mean that the boat would travel slower because of extra friction on the rock, or faster with less surface tension from the water and potentially less build-up of a buffer under the edge of the H2 when tilted up on its left side. After the successful run from the day before, we decided to find out. With the extra protection of a motocross top borrowed from Arnt Schaftlein, I went first. I sensed quite early that I struggled to get the boat to track early to the left and flew straight on to the kicker and started flying. I still fantasise to this day about shifting my upper body weight to the right to land boat down, but it just went too fast for me. I landed on my paddle and elbow, I kept both hands on the paddle and sprained my wrists, and in the pool below I felt disappointed in myself for not nailing the line.

Landing the top slide

Allan wisely decided that the lower water level was not ideal, though I’m sure he would have managed it better than me.

The result of our day was a broadened horizon, a demotion from raft guide to shuttle driver for a week because of some sore wrists, and some pretty cool video footage.

If you’re interested, you can see the full clip in Olaf’s film below:

The clip starts at 20:55, but the film includes some excellent footage of some top paddlers of the time doing some equally impressive stuff and doing a better job of keeping their kayaks on the water.

You may have noticed that this kind of paddling is hard on the kayak, and I can promise you it will severely shorten the life of your boat. Yes, we were sponsored, so thanks to Pyranha for giving us the chance to experiment and contribute to the evolution of Pyranha Kayaks.


Below and Beyond, The Grand Canyon of the Andes or: Spike’s on the Source Again

The Rio Maranon; a couple of (probable) facts:

  • The Rio Amazon used to be called the ‘Maranon’.
  • The Maranon is the primary source of the Amazon.
  • It is 30% deeper than the Grand Canyon.
  • It is the longest river drainage in the World.
  • It’s (currently) the longest un-dammed river in South America (some say in the World).
  • There are currently 21 sites that are threatened with dams.

This river is all about the journey; it starts high in the Andes near Huaraz in Central Peru. Initially, the Rio Maranon falls in a series of desperately difficult or impossible cataracts, and by the time it reaches an altitude of around 2100m it has calmed down sufficiently for the mortal to consider getting afloat.

The river flows North through a vast canyon up the centre of the Andes chain, the scenery a mix of the high Altiplano (where the Puma, Condor, and Vicuna scratch a living), and desert canyon (Cactus, Lizard, and Vulture). Eventually, a geological weakness allows the river to flow East towards the Atlantic, a mere 2000km away; by the end of our journey, we are at 350m and camping in the Rainforest.

Lots of Whitewater up to Grade 5, 15 days, and 650km of kayaking are the raw figures, but this river is so much more than that. If it’s hardcore whitewater, and tales of daring feats that you’re after, this is not the river for you. Every bend in the river reveals another breath-taking view, the geology is simply bonkers; the (few) locals you meet are delighted to see you, and gifts of bananas and pineapples appear; the water is warm (though muddy); the beaches are perfect; the river is rarely descended, so you’ll see no other paddlers.

As days pass, the rhythm of life slows; soon there is only Eat, Sleep, Kayak, Repeat. Contact with the World becomes unwanted, the desire to be back on a pristine beach, staring into the fire tears you away from the treats, the plastic litter, the fumes.

Pedro Penia, Ben Muniz, John Vincent, Paul Cripps, and Spike Green, collectively known as ‘The Team’, would like to thank…

Peak UK / Mountain Equipment / Werner Paddles / Amazonas Explorer / Pyranha Kayaks

A little about the kayaks…

As Amazonas Explorer hold the Pyranha ‘Peru fleet’, it made sense to use these boats. I was pleased to be paddling an Everest (one dating from the first Below and Beyond trip in ’09), and even after nine years of use under the blazing Peruvian sun this boat was still bombproof. Paul was also in an Everest, while John and Ben ‘hot-bedded’ in a Burn III XL.

Much as I liked the Everest and trusted it on this and every other trip, paddling it reinforced my love for the Machno and 9R! Hopefully, we can get some of these out to Peru for next time! John and Ben both looked very smug in the Burn.


Fun Lovin’ in Chile!

With a close call and a shoulder injury it’s safe to say that my paddling has taken some hits this year.

I’ve also been extremely fortunate though, and have had some fantastic opportunities this year, so I’m working hard to learn from all the experiences I’ve had in the last 12 months and progress on my weaker areas.

Fresh from a big expedition, the plan was to head back to Chile and take time to work on my paddling foundations; this meant stripping back and going back to basics.

As you can imagine, this was pretty frustrating, to begin with. That was until my friend Melissa encouraged me to try out her new boat – a Ripper. Suddenly my local run was the best it had ever been, and I’d be smiling until the take out!

Over the next couple of weeks, I paddled the Ripper whenever Melissa wasn’t using it. Without even realising, I was developing my edge control, drive, transitions and so much more, by working the river and just having fun!

Big volume fun on the San Pedro, Chile

The Ripper is speedy, slicey, a whole lot of fun, and the new love of my life.

I’m no expert on boat design. I couldn’t tell you much about different specifications or why one boat has a displacement hull, and another boat doesn’t. My preferred process is to paddle it and see how it feels; then if I like it, I try it out on more rivers and different styles of whitewater.

Photo: Curtis England

Working at Pucon Kayak Hostel in Chile during the winter means that I am lucky enough to be able to paddle a variety of kayaks. My first day in the 9R was on the Upper Trancura, and honestly, I felt a bit all over the place. I hadn’t taken the time needed to outfit it properly, and it was very different to the kayak I had been paddling for the last few years, so as soon as I got in the bigger rapids, I didn’t feel in control.

That evening, I sat in the yard, tunes playing, and spent some time getting all the outfitting right for me. The next morning I took it back on the same section, and it felt awesome.

Fast and smooth, easy to get on edge, great to drive over eddy lines and boiley water, as well as punch waves and boof holes.

I liked this boat a lot. So much so in fact that I ran the rapid I had always walked around. With a river wide curling entry hole, followed by powerful water trying to toss you around before a big boof into a huge pour-over, it’s pretty daunting!

The speed and manoeuvrability of the 9R helped me to drive through the tricky lead-in and keep online through the pushy water. I did flip in the pour-over (and was luckily not held!), but I guess that gives me something to go back and improve on!

Punching through
Photo: Curtis England

I’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few months, but something I have learnt straight away is that mixing things up from time to time is hugely beneficial. The Ripper and 9R are very different styles of kayak, but both have excellent characteristics, and I’m looking forward to spending more time in both of them!

See you on the water!



Snow Day in the Ripper!

There has been disconcertingly little snow on the ground in the Pacific North West since I got here. Thankfully Jack Frost delivered yesterday and has begun topping us up with a store of water that will hopefully produce some legendary spring flows and keep the classic rivers flowing throughout the summer.

We were caught amidst the fresh snowfall on the water today which, while making it cold, also enhanced the beauty and landscape that surrounds Dave Fusilli‘s local river, the Truss.

It’s a short but steep descent down to the river, and my journey down to the water featured it’s very own soundtrack as Dave howled with laughter as he watched a British city boy unaccustomed to snow and woefully slow to manoeuvre over anything that isn’t concrete shuffle his way down.

Myself, Dave, and Rob had a wicked lap down the river, we all took Rippers. Soon the time will come when the water rises, I switch the Ripper out for the Machno, and I commit to being scared every day, but until then I intend to spend every day I can zipping around the river and getting vertical in what may be my favourite kayak of all time, even when it’s cold.

Don’t let a little bit of cold weather stop you from getting out and enjoying the river, even if you were born south of Warrington.

See you on the water,


A Journey to the Headwaters of the Payette

Banks, Idaho within the whitewater world is commonly referred to as the “center of the universe” due to its abundance of easily accessible whitewater of all levels of difficulty, a centrifugal force pulls dirtbag whitewater addicts in from all over the world during the summer season. I arrived in this magic little corner of the United States in mid-May and was blown away by the amount of world-class kayaking there was to be done.

By the time the North Fork Championship was rolling around I had done a handful of trips in the Salmon drainage and cut my teeth on the North Fork at a range of flows, now the water was dropping in the natural flowing rivers and the North Fork was settling into summer flows. Seth Stoenner, local bad boy and kayak phenom, walked into the Banks Cafe (my temporary place of employment) one beautiful afternoon to discuss potential options for a mid-summer exit strategy to get away from the heat, luke-warm water, and crowds of retired baby-boomers towing their campers to McCall. Among the possibilities mentioned were a handful of rivers in the High Sierra or the Canadian Rockies. Eventually, Seth suggested we could do a “pretty chill” overnighter on the South Fork of the Payette, and it was right here in Banks and required much less driving and logistical planning than the other options.

This idea first started as a simple trip up to Grand Jean where we could then paddle 60 miles back to banks over two or three days through several sections of flat-water and class II-III. Seth then mentioned a gorge just a short hike up from Grand Jean that had only been run once a couple of years ago by local legend Brian “B-Reel” Ward. Seth had scouted this section the fall of the previous year and showed me some pictures of what was up there. He then said there was likely white water that was just as good upstream of Elk Lake where B-Reel put in, and this was where the ever elusive elixir of words “first descent” was first mentioned. Seth said he didn’t know if any kayakers had ever scouted the whitewater upstream and felt pretty sure that no one had been above Elk Lake with a kayak before.

From what we could see from Google earth (Seth did most of the research ahead of time), the section above the lake had a handful of bed-rock slides with a waterfall or two thrown in the mix and also lots of wood (naturally, it is Idaho). It was apparent that the only reason no one had checked this section out before was the sizable amount of effort that would be required to get in there with a kayak and the guarantee of portaging many a log-jam along the way. There are well-established backpacking trails up and down the entire river, but to hike up from Grand Jean meant more than 15 miles of hiking with a kayak and a journey that was anything but direct. The other option for an approach was a ~10ish mile hike in from the Stanley side of the Sawtooth Mountain range. Seth found a series of trails that started just above yellow belly lake connecting to some other lakes before eventually leading up and over a mountain pass at about 9,000ft. From the pass, we could follow a trail to Virginia Lake which was the very source of the South Fork of the Payette. It sounded like a proper suffer fest that could potentially lead to sub-prime whitewater. However, we were bored, hot, and keen on an adventure we didn’t have to drive far for.

The weekend of the North Fork Championship rolled around, and Seth said we needed to get after it soon. He talked to B-Reel, and their conversation seems to reinforce his stoke for the whole idea. We got off work, acquired supplies and made a plan to go from the source of the South Fork to Grand Jean in four days, allowing plenty of time for the 10-mile hike and roughly 20 miles of whitewater. We were able to talk another friend and Banks local, Ryan Holmes, into joining us on our mission. The night of June 24th, I finished my closing shift at the Banks Cafe, loaded up gear and boats in Seth’s truck, and started driving up the South Fork of the Payette River. We made it Grand Jean that night where we camped out, and the following morning we left Ryan’s car next to the river and piled the three of us plus a shuttle driver into Seth’s short cab Tacoma. We made it to Stanley and started the hike around 10 am.

Here I am taking in the views along the way in the first few miles of the hike in.
Photo: Seth Stoenner

The first several miles were very scenic and easy going. It proved to be a nice trail with gentle gradient throughout. By roughly 1 pm, we had covered a fair bit of ground and began what we expected to be the steepest part of the trail past Edna lake and toward the pass. We made it to the base of the pass around 4 pm and found that the trail disappeared under snow and ended up going off trail over a medium sized talus field that proved to be treacherous to navigate with our loaded kayaks strapped tightly on our back. These packs served dually as spinal sails blowing in the mountain top wind, as well as a one-way ticket to the bottom of the talus field (if we fell on our backs while stumbling through the spotty snow covered maze of unconsolidated microwave sized blocks). The last 20 feet to the pass was a steep snow bank that appeared from the bottom to be an impassable cornice that we could avoid on a steep rock path. Upon arrival to the base of this snow bank it was clear that the rocky path was exposed and loose, and with their superior experience with snow Ryan and Seth decided to forge up a weakness in the steep snowbank. I followed, roping my kayak up the snow once I was safely on top. Once we all made it through the snow, we abandoned our heavy loads to climb the remaining 5 feet of incline to finally get a view of the canyon we were going to descend. After a brief snack, we scurried down the hill, crossed two more lakes, and made camp at Virginia lake. Most of the night I spent lying wide awake looking at the moon, fending off mosquitos, and dreaming about what may lie downstream.

Ryan, making the final push over “Banks Boys Pass” as we forge a trail up and over a previously unnamed pass and into the South Fork Drainage.
Photo: Seth Stoenner

The next morning we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast and began hiking down the trickle of a stream hoping it would pick up more water and we could start kayaking soon. From the lake, we could see two more tributaries emptying into the central vein of the river shortly after the source so we were sure the steep mank of the youthful river would soon pick up into something more mature and substantial. We were lucky that the backpacker’s trail ran pretty close to the river at this point, so it was easy to make downstream progress on foot in the first 1-2 miles of the stream. Eventually, we began passing slides that looked runnable but not that fun, so we decided to leave those for the next crew. We finally slid into the river at a flat spot where it looked like the stream might have picked up 200cfs. The first few rapids we ran were small class 3-4 drops that required high precision manoeuvres. We portaged one 20-footer that looked like it would go with more water and continued down before making it to the first clean slide on the run. We ran the slide and quickly got out to scout the next horizon line. The next drop turned out to be everything we were hoping for. A 50-foot bedrock granite slide with a clean line far river right, I felt like we were in California. What reminded me that we were in Idaho was the last second eddy we had to catch at the bottom of the slide right above a gnarly looking log. We set safety and Seth routed it first, and Ryan and I followed suit. We all made it through with good lines and no serious close encounters. This is what we came for; this is why we hiked our boats over that mountain; this is why I came to Idaho; this is why I kayak – Overcoming uncertainty and fear with the reward of being alive in the best of places with the best of people. Life is good.

The money slide of the trip. Here I am following up Seth’s line.
Photo: Seth Stoenner

We continued downstream. Shortly after the slide, the river braided out before the confluence of Benedict creek came in. We portaged the log-jammed braided section and ventured slightly up Benedict creek upon Seth’s instinct before quickly coming to a small bonus slide. We slid in above the slide and followed the small creek back to the river. After the confluence, we came upon a ~30foot waterfall that had already been named “Smith Falls”. It looked like there might be a reconnect line that would go on the left side, but none of us were willing to be the one to find out how deep the pool is at the bottom and we all agreed it would better at higher water. We made a quick portage then continued downstream through some fun class III-IV drops and ran one more big clean slide before stumbling upon what we later dubbed “Back in Nam Falls”. A long, steep, series of slides made up the biggest rapid we found on this section of the river. None of us saw a line in the rapid, so we all decided to portage river right where again, none of us found a good line to the bottom of the rapid, and we all ended up bushwhacking through a heinous maze of thick bush, brambles, and fallen trees. Once arriving at the bottom, we agreed that our experience might have come close to what it feels like to be in battle in the jungle.

One of the cleaner slides in the upper canyon above Elk Lake.
Photo: Seth Stoenner

We continued downstream, did a couple of log portages, and ran into some backpackers that notified us that we were about a mile upstream of Elk Lake, which was our goal for that day. After reviewing camping options, we decided to camp where we were because it was a beautiful spot and far enough away from the lake that the mosquitos would not be as bad as the night before. We camped, sipped bourbon, and shared our excitement for how well our day went.

The next day we woke up early and hiked down the trail 1 mile to Elk lake to avoid more log portaging, paddled across the lake and began making our way down the canyon with the goal of making it to Grand Jean by the end of the day. Elk Lake and the valley in which it sits is one of the most serene places I have visited. Towering peaks rose from the valley floor as dramatic cascades of Sawtooth snowmelt poured over. Exiting the lake, the river was now matured. The first rapid we came to was one of the most incredible pieces of whitewater I had ever laid my eyes on. Several slides and slot moves linked up to the grand finales of a ~40 ft roosting slide into back to back 10-foot drops. This was Fern Falls; we were expecting this. A couple of logs in the central part of the slide made it unrunnable although, even with the logs gone it would take a savage operator to give it a go. We portaged on the easily accessed trail on river right, got to the base of the cascading woody mess and continued downstream.

The cleanest rapid in the whole lower canyon below elk lake offered a pretty choice boof.
Photo: Seth Stoenner

We bobbed, weaved, and portaged through and around many log jams. In this section, we ended up portaging far more rapids than we kayaked, and the canyon that we thought we would be through by lunch took us until 6 pm to finally get to the flatwater that remained above Grand Jean. There are many drops that we expected to see but ended up portaging around using the trail to conserve time. It would be possible to go back in with more time and possibly more water and pick off more of the drops.

Ryan Holmes on the perfect mushroom boof in the lower canyon that was situated right above a terrifying toaster slot sieve.
Photo: Seth Stoenner

We ended the journey in Grand Jean where we had a vehicle waiting for us. Once we got to the car, we spent the evening hanging by the cool, clear waters of the South Fork laying around in the cleanest hot springs I’ve experienced, drinking wine and thinking about how much fun we just had.


Galway Fest 2019: Win a Ripper!

Galway Fest 2019, the 8th, 9th, and 10th of March; make sure to save the date! You will not want to miss this one, it will be the events largest registration list yet with 250 athletes competing head-to-head throughout the weekend.

So, what to expect? Have you ever wanted to compete at night under flood lights on one of Europe’s best freestyle features, or see some of the worlds best freestyle kayakers in action? How about seeing the World Champion, Quim Fontané Masó throw down? Well then you better be at the Friday Night Great Outdoors Freestyle in Tuam. Starting time will be issued soon.

Saturday in Spideal! Be ready for an epic day of racing the Boluisce; this is a time trial and in recent years it has come down to 0.1 of a second to reach the top spot, so be sure not to miss it and get your racing game on. Once the time Trials are over, the Predator Helmets Team Race will be a go, with a helmet up for grabs for each team member on the winning team, so start getting your teams of 4 together!

Next up, we have one of the highlights of the day; the Top 10 men and Top 10 women time trials of the day go head-to-head in a mass-start Boater X with a challenging start, decided on the day as always! We then head into the Heart of Galway City to celebrate in true Irish Style!

Sunday this year begins with the I-Canoe Mass Start, going from the Universities slip at the top canal of the river Corrib, right down to the heart of Galway City and to Galway Bay. This is followed by a series of knockout Boater X races sponsored by Palm Equipment, which are usually the deciders to who takes home the Galway Fest Crown! Sunday will finish with a talk from an international special guest (to be revealed in due course!) before prize giving; we have an epic line up of prizes this year, thanks to all of our sponsors!

Many have asked what the situation is if Tuam is not working; if the weather does not collaborate, we have an extra special surprise on the Friday night, there will be a guest speaker (to be revealed in due course!), so make sure to keep that free no matter what! Then Freestyle will be held on Sunday afternoon on the Lower Corrib Top Hole!

This year, we are excited to announce our continued collaboration with Pyranha Kayaks, who will be bringing a host of demos including the Ripper, 12R, Machno, and the brand new 9R II! And that’s not all… they’ll also be donating a super-special custom Irish Pyranha Ripper! This will be up for grabs, along with a heap of other prizes, in the raffle.

In memory of our friends David Higgins, Alex McGourty, and Adam Vaughan, the proceeds of the raffle will be donated to the First Descents programme, a scholarship for an Irish or UK paddler to attend the World Class Kayak Academy, and supporting the new Ecuadorian Kayak Club which is in the process of being established. These initiatives were closely linked to the boys and we wanted to honour the positive impact each one of the lads had on the world around them.

Less than 50 spaces remain, so book your Galway Fest tickets today; we can’t wait to see some old faces and meet some new ones! Safe travels!


Galway Fest tickets are now officially sold out!

You can enter the raffle now by making a donation to the GoFundMe Page, here; only those in attendance will be in with a chance of winning the one-of-a-kind Irish Ripper, but if you weren’t lucky enough to bag yourself tickets you can still enter the raffle and be in with a chance of winning some of the other great prizes on offer!

Raffle tickets are a €10 donation for one, or €30 for five; head over to the GoFundMe page now and donate one of these amounts and you will be automatically placed in the draw, or if you’d prefer not to enter the raffle you can simply make a donation anonymously.


2018 | Waterfalls Among Waterfalls, Among Stouts

All I can say is wow. 2018 was one of the best years I could imagine. I spent 4 months in Chile, 3 months in Canada, and 6 months traveling around the United States. I paddled for 150+ days, competed in 20 competitions, and learned many new tricks!

I started out my school year in Chile, running all the classics, like the Palguin, the Fuy and went south to Patagonia to paddle the infamous Futaleufu.

 Next, I went to the Pacific Northwest for 2 months and paddled in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California!

Next, I traveled around Colorado and Canada for the summer competing in multiple events. I had a great time and I podiumed in all the freestyle events, and beat my personal record twice in one day! Starting off scoring a 390 point ride, to then scoring a 450!

After my summer competing I went home to Alabama for a month and then left again… Not a shocker!!! Though I went back to school in Canada for two months and spent time doing school and kayaking as much as I could.

After starting school in Canada, I left and heading south to Chile, again… I was unbelievably stoked! I got to paddle my dream river, the Claro and fell off many waterfalls, and I mean many waterfalls! What an epic way to end my year!

I want to give a huge thanks to Pyranha Kayaks for helping me out this year! I had another epic year in these boats and I can’t wait for more! Check out my highlight reel below!

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