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06
Apr

Dropping Waterfalls and Some Big Fish in the BBC’s ‘Earth’s Great Rivers’ Documentary

Ever wonder what’s going on under your kayak? What does it sound like, look like, and who is living underneath the whitewater that we are playing in?!

Around this time last year, Rok Rozman was approached by the BBC. They were looking for someone to tell the story of the Sava River, as a part of a documentary series called Earth’s Great Rivers. They were working on an episode about the mighty Danube River and wanted to be sure to include the important tributaries – like the Sava in Slovenia.

Over the past 2 years – out of both necessity and desire – Balkan River Defence have been focusing our efforts on the Sava River. It starts in the mountains of Slovenia and flows across the whole country, into Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina before pouring into the Danube in Belgrade, Serbia. And it’s currently threatened by 10 new hydroelectric dams that would destroy the diversity and affect life, above and below water.

At Balkan River Defence, we took it as a challenge and got our hands, feet, and cameras wet filming the Sava from the perspective of a fish. Not just any fish; the massive, predatory Huchen, also called the Danube salmon during its spawning season.

Getting creative with angles and methods to film these beauties (without disturbing them during their romancing), proved to be a challenge indeed, but one that turned into some incredible insight into what’s going on under the surface of the Sava River.

Since we were celebrating tributaries, and since water levels were perfect, we decided a little huck-fest was warranted, so we rappelled Rok into Grmečica waterfall for a few seconds of free-falling. And then went back to filming kayaking on the main branch of the river.

What we thought would be just a short 3-minute segment turned into a 13-minute segment of the hour-long film. The BBC team was fired up on how we combine kayaking, biology, and a deep love and respect for the Sava, and how we are fighting to protect it.

If you want to see some big fish, some waterfall hucking and learn more about the Sava and the Danube, a river that runs through 10 countries in Europe, then check out the link here to see the whole film:

Viewing from the UK – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0015qj3

Viewing from outside the UK – https://www.bbcearth.com/shows/earths-great-rivers-ii

*Spoiler alert: BRD is releasing our full-length film about Balkan Rivers Tour 5 and the Sava River on June 1st 2022. Come to Slovenia for the premier, or keep an eye out in your local mountain film festivals for the film, One for the River, The Sava Story. Trailer to be released soon.

31
Mar

Others have tried, but ultimately, only we could improve on the original Ripper…

We know once you’ve paddled a Ripper, you miss the tailees, smile-inducing surfs, and zippy performance whenever you’re on the river in something else; that’s why most Ripper paddlers have barely paddled anything else in the 5 years since its release (yes, it really has been that long! Time flies when you’re having fun.)

As others have followed suit with their own take on the modern half-slice format, we’ve been asked when we’d be releasing Ripper 2, and we’ve always said we’d only make a new Ripper when we thought of a way to improve on the design; well, here we are…

The design improvements we’ve introduced in Ripper 2 take the fun to the next level and open up even more opportunities for it; surf more waves, drop the tail with less effort and in more locations, and get even more recklessly vertical.

Ripper 2 has more bow rocker for a drier ride and drier surfs, a slightly wider hull to help you skip further out of more features, and a lower volume tail with softer sidewalls to make the tail easier to sink, whether you’re looking to get vertical or lift the bow up and over a feature.

But don’t worry, we’ve balanced out the lower volume tail with some clever edges, which channel the water flowing over the hull and turn it into a slight amount of lift, keeping the tail on the surface when you’re headed downriver.

Smaller and Larger paddlers will also be pleased to hear that the Small is shorter, and the Large is longer, so you can enjoy the same ergonomics of the Medium as well as the performance of a boat that’s better tailored for your size.

Speaking of sizing… as always, we’ve provided an advisory paddler weight range; with the Ripper, this range is a little broader to allow for larger paddlers who want a more playful experience, and smaller paddlers who are looking primarily for a river runner. We’ve attempted to illustrate that range in the graphic below, but we’d always suggest demoing before purchase:

To top it all off, we’ve added some fresh styling, with a touch of influence from the Scorch at the bow and some sweeping textured lines on the stern. Beautiful.

Whether you were a fan of the original or not, you haven’t truly experienced half slice until you’ve tried this.

Ripper 2 Medium is available in the UK now, the Large will be available in the UK and Europe in a few weeks, and the Small will be with dealers by summer.

N.B. This is in addition to the Rip-R Evo, which is laser-focused on Extreme Slalom and use in the whitewater centres where those competitions take place; this does mean that slalom paddlers and others who are seeking maximum performance may prefer Rip-R Evo, but Ripper 2 has been designed for maximum fun in all settings for the majority of whitewater paddlers.

25
Mar

UK’s Premier Kayak Manufacturer Now Available in Greater Vancouver

After pivoting their business in 2019, the UK’s premier kayak manufacturer, Pyranha and P&H Sea Kayaks are now available again in the Greater Vancouver area after securing partnerships with the area’s best paddlesports retailers, Coast Outdoors (North Vancouver, BC) and Western Canoeing & Kayaking (Abbotsford, BC).

Established in 1971 and 1968 respectively, Pyranha Kayaks and P&H Sea Kayaks unified in 2004 and together have grown to be the UK’s leading supplier of cutting edge whitewater kayaks and industry-leading sea kayaks. These innovative designs have taken adventurers to the remotest corners of the globe and received numerous industry awards and accolades. Pyranha/P&H pivoted its Canadian business in 2019 to focus solely on independently owned, speciality retailers and has been reestablishing its Canadian dealer network since then. 

“We’re just thrilled to bring the two premier British Columbia paddlesports retailers into the Pyranha / P&H family. Western Canoeing and Coast Outdoors represent the very best paddlesports selection and service and align perfectly with the values of Pyranha’s family-owned business. Bringing the industry’s best kayaks to the best retailers positions us perfectly for a new beginning in the British Columbia paddlesports community.” says Chris Hipgrave, Pyranha’s North American Sales Director. “Western Canoeing will focus on the Pyranha whitewater kayak brand while Coast Outdoors will be focused on the P&H Sea Kayaks brand. Both of these outstanding retailers promise to expand our opportunities to the huge paddlesports community in British Columbia and well beyond.”

Coast Outdoors is North Vancouver’s foremost paddlesports speciality store. Their knowledgeable and enthusiastic retail staff are dedicated paddlers who know their stuff so can give you great advice if you need some direction, arrange demos, or help you out with any parts you might need.

Coast Outdoors

352 Lynn Avenue

V7J 2C5

North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

(604) 987-2202

[email protected]

Western Canoe Kayak prides itself on having the largest and most diverse selection of canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle-boards, and accessories, with easy access through their online store. Their staff don’t just talk about paddling, they live for it! Whether you’re just getting into paddling or have been paddling your whole life, their staff have the expertise to answer any questions you may have. Good service and sharing of knowledge are their most important products, and they’re free!

Western Canoeing & Kayaking

1717 Salton Rd

Abbotsford, BC

(604) 853-9320

[email protected]

21
Mar

10 Years Later; I Wouldn’t Change a Thing


When I was 10 years old, the Pyranha Jed came out. I wanted this kayak so bad, and I begged my parents to get this boat for me! When Christmas rolled around in 2012, I look under the tree and there was a Pyranha Jed with my name on it. Ten years later, I am still paddling the Pyranha Jed. As I have grown up, I have never seen or paddled a boat like the Jed before. As other brands have come out with new boats, nothing impressed me the way the Jed does. So why keep paddling a boat that is over a decade old? It is like buying your dream car, would you go out and buy a different one because it is newer? Absolutely not, I am going to stick with it. Nothing beats the quality of this boat. For me, it makes every trick I want to do easy. I have learned every freestyle trick I know in this boat. I have a bond with it, and in my opinion, it is the best freestyle kayak on the market.



When I was 10, my dad and I were kayaking on the Mulberry River in Alabama. At the end, there is a small wave called Hawaii 5’O. At 10 years old, I was scared to surf this wave. My dad offered to buy me chicken nuggets from Mcdonald’s if I surfed the wave. Fun Fact, I will do anything for chicken nuggets. Ten-year-old me paddled hard and got onto the wave. The Jed had great stability and immediately gave ten-year-old me the confidence I needed to surf. From there on, I knew this was the boat for me! Ten years later, I find myself surfing huge waves like Nile Special or Minibus and still having the same confidence. I would not want to paddle any other boat!


The Pyranha Jed is slightly longer than its competitors. This makes it extremely fast and reactive on a wave. As well, with this longer boat, it builds up my momentum on a wave to throw fast and snappy tricks. From being 10 years old surfing a small wave to being 20 years old surfing huge waves, this Jed gives me the confidence I need to do what I love. I find with the speed; I can take off quickly and throw huge tricks! It reacts perfectly to everything I do. As well as, on small waves where I need to use technique, it drives effortlessly and makes each trick easy as pie!



Once it comes to playboating in a hole, I love this boat! I have thrown the biggest loops of my life in this boat! There is a perfect amount of volume at the knees that allows me to get the most amount of pop I can! As well as cartwheels are the easiest trick to do. Whether I am doing flatwater cartwheels or throwing cartwheels in a competition, linking end to end is simple and easy! With the low volume stern and bow, linking tricks are effortless. If I could recommend any freestyle kayak, beginner, or pro, I will tell you to paddle a Jed! It has been my favorite playboat and I wouldn’t want to paddle anything else!




See ya on the water,
Cat

16
Mar

Ukraine Fundraiser Update

We posted just last week letting you know about the fundraiser we had put together to support The Disaster Emergency Committee‘s relief efforts in Ukraine; the response we received has been monumental, raising our goal from £75,000 to £100,000! Another shining example of the sheer, selfless beauty of this community it is our absolute pleasure to be a part of.

Help us hit that goal:

Buy a T-Shirt

The ‘Drop Waterfalls, Not Bombs’ t-shirts sold out almost instantly, so we have added more which are available on our webstores* now:

UK/EU webstore

North American webstore

*some EU dealers have also ordered stock of the t-shirts to make it easier for EU residents to lend their support, so please check in with your local dealer if you are EU-based.

Buy a Kayak

Many of you have been asking where you can get hold of one of the ‘Flag of Ukraine’ Scorches, and if you’re in the UK, you can now purchase one of these through our UK/EU webstore. For US and EU/ROW residents, please check out the list of dealers who have them inbound below:

Ireland

River Deep Mountain High

Bantry Bay Canoes

I-Canoe

Germany

Der Kanu-Treff

Denk Outdoor

Sport Schroer

Norway

Padlespesialisten

Slovenia

Funpark Menina

Netherlands

Kanocentrum Arjan Bloem

Italy

Ozone Kayak

New Zealand

Further Faster & Long Cloud Kayaks

USA

NOC

Starrk Moon Kayaks

Outdoor New England

Idaho River Sports

4Corners Riversports

Next Adventure

The River Store

If you can’t do any of the above…

Some people outside of the regions covered by the above have also asked us how they can get involved and lend their support, and beyond sharing posts about our fundraiser, you can also donate whatever you are able directly to the DEC: https://donation.dec.org.uk/ukraine-humanitarian-appeal

P&H Sea Kayaks Fundraiser

We’ve also launched a similar fundraiser under our P&H brand, and you can find more information on that on the P&H Blog.

09
Mar

Ukraine Relief Fundraiser

We have ceased all shipments to Russia as of the week before last and have heard from both of our Ukrainian dealers that they are preparing to defend their homeland in any way they can. When peace returns, we’ll do everything we can to help them rebuild their businesses, but sadly that time is likely a long way off.

These are our dealers in Ukraine:

Mike, with his family…
Anton, with his paddling crew…

These are wonderful people.

We are lucky to live in a stable and peaceful democracy, whilst many live with the harsh reality of the many dreadful wars around the world. This war in Europe, in an area where some of our staff come from, where our customers are being bombed, brings that reality far too close to home. We have no doubt, like us, you are watching the human tragedy in Ukraine unfold nightly, and perhaps feeling powerless to help.

However, we are morally compelled to help Ukraine, and perhaps with your help, we can do so significantly…

Staff across Pyranha have committed to donating their time, and several of our suppliers have agreed to donate materials so that we can make 20 custom Scorches, split proportionally across the size range, in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

100% of the proceeds from these ‘Flag of Ukraine’ kayaks will go to The Disasters Emergency Committee, a major Relief Fund for Ukraine.

Our dealer network has responded with overwhelming support for this initiative, and so we are also preparing to make an additional 20 kayaks at cost, with any profit from these also going to the DEC.

Furthermore, to enable those who are not in the market for a boat at this time to also support the cause, we have designed a ‘Drop Waterfalls, Not Bombs’ t-shirt which is available through our webstores, and we will also be raffling 2 ‘Flag of Ukraine’ Scorches (1 in the UK/EU and 1 in North America).

How to get involved:

UK Residents

Purchase a raffle ticket, a ‘Drop Waterfalls, Not Bombs’ t-shirt, or a ‘Flag of Ukraine’ kayak (delivered via a participating dealer) through our UK/EU webstore.

Residents of North America

A limited number of ‘Flag of Ukraine’ Scorches are on their way (more news on this when they arrive!), and you can purchase a raffle ticket or a ‘Drop Waterfalls, Not Bombs’ t-shirt through our North American webstore.

EU/ROW Residents

Purchase a raffle ticket or a ‘Drop Waterfalls, Not Bombs’ t-shirt through our UK/EU webstore, or a ‘Flag of Ukraine’ kayak through one of the participating dealers below:

Ireland

River Deep Mountain High

Bantry Bay Canoes

I-Canoe

Germany

Der Kanu-Treff

Denk Outdoor

Sport Schroer

Norway

Padlespesialisten

Slovenia

Funpark Menina

Netherlands

Kanocentrum Arjan Bloem

Italy

Ozone Kayak

New Zealand

Further Faster & Long Cloud Kayaks

With your help, we hope to raise in excess of £75,000 ($100,000) over the next few months.

All the best,
Pyranha

14
Feb

Adidas Sickline: Reloaded

When the Adidas Sickline still existed, I always wanted to participate. Unfortunately, the race was always in the middle of the exam period. When it was announced that the race would be held again with new organizers and a new name, it was clear to me that I had to participate.

About two weeks after registering, I was informed that the Oetz Trophy would be the Extreme World Championship that year. Originally, it was planned to take place in Voss at the Extremsportveko, but because of Corona, hardly anyone could travel to Norway, so the event was moved to the Oetz Trophy.

One week after the Loferrodeo, we went to the Oetz to paddle the Wellerbrücke all day, every day! The water levels were unfortunately not as good as before the Loferrodeo when it had consistently been between 1.90 and 2.00, but luckily you can still paddle the Wellerbrücke well at lower levels.

We were, however, a little worried that the level for the race would be far below 1.80; you can still run everything without any problems at this kind of level, but for me personally, it’s just more fun with more water. I would have preferred a level between 1.90 and 2.00 for the race.

In the week before the race, though, it rained brutally on Tuesday, so the water level rose to 2.50. Now the organizers and all the participants were, of course, afraid that the race would have to be cancelled because of too much water. Fortunately, the rain was over after one day, so there was a nice level of 1.88 for the qualification on Friday and 1.85 for the final on Saturday.

For the time of the year and the temperatures, we were really lucky with the water level. Next year, the Oetz Trophy will take place in September when the water levels are more stable.

Championskiller – Photo: Kristof Stursa

FRIDAY

On Friday, 8/10/2021, we started with the race briefing at 9 am. Well, actually, the day started at 7 am with the last training session; three quick laps down Minus One and Championskiller to get into the flow and to tune into the current water level. Another advantage of this early unit: Afterwards you are really awake and can sit down comfortably with a coffee and your breakfast in the race briefing.

A total of 148 men and 28 women took part in the first Oetz Trophy. The qualification started at 11 am with the men, so we girls had to wait until 2 pm for our first run.

Unfortunately, there were some technical problems with the time transfer to the scoreboard during the first runs. In order to be able to run the qualification runs as planned on Friday, it was decided that all 148 men would have a second qualification run. Originally, it was planned that only the 100 best men would get the chance to improve in a second qualification run.

For us girls, not much changed, as we were all scheduled to do two qualification runs. Shortly after two, we finally started. Due to the long waiting time, we already got a bit nervous.

Fortunately, the nervousness was immediately blown away with the first paddle stroke and I just focused on the line: Tunnel mode, on! This showed that getting up early was worth it: I caught both Minus One and Championskiller really well, I went into the left channel, and just kept going. Here I also noticed directly what I have to do differently for next year: Train the qualifying track in race mode!

During the training, I paddled the part on the slalom course from time to time, but always just to internalize the lines. Each time I thought to myself: Oh, it’s not that long, you can just grit your teeth, no problem. In the race, however, it suddenly felt that it would never end!

Fortunately, by the time we girls started, the technical problems had already been solved, and I knew that with a time of about 70 seconds, I had pretty much qualified for the finals on Saturday. I briefly thought about taking it easy in the second qualifying run. But first, you are so pushed by the atmosphere and the spectators that you are directly in race mode, and secondly, it was also good mental training.

My line in the second run was not quite as nice as in the first, and the time was also slightly slower, but I was still happy with myself. Due to the technical difficulties at the beginning of the race, the race briefing for the final day was postponed from Friday evening to Saturday morning at 8 am.

Qualifying – Photo: Jakub Sedivy
Qualifying – Photo: Jakub Sedivy

SATURDAY

On Saturday morning, the first briefing started at 8 am. Due to the fact that not everything went as planned on the previous day, the final runs for Saturday were also adjusted.

Originally, it was planned that the best 50 men and the best 15 women would be allowed to start on Saturday. There should have been three final runs each. The first one would have been based on time.

In the women’s event, the number of starters would have been reduced from 15 to 10. The second heat would have been a head-to-head race. Here, the fastest would have started against the slowest from the first final run, and the winner would have entered the final.

The final heat would then have been another timed heat, with the fastest of the five remaining women winning. (The same would have happened for the men). However, in order to avoid errors in the time transmission, the head-to-head heat in the women’s and men’s races was cancelled. In addition, the best 100 (instead of 50) in the men’s categories were allowed to enter the semi-finals.

After the race information, the times from the qualification were finally available. Of course, some were disappointed, especially since the early briefing deprived them of the loser’s party. For me, however, there was good news, as the assumption of the previous day was confirmed, and I had actually won the qualification in the women’s category.

After the briefing, there were two quick training laps on the racecourse. Fortunately, the water level changed only minimally compared to the day before. So our fears that we would not have enough water for the race did not come true.

At 11 am, the race started with the men’s semi-final. The starting order was determined by the times in the qualification. Place 100 from the qualification was allowed to open the semi-final. At about 2 pm was the last run for the men and then finally the semifinals for the women started. Here, too, the starting order was based on the times of the preliminary heats.

Since I had won the qualification, I had to start last. The long wait for the heat didn’t help my nervousness. I realized that I simply don’t have enough racing experience yet. Fortunately, the pressure and nervousness faded into the background when I slid off the start ramp.

I was honestly not that happy with my semi-final run. The line through the TNT wasn’t ideal and after the Champion Killer, I went around the stone on the right, which is a bit slower than the left line. I remember just thinking to myself as I paddled across the finish line: Please let it be enough for the top 5, I want to show again that I’ve got it.

One minute later, Lena arrived and said: “Laura, you had the most beautiful line of all, and I think you were also the fastest. I couldn’t believe it at first, but half an hour after the semi-final, the results were in and sure enough, I had won the semi-final!

Photo: Katja Jemec
TNT – Photo: Milos Jakobi

The final started at 4 pm with the 30 fastest men. The times from the semifinals were used for the starting order. After that, it was the girls’ turn again.

At this point, I would like to thank everyone who helped me to shorten the waiting time, distracted me, calmed me down, and kept me warm. Without you, I would probably have gone crazy. I was last on the start ramp again, took a deep breath, tried to block out the race, and just concentrated on a normal wave bridge lap.

Special thanks to Michi Sommerauer, who taught me exactly that after the semi-final: Don’t try to race full throttle, just ride nice and fast. That’s exactly what I did.

In the TNT I was a bit far to the right, which was a very nice lineup for Minus One and Championskiller. After Championskiller I shot out towards the left channel, and I was already overjoyed with my line. And then came another moment of shock: I got stuck on the wall with my left paddle blade and only had my paddle with one hand. Luckily, I managed to grab it again and continue paddling. And then you do get rewarded when you start last. You are spared the long anxiety. Shortly after I crossed the finish line, I heard my time over the loudspeakers and learned that I had really won.

Photo: Katja Jemec
Photo: Katja Jemec

Afterwards, there was just enough time to be congratulated and hugged by everyone, to drink a quick beer, and then the award ceremony started. Congratulations to Maike Möst for second place and Martina Wegmann for third place!

I haven’t found a suitable place for the giant cowbell yet. The really great thing was that there was the same prize money for men and women at the Oetz Trophy. Many thanks to the race organizers: You did a great job and I will definitely participate next time!

In the evening, there was the Athlete Dinner (which should have taken place on Friday evening) for all finalists at the Ötzer Wirt. Afterwards, of course, there was some celebrating, in accordance with all the Corona rules.

Photo: Katja Jemec
Photo: Kritof Strusa

I had a great time before and during the race in Ötzal, and I’m looking forward to this year’s race.

See you there!
Laura

10
Feb

Counting Birds from our Kayaks on Slovenia’s Soča River

As whitewater kayakers, we often enjoy the luxury of being alone when we are out on the river. Just you, your boat, paddle, and fast-moving water. And maybe a mate or two. But if we take a moment to just float, and look around, it becomes obvious that we aren’t alone at all. Underneath your boat, there is an aquatic world of fish, swimming, hunting, and spawning. Along the shore there are animals (or at least tracks and signs of them), coming to the river to drink. And around you – there are birds.

For the past three years – regardless of temperature, weather, and water levels – we have spent the second weekend in January in our kayaks, paddling our home river, the Soča, in western Slovenia. What motivates us to endure the low water and cold temperatures? The birds!

Around the world – from Afghanistan to the Netherlands – bird lovers spend the same weekend in January (this year January 15th and 16th) counting waterbirds. The International Waterbird Census (IWC) is an annual event which is in its 55th consecutive year. The census occurs in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and South and Central America. (North America carries out their own survey called the North American Waterfowl Survey).

Our method of counting from kayaks requires constant attention and a keen eye, but involves little exertion, lots of floating, and just a few paddle strokes. However, most people who participate in the survey are volunteers and work together with national or regional birding organizations.

In Slovenia, the annual IWC consists of breaking the rivers, lakes and Adriatic Sea coastline into 423 census sections. Most participants perform the census by foot, but we have come up with our own surveying method, which was approved by BirdLife Slovenia – DOPPS, who organize the IWC here. DOPPS is national nature conservation and ornithological organization, part of the global Birdlife partnership of non-governmental organizations that strives to conserve birds and their habitats.

Rok is an ornithologist (a biologist who specializes in birds) and between the two of us, we are able to survey almost 30 km of the Soča over the course of one day. This lengthy segment would take a crew the entire weekend (two 8-hour days), to complete on foot. But with kayaks, we are able to complete it in about 5-6 hours in a way that is arguably more efficient as we are observing birds from out in the open of the river, and can therefore count more accurately. When birds are spooked, they flee downstream. Eventually, they decide that we aren’t a threat and fly over us, back to their territory or the section of river they were on. We normally count birds only when they pass us upstream. This ensures we don’t double count.

At 9 am on Saturday, when we put on just outside of the town of Bovec, the temperature was -5C. Last year it was -14. Pogies are a must. However, by the time we get halfway to Kobarid, the sun greets us by peeking over the mountains and we can thaw our hands and have a tea, snack and some schnapps!

On the segment of the Soča River that we survey, we observe wagtails, mallards, mergansers, grey herons, and usually a lone cormorant or yellow-legged gull. This year, we counted 100 of the water-loving bird, dipper. Every few kilometres we write down our count in a waterproof notebook, and when we get home Rok inputs all the data into an online platform that contributes to global research and conservation. The IWC is a source of vital data used to understand waterbird populations sizes and trends which contribute to identifying and conserving their key wintering habitats.

Sound like something you are into? Want to get involved? Get to know your local bird species by buying a book or joining a local ornithology club. Then, contact an organizer in your region. Or, if you’re not a bird counter but want to support the census, consider becoming a supporter of the Waterbird Fund. This fund aims to support the monitoring of waterbirds and their wetlands around the world. The IWC is a highly cost-effective counting effort as many of the counts are completed by volunteers. This means a little support can go a very long way to ensuring wetlands around the world are counted and the information goes towards protection.

This year we were lucky to get enough water to paddle the grade 5 Katarakt section of the Soča, where we were keeping one eye out for birds while enjoying the sun and tight lines. Every year we are grateful for the excuse to get out on the water and see our river from a different perspective. And who says winter is for the birds!

*Big thanks to kayakers, Bor and Gaber Mihelič, who also count birds from kayaks, and who provided the bird photos.

05
Feb

Can’t Hit the River? This is the Blog for You!

When I made the decision to attend Columbus State University, I expected to be kayaking at least three to four times a week; the Chattahoochee is 15 minutes from CSU! I did not expect that I’d kayak less here than I ever have in the past 15 years.

Managing two jobs and being a full-time student, taking anywhere from 16-18 credits a semester, doesn’t leave much free time for paddling! Even if I couldn’t paddle, I did my best to hit the gym. Then my mental health severely declined and the idea of going kayaking was less fun and staying in bed seemed better. Now I am working towards paddling as much as I can and still hitting the gym to be the best athlete I can be.

Good Wave, Chattahoochee

This semester, I am working two jobs, hopefully doing an internship here and there, and taking 15 credits too. This doesn’t leave much free time for me, but I have managed to hit the gym six times a week, along with paddling at least twice a week. I wanted to give my best tips and tricks to stay in shape while not being able to paddle as often as one would like. Hitting the gym has been my best option, that being lifting weights and rock climbing.

If you asked me two years ago if I would go rock climbing, I would tell you that you are out of your mind. I have a huge fear of heights, and I would not want to portage or rerun rapids if it meant I had to climb more than my height.

At my university, though, there is a rock wall and a bouldering cave. I started rock climbing because it was new, fun, and I made a deal with a kid. He taught me to climb and I taught him to roll a kayak. Little did I know, I found that it helped me as an athlete.

Learning to balance on one toe with my other foot in the air and my fingers pinched on a small hold also helped with balance in my boat. Which I was surprised about, as well as it worked my core a lot more than a normal core workout did. I had to use my core to keep steady and balanced on these small holds and dynamic moves.

That transfers directly over to kayaking; when I am doing freestyle, everything is in my core. To land all my tricks, I must keep my core tight to make sure I stay balanced and on track. I get the chance to climb more than paddle, as I work at a climbing gym. I think climbing is a great workout to help build strength in paddlers! I know it has helped me a lot!

Stone Summit Climbing Gym (ATL)

Next, I try to work out for at least 45 minutes a day, six times a week. This plan I am on is to get me in shape for the World Cup, which is in October 2022 here in Columbus, GA. However, the opportunity to get outside and walk for 15 minutes a day or even three times a week is better than nothing. This past semester, I did not work out consistently and it took a toll on me. When I would go kayaking, I was out of breath a lot faster, and when I wanted to paddle fast my endurance ran out quickly. Even the little workouts that I can do will help me as a whitewater kayaker.

I struggle the most with finding the mental will to go kayaking. I must paddle twice a week, as I am the president of the CSU Whitewater Kayak Club, but making time for myself to paddle is a lot harder. Being in my boat in the pool helps a lot. For anyone that doesn’t have the river as close as I do, I’d say do your best to get into a pool or on a lake to paddle around.

Even a fraction of time paddling in a pool or on a lake can help your skills tremendously. Making a regimen to do flatwater skills will boost your ability in the river. Being able to get into my boat and paddle around helps tremendously on my mental health too. For me, it is a chance to disregard reality and spend some time working on flat water skills, along with teaching my club members the skills they need to excel on the river.

After all, getting in a boat and spending some time on the water, whether it’s a pool, lake, or river, is better than nothing at all. Spending time in the gym or being active will help you excel as a kayaker. For me, spending my time working out has boosted my overall strength, endurance, and mental health as an athlete, and has elevated my skills on the water.

Nantahala River

I hope to see ya on the river!
Cat H.

31
Jan

Ecuador: The Land of Boofs and Boulder-Garden Goodness

Why the Hype?

No doubt you’ve noticed that many paddlers are heading to Ecuador this winter. Despite things not quite being back to ‘normal’ (what even is normal anymore?!) and there being a few more hoops to jump through, travel is now back on the table for many paddlers.

For those that have already escaped to the equator, you’ll be well aware of a few new logistical considerations. However, if you’re currently sat in your lounge in a fleecy onesie and down jacket, trying to muster up the motivation to get on your frozen local river, then read on.

📷: Casey Bryant Jones
🛶: Sal Montgomery, Katie Kowalski, Tara Blair

How difficult is getting to Ecuador right now? Not that difficult.

Is it worth the extra hassle? Yes.

Change can be pretty daunting, especially when it involves being far from home, but as long as you know the facts and do a little planning in advance, then it’s todo bien!  Check out the blurb at the end for current guidelines. It’s worth noting that guidelines do change and this blog was written by a dirtbag kayaker, not a governmental official or Covid-19 expert. So get yourself familiar with official governmental travel advice websites (links also below). 

Ok, now to the good stuff! So what’s all the fuss about Ecuador? Is it really that great for paddling, or are we all just being soft and don’t want cold hands on the river? Well, yes ditching the pogies/skull cap/fleecy onesie/ice cream headache is nice, but it really is a whitewater wonderland here. I’ll keep it simple, but here’s a few of our favourites (come to Ecuador and you’ll quickly see why!)

Río Jondachi

Typically, many paddlers begin their trip in the town of Baeza, situated approximately 2 hours from Quito airport. During the months of November to March, this relatively sleepy town is transformed into a buzzing paddling hub, full of colourful kayaks and boardshorts.

Throughout the day, you’ll see trucks loaded with boats heading up and down the valley, to the Río Quijos. With multiple sections to choose from, there’s options for most water levels and abilities. If you’re into steep creeking then you’ll love the Casa de Queso (Cheesehouse) section, or if big water canyons are more your thing then head further downstream for the Chaco Canyon! The Quijos has it all! If you’re looking to branch out a little though, you don’t have to travel far for other runs in the area, such as the Río Oyacachi (high volume steep, technical creeking), Borja (big water fun) and the Río Cosanga (several super varied sections). 

📷: Casey Bryant Jones

🛶: Sal Montgomery

Next up on most paddlers’ agendas is to head over to the town of Tena. Drive roughly 2.5 hours and you’re suddenly in a completely different climate. Tena is hot, sunny and home to the awesome Río Misahuallí. After a bit of rain, laps on the upper section are hard to beat, especially as you can get freshly baked empanadas at the El Oso Perezoso Kayak Hostel takeout! (It’s also possible to rent boats/ gear here too). If levels are low and you’re feeling like more of an adventure, check out the lower Misahuallí. This canyon is pretty spectacular, with bright green parrots and chunky, big volume rapids. Just be sure to get beta on the portage…

📷: Sal Montgomery
🛶: Gabriel Garbin

And then we’ve got an absolute beaut of a river- the Río Piatua. With clear water, sunshine and all the boofs, it’s easy to see why this is a highlight run for many paddlers.

Welcome to the Jungle

If you’re going to go to Ecuador then no doubt you’ll want to experience some proper jungle paddling. The Jondachiis probably one of Ecuador’s most well-known jungle rivers and is definitely a must-do. From start to finish, the river works its way through endless, dense jungle. Whilst boofing your way downstream, keep an eye out for native birds, big, colourful butterflies and the occasional river otter sunbathing on a boulder! (Last year, my pals and I saw a jaguar whilst paddling this river). The three main sections of the Jondachi (upper, middle and lower), each offer a different level of difficulty, as well as miles and miles of fun! 

If you’re after a real jungle adventure, then pack your hammock and machete and head to the Río Hollín. It is possible to paddle the 46km in a (long) single day, but it’s a pretty cool overnighter if you’ve got the time.

Highlights include a 30ft waterfall and a slide in to a drop rapid right at the beginning (easy to put in below these, depending on how fired up you’re feeling), a cool rapid inside a cave, and a big volume, fun paddle out from below the Jondachi/ Hollín confluence. 

📷: Abe Herrera, Boof Sessions

Topo-tastic

You’ve done laps on laps of the Quijos, you’ve paddled with monkeys in the jungle and now it’s time for Baños. Home of the Río Topo. Full-on, five-star boating for class five boaters. This super fast and super steep run will definitely get your heart rate up (and not just because of the altitude!). The fun doesn’t stop at the takeout though, as Baños is known to be a pretty wild party-town! 

Whether the Topo is on your radar or not, this party town is also packed full of great hikes, huge waterfalls and natural hot springs. Make sure you finish your day with a riverside BBQ at Abby’s Hideaway- the perfect way to relax after the Topo or a night of dancing!

Paddling Community

The paddling scene here in Ecuador is constantly growing. With more international kayakers coming to check out what all the fuss is about and returning paddlers coming for another season of quality whitewater and sunshine, the paddling hubs are buzzing more than ever. It’s not just an increase in foreigner paddlers on the rivers though. More local paddlers are taking to the water, as well as opening up new sections and carrying out big missions. Super exciting times here!

A big driver of this has been the Ecuador Kayak Club. Solely volunteer-led and reliant on donated, or repaired pre-loved gear, this awesome group of people have introduced a huge number of local people to the water. The initial 14 members has now skyrocketed to over 120!

Keen to encourage local paddlers to progress, the club put together the Ecuadorian Race Series. Not only do these events count towards team selection for national paddlers, they’re also open to international paddlers -helping to share the psych and integrate paddling communities, as well as being a lot of fun!

Take it easy…

Don’t get caught out – talk to locals and paddlers that have been in-country for a while. The paddling here is epic, but things can go wrong quickly if you don’t understand the nature of the rivers and each area’s weather systems or catchment areas. Do your research and you’ll have a blast in this incredible jungle whitewater mecca! 

The Facts (sorry, boring but important)

Requirements:

  • Negative Covid test (taken within 72 hours of arrival in to Ecuador)
  • Covid vaccination (received more than 2 weeks prior to arrival in Ecuador) 

*Obviously these can change, so check here for the latest guidelines-

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/ecuador/coronavirus

Make sure you check the requirements for any connecting countries. For instance, many UK flights to Ecuador transit in the US, so be sure to check local requirements when booking your ticket. 

Once In-Country:

Testing: as long as you’re near a good-sized town, it’s super easy to get tests in Ecuador. All the main kayaking hub towns have good testing facilities, including several that will perform the tests at your accommodation. There’s also testing facilities at Quito airport (check out their website for details).

Transport: private taxis are cheap and easy, so it’s pretty easy keeping yourselves to yourselves and avoiding public transport if you wish. Masks are mandatory for all taxis and buses. It’s also worth having a small bottle of hand sanitiser with you. 

Accommodation: us kayakers like to keep things simple, so we mostly stay at the same places. This year, many hostels are limiting numbers (for obvious reasons), giving us a nudge to try out different places. Here’s a few links to the usual favourites though:

El Oso Perezoso Kayak Hostel
📷: Casey Bryant Jones

Guiding, Boat Rental, Tours

There’s a tonne of tour companies operating in Ecuador. Whether you’re keen for a fully inclusive package, a couple of days of guiding or simply just boat/gear rental, there’s plenty of options to choose from. 

Here’s a few recommended operators:

Ecuadorian Rivers Need You!

The rivers of Ecuador have been supplying us with epic times, endless boofs and sweet lines, but now it’s our turn to give something back. Unfortunately, they’re at risk. Without these awesome, free-flowing steep creeks, epic canyons and ballsy-big volume rivers, not only do we lose a hell of a lot of incredible whitewater, many local communities will lose their water sources, livelihoods and even homes; not to mention all the devastating, irreversible damage to invaluable wildlife and natural ecosystems. 

Ecuadorian Rivers Institute is a voluntary organisation working to raise awareness and protection of the few remaining free-flowing rivers in Ecuador. Check them out (link below), sign their petition and donate to their cause if you can. 

‘By increasing global awareness of watershed issues in Ecuador, we hope to minimise the exploitation of the environment and the people who depend upon it’

https://ecuadorianrivers.org/

Thanks for reading, see you on the water!
Sal =)

📷: Abe Herrera, Boof Sessions

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