I’ve been running harder whitewater for about 5 years now. In the fall of 2007, I made the conscious decision that I wanted to start pushing the limits past running class 3 and 4. Since that time I have exceeded even my own expectations with where I took my paddling. I have been to many countries and run some of the hardest whitewater the world has to offer, and I have paddled with some of the best in the world.
Prior to that, I lived in an area that had very little to offer in terms of paddling. Making the move to the Ottawa area gave me a better opportunity to start exploring the rivers in Quebec and New York and to build on my skills as a river runner. So here they are:
1. Finding the right crew: The first step is either finding a crew that will guide you through some harder runs or paddle with a crew that has similar goals as you do.
I was fortunate to find a crew in my area that was running harder rivers. They were welcoming and supportive in me gaining experience with the type of whitewater I wanted to be running. As a bonus, they’ve become great friends!!
2. Work at it: I recognized that I had to work to become a class 4/5 paddler, which is important to recognize!
Paddle lots and change up your style all the time. Challenge new lines on your local runs even if they are completely easy. Hit eddies, make ferries, etc.
While I could run my local runs with ease, I recognized that there was a big world of hard whitewater that I wanted to paddle. There is a lot involved with running harder rivers; beta, leadership, safety, experience, etc.
The guidance of a strong crew can help you through the initial stages of this. However, I feel these are all skills that need to be developed.
Scout, set safety, and be aggressive when you are in the comfort zone. This will get you running bigger rapids and gaining better experience.
3. Continually Reassess: I made a conscious effort to continually take steps back and work on skills. There is no shame in this – there are times in your paddling that you may not be able to charge hard and that is when it is important to step back to work on the small stuff. Not everybody can run class 5 all the time. It is very physical and mentally draining.
I have made many trips to our local class 2 slalom course to do just that. While it may not get the heart pumping full of adrenaline, it does develop fitness and strong paddling skills. This translates directly to better class 5 lines like you wouldn’t believe.
4. Set Goals: I continually set goals for myself. For example I have had seasons when I want to be more technical or more aggressive or faster. Every season it is different and it helps me focus on where I am going at that particular time.
5. Try new things: For example, paddle with a heavy boat. This will prepare you for expedition paddling. Try hiking your second lap rather than shuttling. This will prepare you for long hikes into rivers or out. Try different kayaks, long boats, short boats, slalom, etc. It all builds on one another in the long-run. If you are the strongest in your crew, paddle with people who will push you harder. If you tend to be the weaker one in your crew, try leading newer boaters down the river and practicing your leadership skills.
6. Charge: This can apply differently to everybody. However, if you are in the zone, keep the fire burning. If you see a line that you think you can do (and there is safety) go for it. Don’t always walk rapids if the rest of the group is doing so.
This season I have paddled in Norway for my first time during Voss extreme week. I was in the company of some of the best in the world past and present. In a situation like this it is easy to reflect on yourself in a negative light. However, I have taken it as an opportunity to come home and work harder so that next big trip, I am even stronger.
As I type this I am finishing up my 18th lap of the Gull River. For my area there isn’t a better place for me to be to work on my river running skills. For the past two days I have been working on paddling, challenging lines, making moves and fitness. From here I am going to to the Seven Sisters of the Rouge River to do the same and after that the Raquette River in Colton NY. Each a little harder than the last.
There’s no greater time to practise your skills than on hot summer days and remember to have fun and enjoy being in the great outdoors!