Improve Your Paddling Not By Running Harder Rapids But By Making Rapids Harder
people improve their skills by running harder and crazier whitewater.
This may not be a good way of doing it since a paddler may
unnecessarily expose themselves to hazards and consequences. Instead
you can work with slalom gates on class II and class III whitewater
making class V moves. Everything that you practice in slalom you
actually use while running rivers.
allows you to see if you have what it takes to move up a notch on the
whitewater difficulty scale. I created a general outline of how you
might be able to use slalom as a reference point for evaluating your
readiness for paddling harder whitewater:
CLASS II PADDLER
Expect to successfully run most of the gates in the slalom course.
skills such as power sweep strokes, jet ferries, catching eddies with
precision, and peeling out of eddies with a controlled and deliberate
angle. Develop a good paddling posture, with an efficient forward
stroke and vertical shaft. You reach the finish line sucking wind big
time but it’s OK because the photos are dramatic. Swimming a slalom
course may happen on occasion – but it’s OK -- many paddlers along
shore and on water to assist and provide support!
IF YOU WANT TO MOVE UP TO CLASS III
Expect to successfully run all the gates in the slalom course.
are able to recognize the necessary boat angles and strokes to make the
moves – “Ok I need a good pre-turn angle then a sweep to get well into
the up gate”, for example. Develop a “Plan B” for when things don’t go
exactly as you anticipated. You may roll but you don’t swim. You
should begin to get a feel for using the water as efficiently as
possible instead of using muscle power. Examples of these include
using miniature surf waves to ferry, the backwash of a hole to help
turn you into an eddy, establishing the correct angle of approach to
penetrate an eddy line.
IF YOU WANT TO MOVE UP TO CLASS IV
Expect to successfully run most of the gates in the slalom course cleanly (no
IV requires more technical moves in rapids and running tighter lines.
Being “online” means staying on a line four feet wide. Now you’re not
just focusing on boat angles and strokes, but boat placement.
You will need to visualize the moves that need to be made, allowing you
to mentally “run the course” as you would when scouting a challenging
rapid. You use mostly “positive” strokes like sweep strokes or bow
draws instead of reverse sweep strokes and braking strokes. All your
strokes are deliberate and well-planned. Develop advanced whitewater
reading skills which will allow you to use the water efficiently with
the least amount of effort.
IF YOU WANT TO MOVE UP TO CLASS V
Expect to run all the gates in the slalom course cleanly and finish within the top 10 overall (most Sierra Cup races).
boat control is what this is all about. Boat angle, boat placement,
precision edging, torso rotation, stroke placement and appropriate
cadence should be practiced. Being “online” and being “offline” is
measured in inches. Develop skills that allow you to control the boat
to within six inches of the fast line through gates. Know precisely
the combination of strokes you will need to execute the moves for each
gate. (For an 18-gate course, you’ll need to memorize at least 25-30
moves). You are on top of your mental game and are able to paddle with
your mind in “the zone”. Know your pace: identify areas of the course
to finesse and areas of the course where you will need to sprint. Your
edge control is precise: you paddle with a flat boat and drop an edge
only when necessary. You need to maximize the use of the water to your
advantage. You should be capable of critiquing yourself on how you can
improve your moves even
better and even faster. However you can always still get another’s opinion too!
hope this gives you ideas on how you can improve your skills by making
rapids harder with slalom gates. Instead of running harder rapids, you
can develop your skills in a much safer environment in a slalom course!
Don’t let the words “slalom race” fool you because racing isn’t what
it’s always about. It is just a measurement of how you can put the big
picture of your whitewater skills together all in one. (And how many of
those dumb hanging poles that are in your way you do, or hopefully,
don’t touch.) But it’s not about the destination it’s the journey. And
slalom is not about racing, it’s about improving yourself as a paddler.
To me, races are about camaraderie with old friends and creating new
ones while working on your paddling skills. It’s about making memories
and telling stories about them. It’s about visiting another river with
your fragrant wet-gear friends where you escape your busy schedule and
have a few genuine laughs.
The Sierra Cup Slalom Series is composed of several races in
California: Kern River Festival, Cache Creek,
Truckee Race, American River Festival,
Miracle, Eddy Hop and the Moke Race. I hope to see you on these races and can help answer
your questions and be available to run the course with you. You don’t
need a slalom boat to paddle slalom! Longer boats are a preferred (if
you have two boats choose the RPM over the Kingpin) -- but whatever you
have bring it out!