It’s been a whirlwind of a spring, and there’s been a lot more water time than blogging time! One trip we got on recently was a return to the river, but on our feet, not our butt!
Obligations at the shop kept me from attending the actual Kern River Festival, I had to be back for the weekend here. But I managed to get up there the Thursday and Friday leading up to the festival, met up with some old friends, made some new friends, and then proceeded to exponentially increase the number of swims I’ve had on the river! Seriously, I swam 4 or 5 times more in one run on the Limestone Section than I have EVER swum in 20+ years of kayaking. But I also enjoyed myself immensely! Besides simply being on the river again, after a 3 year hiatus, the best part was the new challenge of staying on my feet through the rapids. Among the old friends I met up there was Corran Addison. He’s kayaked even longer than I have, much longer, and he summed it up well when he told us that with SUP on the rivers he realized that it wasn’t the rivers he was over, but kayaking on them. I concur….for me it was even more. I’ve been missing something in my coastal life. I assumed it was kayaking, but really it’s rivers. The ocean is great, don’t get me wrong, but it seems I need time on, and in, both.
Back to the action though! First off I tried a few different boards, all designed by Corran at various stages and entities. Early Friday morning I woke up at Frandy campground right on the left bank of the slalom course. Eric Disque, of Imagine SUP, had pulled in late, late night and had, very kindly, set an Imagine Rapidfire out easy for me to get and take on a couple of runs down the slalom course. I tried it first with no fin, then with a small fin, I didn’t notice the difference one way or the other between these set ups.
The Rapidfire is a rotomolded plastic SUP, one of the first such boards to be designed and produced expressly for running whitewater. My impressions, on easy class 2, was that it was ultra stable, turned on a dime yet could track well enough with good paddling, and that it was pretty forgiving. It was a little edgy, and it had a little “pop” to it when it was recovering from catching an edge. It was also heavy. But that equals tough…all things are a compromise. All in all a Rapidfire is a great performing board that is very economical and tough. It will improve your rapid running skills for sure though, if for no other reason than it’s too heavy to portage!
The next board I got to try was a prototype Imagine Spitfire. This board is to the Rapidfire as a modern shortboard is to the logs of yesteryear. In fact, I would hesitate to call this craft a SUP…it is really a Stand Up Kayak, but that acronym is unfortunate, because these….er, SUK’s don’t suck. Anyone familiar with whitewater kayaks design for running challenging rapids will recognize many of the design features on the Spitfire. A high volume bow with a crowned deck for predictable resurfacing. Totally different chines, or rails, than other boards, with a softer edge-to-edge transition. A rocker profile that has more in common with a creek boat than any board. It was also mercifully light, being handmade of Carbon and Kevlar. Corran rigged one of his drop skegs on the stern, but as most who know me know, I’m hard on gear. So I paddled this board, er, boat with no skeg, and once again it was okay, with good paddling technique! This trip was on the Limestone section, above Kernville, and we had low water. While that meant the moves were pretty easy to make, it also meant the lines were tighter, the rocks closer to the surface, and possibility of some good bruises were high! Fortunately Corran had an extra full face helmet for me to borrow…highly recommended!
The last bit of the run, and on the lower run, I paddled one of Corran’s latest SUK’s. The Streetfighter, by Corran Addison Designs, is the next step in the evolution of WW Stand Up design. This board was super smooth, cadillac style. The edge to edge transition was flawless, initial stability wasn’t bad, and the secondary stability was like a rock!
It was balanced, the deck was thoughtfully designed for a way more secure stance than I would have imagined possible, the flexy drop skeg worked well, and the Boof Buddy (a little foam hook you put your leading foot under to lift the bow on a boof stroke!) works! Standing boofs are badass! These boards are only available in custom Kevlar layups now, which rock, but bug Corran enough and he will make some plastic ones…that will put some legit river running, while standing up, well within the means of most aspiring paddlers!
All in all WW Stand Up Paddling was both as silly as I thought it would be, and way more fun than I thought it would be. I’m definitely planning to do more, and it was quite a bit easier than I had imagined it would be. And it does have one big advantage over kayaking…once you swim, you can climb back up on the board and start paddling again, so self-rescue is much quicker and easier than with a kayak! That siad there are hazards inherent to moving water, so don’t just go jump into it with taking some time to learn how to safely navigate rivers, please.