Friday, April 20, 2012

Feeling a little rusty

Well, our river season is finally here in California. It was a dry, slow winter but we finally ended up with a little bit of a snowpack and temperatures rising to melt it. I taught my first beginner whitewater class of the season last weekend and to follow that up I got out for a little paddling on my day off. We did the N Stanislaus, a nice 7 mile run a couple hours from Sacramento. I've done the run before (at a higher level), and it's only a class IV, but it's the first significant run I've done in about six months. I felt relaxed and really enjoyed myself for the day, but my paddling was definitely a little rusty. It's curious as to exactly what that means, 'rusty', and exactly why it happens.

When you're 'off' on the river, it's the little things that get you. In general I was in the right place and moving in the right direction, but I could feel that my timing wasn't perfect on some strokes - I'd be a little late or little early. The very first rapid I got spun out above the crux because I hung on to a bow draw a little long and clipped an eddy. Then I was too slow reacting with a counter stroke that could have corrected me fine. So I went down backwards - but not a problem since I was in the right place. Another time you had to charge right to avoid the hole. But I went too soon and too hard and ended up driving into some rocks and bouncing back into the hole. whoops.

Other than timing, my water reading wasn't as sharp as it should be, either. Actually, I could read the water fine, but I just couldn't properly judge its affect on my boat. I think a lot of that comes from spending my time teaching on easier water. When I get on harder stuff it looks so much bigger and faster that I expect it to push me around. But it generally doesn't. I would plow through curlers just fine, or punch holes that I expected to stop me. It's just a matter of calibration that takes some time to get used to.

The other aspect of teaching that throws off your paddling is the nature of running rapids. When leading beginners down a simple rapid you become aware of every possible hazard, every tiny ripple or seam, and do your best to avoid or minimize them. You get very skilled at the finding the easy way, but that isn't what you always want to do when having fun. Once you know what you're doing it's fun to boof the hole instead of avoiding it, to surf the wave instead of pointing straight down through it. It's a different mindset that takes an adjustment.

But, in spite of  being rusty, I did have a great time. I nailed some lines perfectly, I survived all my mistakes and did some quick corrections. I felt much more comfortable and aware of my boat and the river by the end of the day. I'm ready for the season to begin.


  1. What can I practice on flatwater or in the pool before my first whitewater day to minimize the effect of winter rust? How about EJ's 12 stroke warm up/practice?

    1. You can definitely get out and practice strokes and such on flatwater. Won't hurt. But the truth is, it's not the same as current. I spend time in a boat on a weekly, if not daily, basis year round. It's just different when you step up to challenging water (whatever that means for you). I think the important thing is to be aware of it and pay attention to what's happening - that helps you make the transition and knock the rust off quicker. It's a mental thing that leads to a physical thing. Knowing is half the battle.