Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sometimes a lake isn't a lake.

Lake Natoma is my local lake, just a few miles from my place.  It's where I go for my morning workout paddles.  It's where we teach our flat-water courses.  It's where we do social and moonlight paddles. It's a nice little lake in the middle of the city that still has a quiet and peaceful feel.  Technically, it is not a lake but an intermediary reservoir.  Its purpose is to regulate the flow and temperature of water that comes out of the much larger Folsom lake above it before heading into the American River below it.

But with the crazy amounts of rain/snow we've been having here in California (should be close to 200% of normal this season) they have been releases high amounts of water - 25,000 cfs instead of the typical 1,000-5,000 cfs.  This has turned the nice little lake into a significant river with twice the typical flow in the grand canyon.  There isn't any crazy whitewater but the fact that there is whitewater at all is quite unusual.  And the park service has actually closed the lake to recreational boating (which seems overly dramatic given the fact that the current only lasts for half of the lake and there is still about three miles of flat water before the lower dam).

This probably won't be very exciting or meaningful to those who don't regularly paddle on Lake Natoma, but here is a little video of what it looks like in the upper section at the moment:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Movin' on up

So with the whitewater season kicking off, and kicking off in a big way, one question that often comes up is 'how do I know when I'm ready to step it up?'.  And that goes along with the specific 'am I ready to run river X at flow Y?'.  Neither has a real easy answer but the general rule of thumb is based on what rivers you have done in the past compared to what you are looking at now.  'If you've done river Q at flow R then you're ready for river G at flow H'.  These river lists are always arbitrary and often create heated debate that is quite meaningless unless everyone involved has paddled the same rivers.  So I'll avoid that altogether.  (but if you're interested in such a list for Cali then it's already been compiled and explained quite nicely by Darin McQuoid )

I will step back a level and address an often unasked question: 'why do you want to step it up'.  I think that the motivation often determines the readiness.  If you want to tackle harder runs because you enjoy the challenge, you have learned as much as you can on the runs you do, and you're comfortable accepting more risk, then go for it.  If you're trying to keep up with someone else, if you think that difficulty is what paddling is about, if you want to be able to boast about what runs you have done, then you're much safer staying put.  Basically if the motivation is intrinsic then most things will take care of themselves - you'll know when you're ready, you'll be excited to try a new river, you won't need to be talked into or reassured you are ready for the next step.  But if the driving force is external, that is where people get themselves into trouble.  And yes, even if it is external forces driving you forward it is only you that is to blame for being beyond your skill level - that's called personal responsibility.

On a less philosophical level, the age old adage is that you first step up your level on a river at a lower level.  You make class III moves on a class II rapid, you boof the ledge hole on the class IV instead of avoiding it.  You increase the difficulty while maintaining the (hopefully lesser) consequences.  You are ready to move up not when you can just survive a run, but when you can style it.  And if you can't figure out how to make a run a class more difficult than it is normally rated then you are definitely NOT ready to move up.

Some people boat for the sheer adrenaline rush and want the element of danger.  That aggressiveness will eventually catch up with them and put them (and their buddies) in a bad spot.  But that is not what kayaking is really about.  There are many ways to do foolish and dangerous things - just check out YouTube - so the means of accomplishing stupidity is irrelevant.  For true paddlers there is a beauty to the sport that is unique to boating - the great places we get to go, the feel of properly executing technique to carry ourselves down the river with grace, a connection to the water - not a battle against it. Let your river sense be your guide and only step it up when you know you want to.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Self Promotion

I was reading a paddling forum the other day and saw a typical post about how someone met some 'famous' paddler and was surprised at how nice and approachable they were.  The assumption being that anyone who promotes themselves as a professional paddler is probably an arrogant ass who lives to feed their ego.  I've seen enough posts and had enough discussions to know that this is a common (though not universal) assumption.  But in my experience it is completely the opposite - those who promote themselves tend to be some of the friendliest, most helpful and down to earth paddlers you can find.  And here's some thoughts as to what that's all about.

The people who promote themselves are doing it for one main reason - to paddle more.  They are generally trying to make a living through paddling - and isn't that the American dream?  to make a career out of something you love?  But the simple truth is that if you just paddle, never talk about it, never share your adventures, then no one will ever pay you for it.  If you can afford to do that then great, but most of us need to work for a living.  Eric Jackson sells himself and in the process created a company that provides jobs for hundreds of folks and great equipment for us to use.  Thank you EJ.  Darin McQuoid takes great pictures and writes up his trips, sharing experiences that are beyond most of us.  Thanks Darin.  The Hurricane Riders share videos of wild and beautiful locations that inspire us to get out there as well.  Good going boys.  And there are many more.  It's not about ego, it's about using their skills and experience to generate revenue and opportunities to allow them to paddle more.  I feel confident in saying that most of those folks would be happy to just paddle, but they are selling themselves and their experiences in order to finance their dream. That kind of dedication to the sport is exemplary and that is why when you meet them you should not be surprised that they are some of the best ambassadors for paddling you could hope to find.

I promote myself:  I have a blog (you're reading it right now); a website (; I post videos of my paddling (; post pictures (; write articles (California Kayaker); and generally throw my name out there whenever I can.  As a professional instructor my reputation affects my bank account - I get more invitations to teach, attract more students, get paid for writing, get sponsorship for trips, all from getting better known as an individual. I could keep all this information to myself and just enjoy my paddling as it happens. But I would have missed out on many great experiences, skipped many great trips and never met so many great people.  So if a little self aggrandizement is the price for such adventures then I'm willing to pay it.

And perhaps naively, I do believe some folks out there enjoy sharing in my adventures - even if I'm not the best, wildest, most super-awesome paddler on the planet...