They seem to be popping up everywhere, swarms of open boaters descending class 4 and 5 drops previously paddled mainly by kayak and one or two reckless souls in an open boat. What is the cause of this phenomenon?
It really can’t be the sleek lines of the newer model boats. Most of them kind of resemble a skinny plastic bathtub. But recent design innovations have seemingly spurred interest in what once was more of a fringe area in the world of class 4 & 5 whitewater boating.
It surely cannot be because of the convenience of paddling an open boat. Most of them have to stop to dewater more often than my 10-year-old daughter after sucking down a “Big Gulp” on the car ride to Disney World. And lets face it, the things are heavy and awkward to carry around.
The eastern open boaters seem to be divided into two separate groups with decidedly different personalities. The northern group seems to tolerate kayakers pretty well, often paddling alongside kayaks in mixed groups. Then there are the southern boaters. They are almost militant in their fanatical devotion to the sport, openly derisive of the “butt boaters” paddling kayaks. Taunting them with claims of “half the paddle, twice the man” and other emasculating statements. It’s a game really, while most of them wouldn’t be caught dead paddling a kayak, the taunts are all good-natured and everybody is out having a good time on the river.
As much as it pains me to admit, I have quite a bit of admiration for open boat paddlers. Lets face it, it is harder to paddle with one blade. I have heard the open boaters discussing the lines when scouting a drop. They have to plan each paddle stroke, timing them so that they are on the correct side to make a move through the current. Some lines are easier for right hand paddlers while others are more suited to left hand paddlers. The open boater has to be much more aware of the water and how his boat will react than a kayaker need be.
Open boaters also have to look for a “dry” line through a rapid. They have to be very conscious of a large wave or hole swamping their boat and leaving them to paddle a sluggish unresponsive tub down the remainder of the drop.
In short, open boaters have to be much more aware of what the water is doing and of what they will have to do to compensate for the currents. I just think it takes a little more skill.
So why do I paddle a Kayak? I simply love to get wet. I am always looking for what the open boaters are generally trying to avoid. I love crashing through holes, sitting up to my neck in the middle of a writhing pile of foam then having my bow shoot skyward while I frantically brace to keep myself upright. I love the chaos in the middle of a class 5 drop and riding down the center of a huge wave train getting thrown left and right.
I even enjoy the feeling of getting swirled around while inverted in a hole. Its kind of fun. I know I’m not the only kayaker to feel that way. There were plenty of people jumping into the frantic, seething class 5 water in front of Pillow Rock at the Gauleyfest. We did it for the adrenalin rush of being at the mercy of the raging torrent, uncertain of when and where we might emerge to catch or next breath.
I guess I’ll keep my kayak