Editor’s note: A special shout out to Tsunami Ranger Capt. Jim Kakuk who was kind enough to go with me to the lake and take pics of me practicing skills since I was so busy practicing them during the clinic I didn’t get the photos I wanted. Thanks, Captain!!!
This is the second part of my whitewater adventures with the California Women’s Watersports Collective. This year we paddled two of the rivers in the State of Jefferson. I had a wonderful time doing the Holistic Paddling Clinic on the Rogue in June and was motivated to build on the skills I had developed, so I jumped at the opportunity to sign up for the Whitewater II skills clinic July 20 – 21 on the south fork of the American River in California. This event definitely bumped me up a notch.
I drove down a day early and camped at Camp Lotus. I arrived at our group site around 3 and had time to chat with Melissa and set up a bed. This time I was tarping it because the weather was warm. I lay out my bedroll in a sweet little nook under a giant cottonwood and was good to go. Then I went swimming. Oh, so nice after a long hot drive all the way from Oregon! Here’s the scoop:
Just like on the Rogue, we divided into three groups. Sara James and Melissa DeMarie taught the Class III group. The safety kayakers were Kristen Motz (Saturday) and Sarah Fennel (Sunday). As on the Rogue I was happy to be with Laura Zulliger again, but instead of Ashlee, who was back in Oregon, we had Sarita Kay. The good news is it doesn’t matter who you have as an instructor in these clinics. There are no bad instructors. There are no indifferent instructors. Every instructor I’ve worked with over three clinics run by CWWC has brought their own brand of wisdom, skill, and teaching technique to the students and each one is fantastic!
Before going down river my group practiced T-rescues, first with hands on bow and second, flipping over, dropping the paddle, signaling for a rescue, and popping up. I learned a refinement to this skill: sliding the hands up and down the hull perpendicular to the boat so the hands don’t get speared by the rescue boat’s bow. Good to know. Most of the students in the group had a pretty solid roll so they practiced that too. Then we jumped right into eddying in and peeling out in the rapids.
This time the rapids were mostly Class II, among them Gremlin, Goal Posts, and Fuzzy Bunny. We scouted the Bunny, and watched a couple in a hard shell and an IK respectively take the narrow line between a strainer and a rock. There was a nice green tongue to enter and and the two obvious choices were to either thread the needle through the two obstacles on the left or eddy out behind a rock on the right.
We talked about options, and just like on the previous clinic, I chose to follow an instructor, in this case Sarita, to mimic what she did. I thought I would just go straight through, but as a result of paddling less and trusting the boat to do its thing, and also committing to my right edge so as to steer away from the needle’s eye, I ended up paddling right into the eddy line and eddying out behind the rock to the right. Because the line was pretty strong I did an inadvertent 180 and there I was moving backwards on a gentle line downstream. Interesting. It wasn’t what I had planned but it felt easy and natural. Glad I spent a fair amount of time paddling backwards on the Rogue!
When we got to the bridge that crosses the river at Hwy 49 we stopped to practice Figure 8’s around the pylons to hold the edges and paddle continuously on the inside of the turn. My turns got tighter. We ran the Creepy Eye drill and also learned to differentiate three draw strokes: the Standard, the Draw with the In-water Recovery, and the Sculling Draw.
I’ve always used the draw with the in-water recovery but though I had seen the sculling draw many times I’d never learned how to actually do it so that was super cool. It was useful to learn to use this stroke at the stern or the bow as well. Things to note: when drawing keep the paddle vertical and your top hand in front of your eyes and pull the boat to the paddle with the hips. We reinforced these skills by racing with left side draws only and playing Stinky Fish while only using draw strokes. Excellent practice!
We also refined our forward strokes. Two great drills were Helmet Hand and Frankenstein (love the names)! Helmet Hand is an exaggerated vertical stroke where you actually put your top hand to your helmet with each stroke. Think of punching yourself in the third eye. This really enforces that vertical paddle shaft. Frankenstein is where you paddle with your arms stretched out perfectly straight to encourage torso rotation. It starts out feeling a little mechanical but it works. We also raced with Frankenstein arms. Fun!
And we did ferries. LOTS of ferries, starting high, eddying in higher and sooner. I kept doing what I’d done on the Rogue, paddling with fewer, more effective strokes. I’ve learned that the boat knows what to do and if I just stay out of its way things go smoothly. Knowing when to move and when to be still is another Valuable Skill. After I got home I went out to Emigrant Lake in the Tsunami X-O and practiced some of the things I learned. My sea kayak paddle is longer than a whitewater paddle but otherwise things worked out well.
One last drill that really helped me clean up my forward stroke was what I’ll call ROD (hey, new acronym!) or Rock On Deck. You put a decent size rock on the bow of your boat and then paddle forward without knocking it off. It’s kind of like walking around with a book on your head. The first time I tried it the rock fell off right away, but pretty soon I was able to adjust my stroke to keep it on.
I realized how much I use my feet and legs pushing from side to side which was causing unnecessary lateral movement antithetical to forward progress. I also practiced more back paddling and Sarita, who was one of my instructors and modeled this skill a lot while she was leading so she could watch the students as they followed, mentioned that up to one third of our paddling should be done backwards for muscle balance. Plus it’s fun going backwards.
We also had the opportunity to surf at three different spots. They were all nice little standing waves and one of us, Jenny, was able to pull off a good long surf on one wave and even do the envied Paddle Twirl! One time I got spit off the wave but keeping my bow upstream with a stern rudder I found myself swirling backwards downstream without a wobble. I find that there are random events while kayaking where I don’t quite know what I did but I know it worked out. I’m building muscle memory and equally important learning to feel at home on the water. No nerves!
On Saturday night after yoga we had a potluck meal, really a feast. There was yoga on Sunday morning as well, and massage on Saturday night. This time I had a 35 minute session and it was wonderful! Students provide their own breakfasts and lunches but CWWC had coffee for us on Day Two.
At both Rogue clinics I had used a medium-size Mamba by Dagger, but for this clinic I used a Liquidlogic Remix, both boats provided by the clinics. This boat is smaller and more responsive. Squirrely is a word I could use but thanks to the experience I gained in the two Rogue clinics it worked well. I immediately noticed that hip snapping was virtually effortless and I had to do way less to get the boat to do what I wanted.
After Day One I was tired and sore. I definitely got pushed harder than I had been pushed in the Rogue clinics, but that’s what I was there for. However, I bailed on Day Two. I was sorry to miss another day of practice but it was going to take me seven hours to get home and it was the difference between getting back at 4:00 or so in the afternoon and 10:00-ish at night. I had an 8:00 meeting the next morning as well as a two day turnaround before my next camping trip, and sensitive to the fact that I’ve been burning the candle at both ends this year and paying for it I opted for radical self-care. The beautiful thing is that I had no reservations about making this choice. The atmosphere at CWWC is so nurturing and supportive I knew no one, NO ONE, was going to think the worse of me for my decision. So no regrets, although I’m sure everyone had a wonderful second day.
Melissa and the crew at CWWC are outstanding. All three of the clinics I’ve done with them have been wonderful and enlightening. The safe, open, flexible environment is stellar and allows the student to expand or contract as much or as little as she chooses. The camaraderie is amazing too. These clinics seem to attract quality students as well as offering quality instruction. I highly recommend CWWC and their classes and clinics to beginners who are interested in an introduction to whitewater kayaking in a safe and positive environment as well as to paddlers of any level who are interested in honing their skills. For more information on California Women’s Watersports Collective, check out their website or call 1-530-217-7328. They’re also on Facebook and Instagram!
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