On June 24 to 27 California Watersport Collective held their annual Womxn’s Holistic Paddling Clinic on the Rogue River. Best year yet, and it’s my fourth. I arrived a day early and set up camp. Met a buddy from a previous year and we sat by the river catching up and watching wildlife. Of note were a russet mink foraging in the duck weed, swimming out and back as we observed, and a bald eagle that flew slowly upriver fishing.
Everyone gathered their gear and those who needed boats were appropriately fitted. We put in at Galice, a small town a few miles upriver. The Galice resort recently burned down which is a shame as they are a crucial part of the Rogue River community. They offer a place for outfitters to park and serve both boaters and tourists with dining and live music in a beautiful setting. They let me use their phone once, too, an important service since there is no cell coverage in that area. Please support them as they rebuild. If you’re in the area they have swag for sale and a donation box onsite or you can visit their GoFundMe site at https://www.gofundme.com/f/galice-resort-galicestrong Thanks!
There were 18 total students. Ashlee took the advanced students and the rest were divided into three groups with Laura, Sarita, and Anna respectively. I was with Anna, along with Palmer, Dawn, and Jen. Emelia, a 16-year old kayaker from California who is headed for great things, was our assistant. Other assistants were Electra and Gabby. Liz Miheve was our intrepid photographer. Imho all the students were pretty aggressive compared to past years. The advanced group went off to surf and practice squirts. Many students outside the advanced group had developing rolls and were going for it. There were a number of swims, but it was awesome to see everyone pushing themselves and see some successful combat rolls.
Every day we warmed up as a group before splitting into subgroups. On our first day Laura led a memory game where we said our name, a beverage beginning with the first letter of our name, and then made an accompanying movement. Lots of laughs, and it was a good mnemonic! Then we warmed up: high 5’s across the body to reinforce strong torso rotation and sweep strokes, hip circles, shoulder circles, and more. Once in the boats, some students checked their wet exits to make sure they were comfortable with that skill.
After warming up on land we warmed up in our boats, waggling our hips and edging. Gabby gave a safety talk and we got a good reminder. As a student, don’t offer advice to another student during a clinic. As a student, don’t “help” an instructor by offering corrective advice to the student they’re instructing. The instructor knows what they’re doing and if they’re not mentioning something you think the other student should know it may be because the instructor has a plan. That said, when we were in camp and someone asked me a question I shared some things my coaches taught me. But even the most well-intentioned “constructive advice” can crush the soul of a student who is struggling to learn a new skill. My friend Kathy shared a story about a clinic she attended where one of the students (a man, wouldn’t you know) said things to her that shook her confidence and consequently affected her performance which is ironic because she is a very good kayaker and he was the one swimming. So watch, listen and learn.
We spent the day ferrying and working eddy lines. When we came to Elmo the friendly rock, to develop good rock skills we practiced paddling straight at it and spinning off or leaning into it and pushing off as the current moved us along. On Chair, a Class II, the rapid takes a fairly sharp bend to the left with a rock on the right which forms a pillow as the water pushes up against the bank.
Staying well to the right to avoid obstacles and swirling eddies on the left I hit the pillow and was rewarded with a head-high splash. It was nice and soft, quite pleasant and not a hint of rock. The eddies on the left flipped one student and she swam but was easily rescued and we continued on to Widowmaker, the last Class II of the day where we used the first eddy to practice T-rescues.
We also regrouped at one point to play Stinky Fish, where you divide into two teams and try to toss a fish-shaped sponge onto a goal on the opposite bank of where you start. Later, Anna had my group close our eyes as we went down a smaller rapid. I found my hearing considerably heightened as well as the sense of moving water under the boat. It’s a wonderful feeling.
This day we started at Ennis Riffle. First we paddled upstream and practiced bow draws, using the draw to enter and exit eddies, and turning a stern draw into a stern rudder. That became a particularly useful skill for me. My little Pirouette is speedy and prior to gaining this skill my only strategy for entering a rapid was to paddle forward. Not bad but no finesse and I would quickly catch up to and sometimes even bump the next boat in the line. This year I learned to use a stern rudder to control the kayak with small movements. Now I’m able to choose my line and enter rapids slowly with control until I hit the wave train and switch to a forward stroke.
We lunched at Carpenter Island and scouted our next Class II rapid. With regard to eddies and ferries, we talked about PAST, or PASE. This acronym stands for Position, Angle, Speed, and Tilt, or Edge. These are the things needed to successfully punch through an eddy line or keep a ferry angle. We also talked about DORMS, an acronym for Destination, Obstacles, Route, Markers, and Safety respectively. Why is safety last? Because if you have a destination in mind, you know where the obstacles are, you’ve planned a route, and you’ve scouted markers to guide you down the rapid you’re being safe.
I nailed my chosen route, which was to stay on the right shoulder of the wave train, avoiding all obstacles and eddying out at the bottom before the second half of the rapid which we couldn’t scout. After Carpenter we hit Galice Chutes which had teeth, scattered jagged rocks across the rapid. I clipped one with the right side of the boat as I swept past but no harm no foul. Then we were back to Chair and Widowmaker and after those rapids paddled on to camp. Other fun things on Day Two: we crashed Elmo rock again, surfed a small riffle to practice stern rudder, and paddled backwards down a small rapid. And always ferrying and entering and exiting eddies. There were lots of swims – five or six rescues I guess, but people were going all out.
My goal for the day was to roll at least ten times in larger and larger runouts to practice my combat roll. The first time I snapped my hips so hard I came up and flipped over on the opposite side and had to roll again, but both rolls were successful. That was heartening, and the time after that I got it just right. Anna would call out, “Roll!” at a particular spot and over I’d go. By the end of the day I had eleven rolls. At the boat ramp I decided to try an off-side roll. I set up nicely but then had a total brain fart. Having no idea what to do and not even thinking about moving over to the opposite side, I exited. I’m calling it fatigue. We were all pretty whipped, and the heat was getting to us.
Each day the weather got hotter. I replenished the ice in my cooler from the camp host’s freezer and poured the cold water with the leftover chunks of ice into my camp bucket. Then I took a sponge bath in the ice water, lay naked on a towel in the truck, and fell asleep. But we never lost our gung ho attitude.
On Day Three some people swapped boats. Palmer got a slicy RPM. Jen went to the advanced group and Kim came from the advanced group to replace her in Anna’s group and take a break from the tough stuff.
After warmups we launched from the boat ramp at the campground and split into our groups. The instructors had watched our performance the day before and determined we needed a better understanding of how to apply our skills, so we paddled upstream and broke into stations. Each instructor took a skill: forward stroke; bracing; draws, stern draws, hanging draws, and stern rudder. Each group went with an instructor for 15 or 20 minutes and then rotated stations. It was great to gain a deeper sense of how everything comes together.
Then we walked upstream to a place where a creek enters the river in a wide shallow rapid. We talked about swiftwater rescues and then split into two groups. Each group formed a pyramid with an instructor at the top and two people holding on to her PFD from behind, then two more behind them and so on. The point person creates an eddy, softening the force of the current which protects the rest of the group. The people furthest back encounter the least force. Everyone anchors the people in front of them by pressing down which creates a stable base from which to move. I was in Sarita’s group and once we were ready she called out, “Left, right, left, right!” as we crossed the rapid sideways to keep our steps in synch. It worked well, and we crossed safely. The second group crossed as well, and then we scouted the rapid we were going to swim. The goal was to swim and eddy out on river left in one of several spots with a bail out at the boat ramp below. After swimming, which was very welcome as the temps were in the triple digits, we had lunch.
After lunch we headed downriver to bigger Class II’s and Argo, a Class III. Our first Class II was Almeda Mine, named for an old hydraulic copper mine located on the right bank. You can still see the scar. This rapid has a jet ferry. If you paddle up to the top of the rapid from the eddy on river left below, you can enter and get on a wave that shoots you across the rapid and into the opposite eddy. Pretty cool. As we continued downriver we practiced more ferries and eddying out and in and then hit a small surf wave. I flipped as the wave kicked me off, but rolled up and then later got caught in a squirrely eddy line and flipped like last year when I swam. However, this time I completed a successful combat roll and got a compliment from our hotshot assistant Emelia. Nice!
Argo seemed friendly this year, and not just to me. Kim remarked on it as well. I eddied out right, but it’s a fairly small eddy and there were other kayaks there. I washed out into the eddy below and took some photos. Iris went right down the middle and boofed the big rock there. “Did you get the picture???” she asked me afterwards. Show ‘em a camera and they’ll do anything. Since it was our last night together, in the evening we had a party, and an open mic. People who had “hidden talents” were encouraged to show them. Amber Rose played guitar, Liz pulled off thirty butt claps (if you have to ask…) Gabby played keyboards and sang in the back of her customized RV which was just too cool, and I showed paddle skills that weren’t only for paddling. There were others too, and outstanding costumes (Laura’s wigs!) and a dance party that went on and on and on… so much fun! In keeping with the best clinic ever it was the best party ever.
Today we started later since we had to break camp and take our vehicles down to the take out. The plan was to paddle from the campground to Argo and take out just below. It was supposed to hit 114 degrees in the afternoon. Shuttle complete, we launched from the campground’s boat ramp and headed down to Almeda Mine. We had some instruction but paddled together as a group since it was our last day.
After Almeda we hit Bailey Riffle and then took a lunch break in the canyon. It was nice to relax as a group and catch up, trading stories about the three previous days. Some of us jumped off the high rock into the river and the instructors called out vegetable names as people jumped. The jumper had to impersonate the vegetable. Carrot, broccoli, and a mushroom were among those mentioned. I always do a preacher seat so I can make the biggest splash possible.
After lunch but before we headed downriver we paddled upstream to form a lotus flower with the boats. The last three years Liz took the photo from the bridge at Graves Creek but this year she stood on the rock and took the shot from there. With so many of us there was some shuffling around to get everyone in a circle but we pulled it off. Then we separated and paddled down to Argo.
At Argo I took the line on the right under the cliffs. The day before on this rapid I had entered an eddy on river right but this time I went down further and entered an eddy on the left. I’d never set up there before, and it was great because I had a better view of the whole rapid for taking photos of the kayakers coming down.
One of the things I love best is watching the students improve over the course of the clinic. Everyone gets better. Four days of expert instruction that is consistent, compassionate, encouraging, and adapted to each student’s individual needs can’t fail to get results. And no negativity; these instructors know how to offer correction in the most positive way. Thank you so much Melissa DeMarie for pulling off another fantastic event. You are a jewel and a shining light in the kayak community, and I’m sure I speak for many when I say how grateful I am to have found these clinics. I’ve made friends, gained skills that enhance my sea kayaking as well as my whitewater boating, and I get to dress up in a wig and a fancy dress and dance till I drop.
Love this river! Love this clinic! Love these people! Already planning for next year.
For more information on California Watersport Collective and their offerings for this and the coming year visit https://www.cwwcollective.com/