Tag Archives: kayaking

Downriver racing – a great family activity!

The below is a post we wrote for Jackson Kayak: http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2017/11/08/downriver-racing-a-great-family-activity/
This is our first year being exposed to downriver races and we have to say… they are a great family activity! If you pick the right ones they are a family bonding experience with high fun factors.

Hunter Vincent – GoPro Games

We dipped our toe into the world of Downriver racing at CKS Paddlefest (Buena Vista, Colorado) in May by participating in the Race to the Grill. This is a super family friendly race that is held on a 4 mile long class II+ section of the Arkansas River referred to as the “Milk Run”. There is a group practice run on Sunday afternoon for those that are interested and then the race is held late morning on Monday of the long weekend.  It is a very laid back event with people in kayaks, canoes, tandem kayaks, rafts and SUP’s. Free shuttles are provided by River Runners so you want to a) drop your boat off at the put in to get it in line, b) drive your car down to River Runners at the finish line and c) sign up for the race / pay your $10 and then catch a ride back up to the top. Start order is based on the order that you line up in so you can choose to paddle in front of, behind or with friends and family. It was fairly low water this spring so it took us 33 minutes to do 4 miles. The race ends at “The Riverside Grill” at River Runners, one of the local rafting companies. Awards (prizes!) to follow the race and yummy food and drinks from the Grill while you are waiting.

Hunter Vincent – GoPro Games

Next up was the GoPro Games in Vail, Colorado. This was a bit more of a structured event and you need to sign up online ahead of time as many of the events at GoPro Games reach capacity. There is the famed Steep Creek Race and then there is the DownRiver Kayak Sprint race. You want the Downriver Kayak Sprint Race! It is a mixture of young kids through to seasoned pros and everything in between. This is also where you see a lot of old school long boats being pulled out of garages as people work to improve upon their times from prior years. Consider it low key competitive…This race is also 4 miles long on a class II+ section of Gore Creek, where the water is COLD as it’s fresh from the snowpack. It is faster moving than the Arkansas River so times are more in the 20 minute range. Shuttles are a bit tricky as the start location is in a residential neighbourhood and it’s an 8:30 am race start, which makes for an early start to the day. We paired up with another family so one vehicle did the paddler drop off while the other did the cheering squad and pick up at the end of the race, which is right in the village. All athletes that register for GoPro Games get a SWAG bag full of goodies (T-shirt, Hat, socks, snacks, stickers etc.), which makes just showing up a win for everyone! There is no formal awards ceremony so we chose to head off for ice-cream in the village to celebrate with friends.

Lee Vincent – Ocoee River Race

Our third race was the Ocoee River Race in eastern Tennessee. It is an 8 mile race on class III that runs from the put-in through to the last rapid on the Middle Ocoee. It is organized by the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club as a fundraiser for the Team River Runner chapter in Chattanooga. You have to be a member of TVCC to race – family memberships are only $20 and then the race itself is free. It will fill up so be sure to sign up online ahead of time. Your starting number is based on when you sign up, so earlier is better. Everyone is out for a fun time with a mixture of competitive focus – some people are out for the win and have been doing training laps for the last few weeks, others have bets in place with friends to see who can be fastest and the majority of people are here for a fun time with friends and to challenge themselves. The race is very well organized and this year they had 130 racers and 190 starting slots as over half of the people race multiple categories (long boat, short boat, duo, handpaddle, raft etc.). Depending on when your number is called there is a fair amount of stand around and wait as people are sent off in one minute intervals. The shuttle is an easy one as the road runs alongside the river and there are always people coming and going. If everyone in your group is racing try to set shuttle ahead of time so you will have your vehicle at the bottom when you are done. Race times range from 30-40 minutes, which makes it a manageable challenge for newbie racers. The hardest part of this race is dodging the commercial rafters – there is rubber everywhere! There is a family friendly awards banquet and party at Adventures Unlimited, a local rafting company, however the fun does start to wind up the longer people have been there and enjoying the free beer, so time your stay wisely.

Hunter & Lee – South East DownRiver Race at NOC

Our last race of the year was the South Eastern Downriver Race held on the 8 mile class II+ section of the Lower Nantahala River in western North Carolina. It is run by the Georgia Canoe Association and feels more like a local community race. Sign up online to help them know how many people are coming and it’s a bargain $5 per person to participate. This is a mixture of serious paddlers (they are the ones in the actual carbon downriver and slalom boats) and recreational paddlers (in long boats, short boats, duos and canoes) but the overall vibe is one of FUN. This is a lower volume river so run times are between 60 and 70 minutes, which makes for a LONG race. It was a good one to finish with as it allowed us to use all of the mental and physical skills we have developed through the other races. The Nantahala Outdoor Centre provides free shuttles after the race and there was a simple awards ceremony with medals for every class and some long standing trophy awards as well. If you still have energy left after the race then grab your play boat and spend some time throwing freestyle tricks in the hole!

Hunter being dwarfed by KarmaUL at South East DownRiver Race at NOC

The five biggest things we learned in our first year of downriver racing are:
  • Don’t be shy – give it a try and use what ever boat you have on hand (we paddled in Zen’s, Nirvana’s & KarmaUL borrowed from a friend)
  • Ask lots of questions – everyone is happy to share information on the race and their race lines
  • Be sure you know where the finish line is so you can gauge your effort (which specific bridge or turn does it end at…)
  • Just paddle… you may not be the fastest but sometimes the one that can just keep paddling wins the race
  • Challenge each other and have fun – that’s why you are out there
Check out your local paddling club and sign up for your first DownRiver Race as a family – you’ll love it!

Group photo before Race to the Grill

The Vincent family are currently  travelling throughout North America in their RV in search of great family friendly outdoor adventures and can be found on a river somewhere most days. Find more information at www.chasingthesun.ca // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt
– The Vincent Family

NOCtoberfest – what a hoot!!!

NOCtoberfest at the Nantahala Outdoor Centre is a great FREE community event held on the Saturday before Halloween. There is pumpkin carving, halloween costume contest, face painting and the culminating event – the great pumpkin chase!

385 pumpkins are loaded into three NOC rafts, each one with a number on it. The rafts are paddled from the concrete beach down to the take out beach while tossing the pumpkins out into the river.

Keen pumpkin hunters in kayaks, inflatable kayaks, canoes and rafts chase after the rafts and collect as many pumpkins as they can fit in their respective crafts…

It is absolute chaos – in a really fun way. All is fine and dandy in the first few minutes of flat water. It’s a bit like kayak polo where everyone is chasing after the pumpkins bobbing along in the river. Kayakers have their skirts off and are frantically stuffing pumpkins into their boats. If all goes well, you manage to pull your skirt over your pumpkins before heading through the Falls rapid.

If it doesn’t go according to plan, you end up with a swamped boat and shortly after that pumpkins and people are swimming down the river. Now you are frantically trying to catch your stray pumpkins and get them back into your kayak, which is full of water…

Tim definitely mastered the activity and filled his boat to the max. Between the three of us we managed to collect 33 pumpkins!

Once everyone ends up at the bottom of the river and gets their pumpkin hauls organized, there is the prize giveaway… NOC generously provides over $400 in prizes (as well as the pumpkins). The darn Canadians were pretty successful and came away with a new Watershed Drybag, a long awaited Foamy Boater and a glow in the dark nalgene (doesn’t everyone have one of those?).

We definitely recommend this as a family friendly event. It was cool and pouring rain all day today and yet still so much fun. Kids were in and out of the water all afternoon – like anything, just dress for the occasion and get outside and have fun!

 

 

Tellico River – multi lap creek run!

The Tellico River is in Eastern Tennessee, just west of the North Carolina / Tennessee border. It is a class III/IV 2 mile run that people often run multiple laps on. The road runs beside the river so shuttles are super easy.  It is described as a fabulous intro to technical creeking for boaters in the south east.

It is a rain fed creek that can come up pretty quickly but also drop equally quickly. Thanks to Hurricane Nate we had a decent dump of rain and everyone was glued to their devices watching the gauges to see if enough water was going to fall. The gauge is downstream of the actual run so you have to incorporate the lag time into your decision on when to head to the river. Ideal level for your first time is 2.5 feet and it gets too shallow below 1.7 feet. Above 3.5 feet is too high.

The main creeking section of the Tellico is referred to as “the ledges” as it is a series of pool drop ledges with lots of horizon lines.

It is also the home of “Baby Falls” – a 12 foot drop that is a great introduction to waterfalls. You can climb out from the pool at the bottom and go back up and run it again and again and again and again. As there are lots of different lines you can stay amused for hours!

We only got 2 runs in and are hugely thankful to Casey Bryant Jones and Melissa Huckson for leading us down and supporting our first descent of the Tellico – it was super fun, really flowy and we definitely want to run it again.

Ocoee River Secret Week

The Ocoee River is located in eastern Tennessee just over the border from North Carolina. It is a dam release river that runs most of the summer and then weekends during the fall. There is one full week in October that there is a release every day so you can get 9 days of paddling in a row – the locals call this secret week.

This is another river that is fairly straight forward to run and to shuttle. Thanks to the Parks Service, there are nice parking areas at both the put in and take out – paved parking, bathrooms and easy access. The road runs along the entire river so you can scout everything and hitch-hiking for shuttles are pretty easy to do.

There are 20 rapids on this class III+ river (missing from the above list is SECRET rapid). Some are actual full rapids and others are shallow rocky areas that you have to work your way through. On the weekends (and I’m sure during the summer) Raft traffic is the biggest obstacle to worry about. You need to time your run down each rapid in between the never ending raft traffic. Secret week was almost raft free, which make it extra special!

The Ocoee River is a fabulous multi-dimensional river. You can take easy lines for advanced beginners or harder lines to spice things up and make it feel more like a class IV run. With warm water and great weather, you can spend a good 3-4 hours on the river with just one run or you can get in 2-3 laps thanks to the easy shuttle.

We chose to paddle the river in play boats as there are small to large play features all the way down the river. Lots of others paddled it in river runners or creek boats. The Jackson Antix is another great boat for this river as it allows you to mix things up and hit all of the long boat and play boat features.

About half way down the river there is a really fun lunch/rest-stop at Go Forth Creek. It seems a bit odd the first time as you pull your boats off the river and into a HUGE square cement drainage culvert below a bridge. You walk through the culvert and end up at this sunny section of rocks that is perfect to lay out and warm up, grab some food and have the kids play in the creek to stay amused.

The rapids finish just below the powerhouse that is on the side of the river. From there you have about a ten to fifteen minute slow moving/flat water paddle to the public takeout (you will pass by the commercial take out just after the flat water starts). It’s a great “feet out to the takeout” kind of paddle and low key way to finish the day.

We definitely recommend the Ocoee as a place to paddle as a family! Big thanks to “Team Unsafe” for adopting “The Canadians” for the week…

You can also find a shorter version of this writeup at http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2017/10/13/secret-week-on-the-ocoee-river/

Nantahala Outdoor Centre – Guest Appreciation Festival (GAF)

Guest Appreciation Festival (aka GAF) at the Nantahala Outdoor Centre is a huge tradition here in the South East.  People come from all around to catch the scheduled release of the Cascades & Upper Nantahala River as well as grab some amazing end of season deals on gear. There is ALOT going on…

We were definitely overwhelmed when we arrived at the river on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were cars and boaters as far as you could see spread across parking lots and fields. NOC very generously provides free shuttles for the Cascades and Upper all weekend. As fast as they can load a rafting bus with people and a truck with boats, then they are off to the put-in. That means that you have 50 people arriving at the put-in at the same time. This is not a big put in, nor a big river so it gets a little crazy…

The Cascades is a class IV/V section that is above the Upper section. It is a short section of 4-5 rapids that people do laps on as you can walk back up the side of the road. We scouted a few of the rapids but decided that this wasn’t the year to run it without an expert local to show us the lines…

The Upper section is rated as class III+/IV and is a mix between river running and creeking. There are definitely rocks that you need to be aware of but not really boulder gardens that you need to maneuver around. The hardest part was actually dealing with all of the people on a very narrow river (less than 50 feet wide), many of them using this release as a chance to stretch their skills after running the Lower section many times. Lots of swimmers, lots of boats without paddlers and a number of people getting off the river after the first stretch of rapids and walking back up to the put-in to catch the bus down to the take-out (which is also the put-in for the Lower section).

We managed to get two laps in on Saturday and three laps on Sunday (an earlier start now that we understood how things worked) and it was definitely a fun river to experience. Our suggestion would be to aim to catch the first shuttle in the morning as that gives you at least one run with very few people on the river. Catching one of the last shuttles does the same thing. This leaves 1-2 runs during the middle of the day that you just have to elbow your way through the throngs of people.

NOC itself is about 10 minutes down the road from the Upper take out/ Lower put in. It is quite the facility, with something for everyone. The river runs right through it and this is where the rafting companies and kayakers that have run the Lower section take out. During GAF the parking lots are very full so getting there early helps guarantee a spot to park, as well as access to the best deals. There are sliding discounts at the Outfitters store throughout the weekend (Friday = 30% off, Saturday = 40% off, Sunday = 50% off) so it’s a juggle between how much you want something vs how much you will wait for the discount and risk it being gone. There are definitely great deals on demo kayaks, with most of them being sold by the end of the weekend.

More to come on paddling the lower section for fun and freestyle training at the hole.