Tag Archives: kayaking

Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures (Ecuador)

This post was initially published on the Jackson Kayak blog at: http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2018/01/03/never-winter-family-whitewater-adventures-part-two/

It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and that you certainly can’t take kids! This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Destination #2 is Ecuador, which is located in the northwest corner of South America and is an amazing country. There are four distinct zones in Ecuador – the Amazon jungle in the east, the Andes mountains in the middle, the Pacific ocean in the west and then the Galapagos Islands off the western coast.

As a country, Ecuador is going through a number of positive transitions. It is a relatively clean country (daily garbage pick up) with solid roads, education and health care systems. The water and sewer systems are not as strong so you do need to pay attention to where your water is coming from (both drinking water, ice and food cooking water) and remember that you can’t flush toilet paper other than at the airport. It is also a very safe country and we wandered around in the evenings in a number of the towns that we visited without a single concern.

The main airport is in Quito, which is also the capital city. The main kayaking areas are all to the east and south east. In the Andes to the east the main paddling bases are in San Francisco de Borja and Baeza, two small towns near the Quijos river basin. Further to the east is Tena, which sits right on the edge of the Amazon jungle and is one of the key bases for jungle tours. To the south east is Banos, the adventure capital of Ecuador, which offers kayaking, hiking, ziplining and more. The primary currency is US $$ but be sure to bring a lot of small bills as most stores can’t change anything bigger than a $20.

Similar to our Costa Rica trip, we went to Ecuador as part of a guided trip. We chose to go with Ecuador Kayak because they offer to provide as many guides as needed to meet the levels of the group. This meant that Hunter and I could have one itinerary and Tim could have another. It worked out superbly well – Hunter and I had a great week that focused on his progression in creeking while also embedding an extra amount of local culture and information to support his homeschooling activities. Tim was able to spend his week on various class IV rivers and we got to hear all about them when we met up at the end of each day.

Other organizations that we have heard positive things about that run trips to Ecuador are Endless River Adventures (with a summer base on the Nantahalla River) and Small World Adventures (been in Ecuador for over 25 years). All three organizations are based out of San Francisco de Borja on the Quijos river but include rivers in Tena in all their trips.

We have been to Ecuador twice and have loved both trips. It is a great mixture of creeking and big water kayaking, with amazing culture and people mixed in.

We have paddled the following rivers while there:

Quijos River – there are at least five sections of this river and they run through the Quijos valley. They start out as steep creeking and then move into big water. The difficulty correlates directly to the water level.

Borja – a fun creek that runs into the Quijos and is only available when the Quijos is at medium to high levels. It is narrow and shallow but nice and close to the home base in Borja and it runs directly into the Quijos so the take out is a short walk.

Cosanga – a rocky creek style river in the Borja valley with an upper class IV section and a middle class III section

Misahualli – there is an upper, a middle section and a lower section to this beautiful river near Tena. The Upper is good solid class IV creeking with big round boulders and boofs everywhere. The Middle section is great class II/III and perfect for teaching the basics of creeking.

Upper Anzu – a fun class III river in the Tena basin with some holes and surf waves

Jatunyacu – big water, big wave trains class III run in the Tena basin that can be a half day run or a full day adventure. The Upper run starts at a fabulous eco resort with rope swings and is a class IV section. The middle starts a few bridges down and is perfect class III. This river is also known as the Upper Napo river and it is part of the headwaters of the Amazon.

Pastaza – a big water class III/IV run near Banos. Super fun with big wave trains. Beware of the water quality and try not to swallow any water and shower after the run.

Jondachi River – the quintessential class IV creeking river – amazingly scenic jungle section with super big boulders and clean blue water. Fun hike in that involves local porters carrying your boat – with it being the best $5 you have ever spent

Hollin River – a class III/IV river in the Tena basin that has something for everyone – boulders, canyons, side streams, and drops

Things to think about when considering Ecuador:

  • The Andes region is like spring paddling in most of North America – while it is sunny a lot of the days, drytops are needed most of the time and it’s great to have long pants and a fleece or light puffy jacket for evenings
  • The Amazon region is sticky and hot – perfect for rash guards and splash tops
  • Bring both bug spray and sun screen for on and off the river
  • You can use US $$ in all places but be sure to have lots of small bills.
  • Assume that the water is NOT drinkable and always ensure that the water you are drinking has come out of a bottle
  • We have invested in break apart paddles so we can bring our own paddles easily with us on the plane. For those that don’t have them, you can rent paddles in most places, which is often easier than checking full paddles as luggage (no matter how well you pack them)
  • We took full face helmets on our second trip and were really glad we had them based on the number of scratches you could see. The local paddlers just wear regular helmets so it comes down your skill and confidence levels
  • Experiencing the culture of a new country is half the fun – be sure to check out the fun foods that can be found at the corner stores and the small community restaurants
  • Try to spend a day in Quito at the beginning or end of your trip. Even better if you are there for the weekend market, which is full of local vendors. Be sure to check out the buildings and history of old town
  • If you have the time, be sure the extend your visit by even a few days and check out the town of Banos or some of the small villages in the Andes region. An amazing add on is a few days in the Gallapagos, but it can be quite expensive.

The Vincent Family (www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.twitter.com/chasingthesunyt // www.chasingthesun.ca )

More info can be found at:

Kayak Ecuador (www.kayakecuador.com)

Endless River Adventures (https://endlessriveradventures.com/international-trips/ecuador/)

Small World (www.smallworld.com)

Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures (Costa Rica)

Here is part one of our four part series for Jackson Kayak on Warm Whitewater destinations for families – check it out!

Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures: Part one

Costa Rica – a super family friendly kayaking destination

It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and you definitely can’t go with kids. This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Costa Rica is located in Central America and is one of the simplest southern destinations to visit. It is safe and clean, with good roads, education and health care systems. In most places, the water is safe to drink which can make life with kids soooo much easier! People are very friendly and you can get away with English in most places. People are also good sports about trying out your “spanglish” and teaching you new words. The colonne is the local currency, however American dollars are taken in most places.

The main airport is San Jose, which is pretty central within the country. Costa Rica is bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The majority of the paddling takes place in the mountains east of San Jose, and just west of the Caribbean Sea. A great place to base yourself out of is the town of Turrialba.

Within a few hours are an amazing assortment of class 2 -5 rivers or river sections. The water and the air temps are generally warm. With this being the jungle/rain forest you also want to plan for the fact that it is possible to see rain at some point every day.

We have been going on winter family kayaking trips for the last four years since Hunter was 10. We have found that picking a good guide company makes all the difference in the world. For our trip to Costa Rica we went with CostaRica Rios, who have been recognized by National Geographic for their experiences. The other two companies that we have heard really positive reviews on are Esprit Rafting (with a summer base on the Ottawa River) and Endless River Adventures (with a summer base on the Nantahalla River).

We started our trip out on the Pejibaye River. The morning was spent on the class I//III lower section to get back in the groove. After a yummy jungle lunch you could step things up by running the upper, a class III/IV steeper creeking section or head back to do the lower section again and hook up with the gang from the upper when they came through.

Day Two and Three were spent on the Sarapiqui, which is about 3.5 hours from Turrialba and is considered the “Jewel of Costa Rica” – it is further into the jungle and has a more tropical feel, with lots of greenery and lushness. There are three distinct sections of the river, ranging from class II to class IV so again there is something to match up with every paddler.

Day Four was spent on the Upper Upper Pacuare – a traditional creeky, boulder section of river. This is a class II/III river that has a road paralleling it for the entire class II section, so those not confident to run the class III can do laps on the class II section. The class III section can be stepped up a bit by finding tricky lines and lots of boofs for the more advanced paddler. After the main takeout, the bottom four rapids of this run are class IV and are a fabulous way to end the day for the more advanced paddler. You meet up with the rest of the group at a picnic lunch with beverages to celebrate a fabulous end to a beautiful section.

Day Five and Six were spent on the Lower Pacuare, which is a 24 km (17m) section of river that is split up with an overnight stay in a jungle lodge. The day five section is a mixture of class II and III with lots of surfing waves and fun little rapids. There is an amazing lunch stop beside a creek with a small waterfall curtain/cave that is a perfect place for exploring.

The lodge is rustic but perfect for families – individual huts have lots of room to spread out and the more adventurous teens can sleep in a hammock in the main building. It’s pretty cool to experience sleeping in a hammock in the jungle and hearing all those noises all night!

The lower section of the Lower Pacuare are a mixture of class III+/IV. Those that are not comfortable with this level get to raft the section, which again means that all of the family members get to experience the river and have a great time together.

During the low water of the “summer season” (mid Jan – mid March) the Upper Pacuare section is also available as an option. It is another fun boulder filled creek run that will keep the class III/IV paddlers on their toes.

Things to think about when considering Costa Rica:

  • It is a very humid country and therefore hard to get gear to dry. Bring multiple sets of swim tops and shorts if you can
  • For those that are really warm blooded, you can get away with just a swim top and a shorty for the cooler days. I would wear a shorty on the warm rivers and a dry top with a swim top underneath for the cooler days
  • Bring both bug spray and sun screen for on and off the river
  • You can use US $$ in most places but be sure to have lots of small bills. It is still handy to have some colonnes for use in the small town stores for snacks and drinks.
  • We have invested in break apart paddles so we can bring our own paddles easily with us on the plane. For those that don’t have them, you can rent paddles in most places, which is often easier than checking full paddles as luggage (no matter how well you pack them)
  • Experiencing the culture of a new country is half the fun – be sure to check out the fun foods that can be found at the corner stores and the small community restaurants
  • If you have the time, consider extending your visit by even a few days and check out the beaches on either the Pacific or the Caribbean side. The week on the river is busy and tiring so beach time is a great way to slow right down truly chill out

Every guide company we have ever travelled with has offered options for non-paddling companions so if someone in the family doesn’t paddle then there are still amazing adventures to be had. They are also always open to finding childcare to help parents still feel like they are on vacation!

Are you starting to see what’s possible? Dreaming of warm water paddling and adventures with your family? Stay tuned for next week to learn more about family kayaking adventures in Ecuador!

The Vincent Family (www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.twitter.com/chasingthesunyt // www.chasingthesun.ca )

More info can be found at:

Costa Rica Rios (www.costaricarios.com)

Esprit Rafting (http://www.riversandrainforest.com/costa-rica)

Endless River Adventures (https://endlessriveradventures.com/international-trips/costa-rica/kayak-costa-rica/)

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.