Last week you read the story of my transition from white water kayaking to K1. Here’s the video of the slaughter. Enjoy!
by Franz Fuls
White water kayakers enjoy making private jokes about the K1 paddling fraternity, and understandably so.
You see, the white water paddlers have a completely different drive behind their exposure to rivers. Pumping adrenaline and having joy rides in a world that is out of reach, and often downright dangerous for Joe Soap is what gets them going. So seeing a K1 paddler bravely charging a Class II rapid is entertaining to them!
K1 paddlers submit to rivers for a different reason. The narrow shape and light weight of these boats (and their big brothers, the K2’s) are made for speed and long distances. It’s the long distances that really put most white water kayakers off. To them it just sounds like a lot of brutal work.
With the upcoming Triwaters Tour I will be paddling an average of 40 kilometers per day for three months (excluding rest days). Most of this will be on flat water. Considering that I am the oldest member of the team I do not want to be the slowest too! Thus I have to do something about it and become paddling fit, and K1 paddling provides this opportunity.
But how difficult would the transition be?
When I heard of the SASOL Lowveld Croc canoe marathon coming up in October I thought that would be a great opportunity to start. At least there is some white water in this race to entertain me, although it looked small. I approached the K1 community to find out more, and learnt that there are strict pre-qualifiers: you must be graded as an A+ paddler to enter.
I was not deterred, and approached the Lowveld Canoe Club. Andre van der Merwe graciously entertained this cocky white water kayaker that wants to quickly learn the ropes in a K1. After a bit of discussion I was tripping down to Nelspruit for the adventure.
How bad can it be?
The club put in at the start of day two of the marathon, as a pre-race inspection, just above Weltevreden Bridge. It is a small rapid, Class I or maybe a very friendly Class II. Ten meters down I was swimming. Displaying the standard set of beginner moves. Darn!
As I emptied by boat I realized that I will have to learn almost from scratch. Being overconfident I suggested going in an intermediate boat, rather than a beginner boat and paid the price. The Athena was super unstable from the perspective of a Creekboat paddler. The bloody thing has a mind of its own when you try to turn! The Bratcha paddle with its big upside down looking scoop did not help either. I was in for multiple swims in cold water, and I knew it!
I took a big handful of swims by the time we reached the pump house, but by then I stopped swimming on flat water. I even navigated some of the smaller rapids successfully. I was definitely starting to understand the boat, although I constantly had this feeling that the boat does not understand me! I was never in any kind of comfort zone.
Below the pump station I took another swim, just to spite the boat for disagreeing with me! (or was it the other way round. Things became a little fuzzy). By that time I was already semi frozen; when Andre mentioned that the road is close and I can take out and wait for a pick-up I needed no second invitation!
Waiting by the roadside I must have presented a sorry sight for the passers by, with me shaking like a rattle. I have not been this cold in a very long time!
In retrospect, here is some advice for white water kayakers wanting to try a K1:
- You probably cannot roll a K1 in its standard configuration.
- Take your white water paddle on your first trip. You will swim less.
- Be gentle. No hard strokes, and definitely no boofs for a start! These boats become uncontrolled projectiles with the slightest encouragement.
- Remember you have a rudder. Keep it straight unless you really need it. Later on try experimenting with it.
- Plan your line far ahead. It takes time to turn these beasts!
- Be prepared to swim. Your white water skills do not count for as much as you think.
I also want to encourage the Canoe community to have a go at white water. It will boost your confidence and technical ability in rapids, and thus improve your performance in the more technical marathons. My gut feel is the transition will be easier for you than for your white water counterparts! Consider this:
- Go with competent white water kayakers. They are going to save your life. If they don’t pack throw bags, slings and carabiners they are probably not competent.
- Wear a helmet.
- Learn the required safety skills.
- Be prepared to get stuck in a retentive hole, and unless you can roll and surf to avoid a swim.
- Make more aggressive, bigger moves with the paddle. White water kayaks are dogs when it comes to forward speed.
- Be prepared to spin out. These boats are designed to do this.
- White water paddles are shorter and flatter. With a new repertoire of moves for your arsenal.
- Do not stop until you can roll, and have done multiple Class III+ rapids successfully.
Looking back I was not intimidated by the rapids I passed on the Lowveld Crocodile river. I accept that there are some bigger rapids upstream and downstream but that’s OK. My fear came in the form of a long narrow fiberglass shape. K1 paddling is an art. It requires a paradigm shift, a refinement of what you need to paddle a white water kayak. Where my previous admiration for the Canoe Marathon athletes came from their endurance skill, I now bow to them for simply keeping those boats upright!
I am in love. There’s an Athena in my garage, with some resin and glass mat next to it. A few nights of TLC and I will be hitting dams and soon after more rivers, learning this new art!
A big thanks to Andre van der Merwe, Bruce Templeton and the Lowveld Canoe Club for taking me along for the ride and keeping me safe!
Watch out for the video of Franz’s baptism by K1 coming soon on Vimeo.
July is wintertime in the Southern hemisphere and the dry season in South Africa. Low rivers have been indicated as a primary cause of Yakker’s Weep – a psychosomatic condition occurring among river kayakers when surrounded by low rivers. It can lead to abdominal tension, symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease and eventually suicide by drowning in a tub. Fortunately through extensive research science found a cure. All subjects responded well to exposure to ocean waves, while strapped into a kayak!
Thus it came to be that on 19 July 2014 creekers and river play boaters descended on Durban to lay siege to the ocean in the annual Kayak Freestyle champs organised by Nino Cloete. More than thirty kayakers congregated at Dairy Beach to compete.
Gnarly swell predictions fizzled and the competitors had to strut their stuff in little more than ankle snappers. But this did not deter them.
In order to prevent aggressive outbursts among the patients, the treatment sessions was organized into heats. But the patients felt that the small waves did not have quite the desired effect and reverted to close proximity surfing, dropping in on each other in a style that would result in a brawl among the mere mortals that play in waves on flat planks. For kayakers however, this simply added to the excitement while judges and spectators dropped their jaws in amazement at the tenacity of the kayakers competing for the best wave!
The session was a great success thanks to sponsors Fluid Kayaks and Thule, and Nino’s guru organising skills.
by Franz Fuls
Some white water kayakers wear booties. Some do not. Some have soles resembling an elephant’s. Some have fluffy feet. One thing we can agree on is that when it gets cold, we all like wearing booties. For less experienced they become indispensable: Preventing shattered feet from long and regular portages and becoming the traditional dispenser of beer for those unfortunate enough to swim down a rapid!
I have kayaked barefoot, worn flip-flops, sneakers and an array of other footwear while kayaking. Recently I had my first proper bootie experience!
When I told Egon Herrmann about my planned Ash river trip he was psyched. And worried. The Ash has a reputation for cold water, plus we are going mid-winter. He started a frantic online search, and ordered booties from swindle.co.za. Under sheer peer pressure I also bought a set. Read about this strangely named über awesome online shop here.
A classic surfing bootie, we gave it a test in white water. Egon was the perfect lab rat. He put them through their motions with hard long portages through the African bush, a short trial run and more swims than he or I would care to mention. The Excel Reef bootie kept our feet warm and comfortable, offered great foot protection during the portages and stayed on Egon’s feet through every swim. These booties are comfortable, and you soon forget that you are wearing them.
Here are some thoughts we collected on Excel’s Reef Split Toe 1mm Bootie:
- The 1 mm neoprene upper does not promise protection against arctic conditions, but they are perfect for South African winter conditions.
- They are tough. Real tough. And comfy!
- The ninja style split toe has the sole covering and securing your toes together for some obscure surfing purpose involving your leash and toe entrapment. Not much use kayakers but cool nonetheless.
- The upper neoprene has extra rubber armour in all the right places, giving you more protection.
- The cut is slightly higher than a standard low-cut kayaking bootie but does not travel right up to your calf either. Just perfect.
- The Velcro strap wraps around your leg, making for a comfortable and secure fastening mechanism.
- The bungee pull cord right at the top guarantees that no water will enter your bootie during a swim. It wont flood with water and will stay on your feet.
- Tiny vent holes on the side gives you an illusion of breathability, but the designers kept them small enough to keep that bootie beer inside!
Excel has already released their new model and it looks great! You can check it out, together with all their other kayaking and surfing gear right here.
For South African cold weather this will be my bootie of choice on surfing, kloofing and kayaking trips for a long time to come.
by Franz Fuls
Have you ever been screwed-over online?
Buying something with great expectation and then starting the long wait for nothing. Eventually you email the online shop and CRAP! The email address does not exist. As you check your credit card account you notice multiple smallish payments that have reduced your credit card to a nagging hungry child.
You have been swindled!
Kayaking and niche adventure sport gear is hard to come by in South Africa. Especially on short notice. I had that swindling feeling when my colleague started shopping for booties a few weeks ago. The best deal he found, and one of the few South African online shops that actually stocked any booties went by the dodgy name of SWINDLE.CO.ZA
I warned him that I also have the ability to pull a Billabong logo from the web, loading it to my web page and call myself Really, it is not that difficult. He agreed, but was really desperate for those booties.
Bona fide swindling?
So I did what I always do in situations like this, and gave them a WHOIS search. Suddenly these boys started looking more legit. They even had the phone number for the guy who registered the website. So we phoned the guy. Kevin Kolesky is the most obnoxious website registrant I have ever met on the web, and I will never make use of his services. But he checked out, so that’s great.
Next we decided to ask SWINDLE.CO.ZA for fitment advice on their booties. WHAMMY! They responded like lightning from a Billabong email address, something more difficult to fake. After some suggestions and advice from their support crew we decide these guys are bona fide and took a leap of faith.
Leap of faith
Since the price was great and the credit card not mine, I told my colleague to buy me some booties too! He placed the order and the nervous wait began.
To our surprise the delivery took about 48 hours. Now this is amazing: Ordered, payment verified, and delivered in 48 hours – to a remote location on the other side of South Africa!
I am stoked. SWINDLE.CO.ZA is arguably the biggest online gem of the decade! Their user interface is legit. Their credentials check out. They actually stock what they sell. The site is easy to navigate. Getting support is easy, fast and efficient.
I just hope they start stocking more white water kayak gear so they can beswindle me more often!
This is an unsolicited endorsement. These guys did not pay me a penny to write this.
by Franz Fuls
of beginners, fast rivers dislocated shoulders and remote first aid
When winter hits the Southern hemisphere South African kayakers have limited options. As rivers run lower the only reliable options that remain are a lowish Sabie river, a road trip to the Cape Province’s frigid waters or the Ash river in the Eastern Free State.
The past weekend a mixed bag of six paddlers of varying skill level assembled to run the Ash. I was there. Frank Duvenage, with the most previous runs automatically became our trip leader. Sheena became a strong paddler in her illustrious six months long kayaking career. Kobus and Marlies recently returned from an Ecuador honeymoon that included a week of guided kayaking. Egon brought the raw beginner component into the mix, but what he lacks in skill he makes up with unwincing determination. Continue Reading »