Creek boating involves subtle movements and techniques. Although the result consists of flying over rocks and falling off waterfalls, the ingredients are sound techniques that accumulate to create a dynamic experience. The technique that I will try to teach is how to charge through eddies, using them to navigate down river, without slowing down or eddying out. I will even go on to say that in this brief moment while going against the grain your boat is almost surfing on top of the current. Therefore surfing techniques can be used to navigate a creek boat.
When I started paddling in the late 90’s playboating was in. I spent most of my first years in a boat cartwheeling and stern squirting able to move anywhere I wanted forcing my way. But when I hoped in a creek boat, I couldn’t just go wherever. It was quite the opposite. I was at the mercy of this big, long boat that reacted to every current. Although creek boats boof well, are stable, or safe with lots of volume, they can be a trial to paddle because all the volume and length that is beneficial to creeking can also be hard to control and dial in. And every creek boat is different. So I hope to teach some techniques to help paddle down river without veering out of control.
Imagine you are paddling down a sweet rapid hitting boofs and turning left and right dodging rocks but suddenly an eddy or even a patch of slow moving current comes at you grabbing your boat sending it where you don’t want to go. Or maybe a move consists of hitting this eddy or some other opposing current and gliding over it. All the current that you are riding, that your boat is part of is easy to handle, you just paddle normally. But once your boat hits the opposing current it can fly out of control grabbing your bow and quickly take hold.
Firstly you need to be able to read water to know when these currents are coming. If this is not obvious then the techniques I am about to teach will be hard to implement. But basically when your boat collides with the opposing current it has the ability to carve in it, glide on top of it, and ride it much like you would surf a wave! Surfing is riding an opposing current. You use a whole different set of strokes while surfing, mainly ruddering, while opening and closing your blade doing draw strokes simultaneously switching your edges to carve (see the video for a visual). This technique is not entirely describable but can be learned quite easily by charging as hard as you can into the biggest eddy you can find and simply keeping your boat straight and gliding on top of it. It actually feels like you are accelerating as the current goes rushing under you hull.
You can practice carving your boat, putting it on edge to travel left or right. Typically putting the boat on the left edge and ruddering your left blade will move you left and putting it on the right while ruddering your right blade will move you right. You can also use draw strokes as you hold your edge to move more aggressively from side to side. As you carve through the eddy it will start to slow you down but by this point you are hopefully through it heading in the desired direction. If you were to hit an opposing current that is coming at you with a lot of speed, try to carve through it and glide on top of it until you are part of that current able to continue paddling down. It is best to hit these currents with speed leaning back slightly to keep the bow up taking them head on and taking control.
Boofing over a hole can produce the same situation. Once you boof over the hole you are riding the opposing current that is being sucked back upstream. You will have a brief moment of planning out over this current. A quick rudder in-between strokes can send you gliding down the river in style. As you land the boof, take the landing stroke and then hold your rudder opening and closing the blade in the water using your wrists to steer the boat in the desired direction. I find keeping my Wave Sport Recon on edge in the direction I am going actually makes me go faster.
Some folks might ask why I don’t just keep paddling through all these eddies instead of ruddering and gliding? I certainly do paddle through eddies throwing in sweep strokes to overcome the currents or even taking forward strokes while ruddering to keep my speed. But the the determining factor is many creek boats can’t hold that much speed. Paddling hard against the opposing water will cause the boat to veer out of control even more. And I like to conserve my energy and spend my time turning and maneuvering looking smooth rather than powering my way down river. So, smooth, stealthy strokes that conserve energy allowing me to glide around makes for a more enjoyable day on the water.
Trying these skills in class 2 and 3 finding every little spot to practice will make a huge difference when you step it up to class 5. I encourage everyone to paddle well within their limits to attain the skills and muscle memory to take on harder whitewater. And building up a repertoire of basic skills that can be practiced in easy whitewater or even flat water will ensure a strong and safe paddling style on the gnar. I hope this helps and has made you more conscientious. See you on the river!
By: Shane Groves