Monday, December 24, 2012

Can You Boat Scout?

Midge boofing like a banshee on the Oyacachi
Introduction to Creeking—the importance of boat scouting skills. 

Boat scouting—figuring out a rapid from in your boat rather than getting out on shore to actually scout—is a highly over-looked, but all important kayaking skill.

If you are in a group on a new river that no one knows, it can be crucial to the success of your day that the crew is good at boat scouting.

Take Ecuador’s Upper Jondachi for example.   It’s only 10km long (6 miles) but is jam-packed with rapids.  Most of the rapids are boat scoutable for the skilled boat scouter.  On average, this run takes groups where no one knows the run 3-5 hours.  If you weren’t confident at boat scouting, you would literally be getting out of your boat 70+ times on this run and it would take you days to finish.

But learning the difference between being good at boat scouting, and being reckless and foolishly charging downstream is just as important, if not more so!
Don taking in a little jungle scenery at the take out
It’s a common complaint that people can’t practice boat scouting because they are always running the rivers with someone who knows them well.

But this just isn’t true!  Rene, Keith, Steve, Midge and Matt got in some awesome boat scouting practice on their Intro to Creeking IV- course in Ecuador this past week.

You can always practice any skill on any river whether it’s boofing on a big volume run (off the tops of waves), hole escape techniques on low volume runs, or boat scouting on a river that you or your friends already know.
 Steve boat scouting his way down the Oyacachi wondering to himself, "what IS wrong with just fun?"
Here are Small World Adventure’s top tips for boat scouters:

1.)    Always see your next eddy and know you can catch it!  This is a perfect skill to practice on a known run.  Go for really dodgy eddies on a run where you know there won’t be consequences if you don’t catch it.  Find your personal limit on catching small and/or sketchy eddies on a run where it won’t matter if you fail to catch the eddy.  Then, when you are in a “real life boat scouting” situation where it really might matter if you don’t catch the last eddy above a drop, you’ll have a better understanding of your own skills and tolerance for risky eddies.
Rene enjoying a sunny day on the Cosanga River, weaving his way through the massive boulders of Chibolo rapid

2.)    Be prepared to be the decider.  Once you are in that eddy, have the confidence to make the right call.  You usually can’t confer with your boating buddies, so you need to make the decision for yourself and for the group.  Is it time to scout because you can’t see enough to safely run the rapid?  Can you see 90% of the rapid and guess at the rest based on what the water is doing?  Is there spray coming up because of a rock in the landing?  Can you deduce where the tongue might be based on where you see outflow?   
 Sunset over the bustling city of Tena where we spend 2 nights on each trip.  The Llanganate Mountains add the perfect back drop for this adventuresome town.

  3.) Don’t leave anything to “luck.”  Some things you want to be sure of when boat scouting: Am I sure there are no logs in this drop?  Can I safely make it to the bottom of the rapid?  Will the rest of my team safely make it without scouting?  Is there an eddy at the bottom of the rapid that I can catch?

  4.)  Communicate!  Once you’ve run the rapid you are boat scouting be sure to communicate with the people behind you.  Don’t make them repeat all the same boat scouting steps that you’ve just taken—this won’t save anyone any time or energy.  Give them feedback, tell them it’s ok, or tweak the line if you didn’t like yours.
  The Jefe doing what he does best--playing on the river!

  5.)  Patience and support from your team make for successful boat scouting.  If you are the 2nd boater, don’t pressure the lead boater out of their eddy.  Make sure you are close enough to see them, so that you can see the line and help if they get in trouble, but not so close that you are pressuring them to go faster than they might like, or leave their last eddy before they are ready.

Keith enjoying the sunshine and clear water on the Piatua

   6.)  Back up is key.  As the 2nd boater, your main job is watching and supporting the lead boater.   If the lead boat has gone into an eddy where no solo escape is possible it’s imperative that your last eddy have an escape route (easy access to shore) so that you can scout for the lead boater or extract them from their inescapable eddy if need be.  (On a side note, it’s not usually a good idea as the lead boater to go into an eddy where you can’t easily get out and scout.  It does sometimes happen though and your 2nd boater needs to be able to support you if this happens).
Keith and Midge measure Steve's "Monkey Factor" to find how well he'll be able to use those long arms to catch sketchy eddies...

  7.)  Work as a team!  As the 2nd boater, communicate the beta that you and the lead boater are finding back to the rest of the team.  You are looking for a quick and safe flow on the river.  If each individual is having to boat scout for themselves, that won’t be of any use to the group.  Take turns leading, communicate well, always be in line of sight with the person in front of and behind you to facilitate a nice flow of information.
Matt entering the last rapid on the Oyacachi
    8.)  When in doubt, scout.  If you ever have any doubts or misgivings whatsoever, get out and scout!  Even though it will take extra time, it is worth it.  Even if your kayaking friends think you are a “dork,” it’s worth it.  I think very few people have regretted getting out of their boats to scout, but many have regretted not scouting.  

 Shopping for lunch supplies in the Tena market. 
In our Intro to Creeking Course the 2nd week of December, we had ample time to practice boat-scouting, communication, decision-making and sketchy-eddy-catching.  These are all skills you should work on on a regular basis.  Even if you think you’ll never have the occasion to be the lead boater scouter, all the skills are still worth while.  And, it could help make your home stretch that you are bored of exciting again!

If you need new runs to come boat scout, come on down and see us in Ecuador!   It’s the perfect training ground.
Liam and Midge enjoying a gin and tonic on the porch after 4 successful weeks of paddling in Ecuador with SWA.  Way to go Midge!

Thanks Chris Emerick for the great photos

Monday, December 17, 2012

Patch's World Tour comes to Ecuador!

Commuting to the river, Ecuador style

December found us boating with Patch, Midge and Derek on one of our "Torrents" trips.  We name these trips after the rapid-loving Torrent ducks that frequent the same rivers we do.  They have an unfair advantage when in comes to boofing - the wing assist.  But we try to keep up with them as best we can.  It sure must be nice to be able to fly away if you decide you don't like your line.

Patch enjoying the sunshine on the Oyacachi

Patch took a little extended time off work to get in some serious traveling and boating.  Last week he joined fellow Brit (and fellow extended vacationer) Midge, and Derek for a week of tropical kayaking. (Derek is American, and was the short timer on this trip - only one week of vacation!)

It's been a good couple of months to be Patch.  He's just about halfway through his "World Tour," and getting in his share of great kayaking.  He just came from Nepal, and he stopped in at Small World Adventures and Ecuador on his way to Chile.  Ecuador should be on everyone's list of "must go" countries.  Great paddling, warm weather, friendly people, jungles and monkeys oh my.  While the jury is still out, I'm pretty sure Patch is going to rate Ecuador up there near the top of his list of favorite kayaking destinations.  I know it's on the very top of my list.

Midge heads downstream for another day of paddling

Midge also has some enviable vacation time.  In exchange for agreeing to check in with the home office via email, he gets to be in Ecuador for a whole month!  He's been boating six days a week, and I think maybe even has looked forward to the occasional "office day" to rest up a bit after all the paddling he's been doing.

Derek on the Oyacachi

Derek on the other hand was here enjoying a more typical vacation - one week.  But that still gave him time to get on five different rivers and seven different sections before heading back home.

Derek, last rapid of the Oyacachi

The three of them joined Darcy and myself for a week of fun and sun.  We had great weather, good water and good times.

As usual we spent part of the week at our lodge on the Quijos river, and part of the week on the rivers around Tena.

Darcy gets ready to uncork a Sweet boof

On the Piatua we ran in to the ultimate vacationer.  An American who came to Ecuador to study Spanish and stayed - for 22 years so far.  He and his wife have built a house up near the put in to the Piatua.  It's an awesome location, but no wi-fi so Midge couldn't stay there.  Also no refrigerator, so I guess I couldn't stay there either.  (I have an arrangement with my work that I get to have a cold beer every day...)

Amongst the boulders on the Piatua

Even if cold beer does get to the Piatua, I still like coming back to our lodge.  The climate around our place is just a bit friendlier.  I like to go visit the heat, but it's great to come back to our place and enjoy a cool evening on the porch.

Don heads towards a fern wall on the Jondachi

Christmas is just around the corner, and here I am talking about enjoying cool evenings and beers on the porch.  If you're tired of the cold and snow, and want a taste of warm tropical boating, come on down.  Stay for a week, stay for a month, heck maybe stay for 22 years.  We'll keep a beer in the fridge and a boof on the river for you.

The boys, wishing you were here

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Zen and the art of boofing

 Steve grooving on a new boof on the Lower Cosanga--day 1, nice warm up eh?

Good news fans, guest writer Liam is back in action!  Check out what he has to say about the best week of kayaking he's had in Ecuador so far!  Liam, the floor is all yours:

 Liam leads Steve and Anders through one of many (too many to count really) rapids on the Upper Jondachi.  Nice ferns on the wall behind them!

A round up of our advanced creeking clinic interjected with some of my personal, inane and sometimes inconclusive thoughts about improving your boating.

 Anders getting jiggy with the "Best Boof in the World"

Last week we were in safe hands with Steve the Doctor and Anders the Paramedic joining us for a week of advanced creeking clinic.

Both Steve and Anders had kayaked with us in Ecuador before and both were fit, confident kayakers. So we needed something special to keep them on their toes. So the day before our new group arrived Captain Darcy cracked open a beer, busted out her note pad, carefully re-organized her highlighters and concocted the ultimate seven day dream itinerary for the advanced boater.

Just writing this list makes my boof muscles ache.

***Warning reading this may result in severe jealousy, side effects include drooling and impromptu air ticket purchases***

Day 1.) Lower Cosanga
Day 2.) Oyacachi from the upper most get on
Day 3.)  The Upper Jondachi
Day 4.) The Piatua
Day 5.) The Cheesehouse section of the Quijos.
Day 6.) The Upper Jondachi.
Day 7.) Bridge to bridge on the Quijos.

 Liam--aka "Jungle Superman"--getting up close and personal with Ecuador's jungle

 I get a real kick from watching people's learning styles. In my opinion Steve and Anders had different approaches to reading rapids and learning. It was good fun to watch them and they were great people to be on the river with.

After a boof or punching a hole I would often see Steve re-enacting the movements in the eddy or gentle flow below. Especially when seeing someone else uncork a good boof Steve would often immediately imitate the actions, training his body.

 Our little chameleon friend from Tena

Every time Steve nailed a boof one he'd be grinning before the boat landed. Those moments came more and more as the week went on. In Particular I remember the last rapid on the bridge to bridge section on the final day. I watched Steve take of with perfect technique and just boof the crap out "Esquina."  It was awesome to watch, and with that in mind I over thought the boof, waited too long for my stroke, did absolutely nothing and slid over the edge like an overweight penguin.

Luckily I was the sweep boat and no one saw how ungraceful it really was.

Liam crushing "P-Cubed" on the Cheesehouse section of the Quijos

 I really believe that over thinking rapids or boofs, etc can be detrimental to the outcome.  However, the other end of the spectrum is that the paddlers' performance suffers due to not looking at the water ahead of them or a lack of visualization when scouting. They miss key strokes and get disorientated as all their attention is on reacting to the immediate. Somewhere there is a happy medium and your strokes will become fluid, effortless, focused. In short, you'll be in the 'zone.'

 Steve looking small amongst the Jondachi's giant boulders as he exits Aphrodesia

Anders is a very solid kayaker and, from what I can guess, a shit hot skier. (I understand more Ancient Latin Than I did of his ski terminology) and his approach to improving was a much more subtle to watch and I imagine he was not consciously trying to improve. But, alas, of course he did. 

If Anders didn't quite nail a drop I saw the quickest flash of him assessing what just happened and then carry on. That moment's reflection was him quickly assessing what just happened and how to improve on that. Years of skiing have allowed him to become very aware of how to make his muscles do what he wants. (kinesthetic awareness).  Anders has a pool of knowledge gained from skiing he can draw from to improve his paddling. Those who practice yoga, Pilates, gymnastics, downhill biking, surfing as well as paddle will often be able to improve themselves by making analogies from other experiences in sport.

I really hope this is true because maybe my experience in kayaking will prevent me from being terrible when I try skiing.

 Steve and Anders running some "stout boggie water" on the Oyacachi

 The great thing about this job is that I constantly get to improve my paddling. In fact it's one of the great things about this sport. You can always look to improve your performance even on your local run.

It is also a sport that is relatively friendly on the body allowing a long time to improve and hit your peak. It doesn't rely completely on physical fitness but much of what makes a good paddler is technique and experience.  I'm 26 now and I hope to be a whole lot better than this in my mid thirties. I might not be paddling as hard stuff when I'm 56 but I reckon I'll make a lot less mistakes.

  Anders, basking in the glory of having just styled 3 Huevos on the Upper Jondachi

I do make a constant effort  to improve. It's not just down to time in a boat; it's a mixture of time in a boat and constantly giving myself new tasks and reflecting back on what worked etc. This is often referred to as varied practice.

A recent example of this is; I tried to run the Piatua this trip with no reverse strokes. Reverse strokes aren't necessarily bad but by giving myself this tasking made re-think my paddling and try new things.

Steve, maintaining his focus.  He's 1/2 km into a 10 km run and knows he needs to save some energy and mental powers for what lays ahead
Let's sum this up by destroying a cliche.

                                              Practice makes perfect.

Unfortunately this isn't true 'practice makes permanent' is a more accurate phrase. For example if you keep trying to boof with a bad forward stroke and leaning right back then your going to keep getting the same poor results and unfortunately every time your making it hard wiring it in to your muscle memory and in the long term making it harder to learn proper technique.

 A common scenario in paddling is when you meet someone who says they are class three paddler, you join them on a class three paddle and they are all over the place.  Speaking later they inform you "I don't  know whats going on, I paddle my local class three all the time." In short they know how to paddle that particular class three run but they are not a class three paddler.

 Liam signing "boof baby boof" all the way down 3 Huevos

Variety is a great tool to help improve yourself as a paddler. Try new things, new strokes, new boats, new lines, new paddling buddies, new roles in the group and new rivers.

Well that's quite enough from me, would love to know your thoughts, time to go paddling!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Kayaking = The Melting Pot Sport!

David documents the situation as Nick and Pam paddle a 5-year-old around the take out of the Jatunyacu.  A few other kids commandeered kayaks and were out on their own.  But then all hell broke lose as the Pyranha kayak carrying 3 (Pam, Nick, young child) capsized.  The funny thing, the 5-year-old swam the Large Burn to shore while Pam and Nick saved themselves!  Ok, ok, it didn't quite go down like that; but, to the observer, that's how it looked!  It was pretty awesome.

The 3rd week of November brought us paddlers with levels, personalities and backgrounds spanning all across the board! 

Don and Greg led a Mucha Agua trip (IV+/V-) with Nathan and Jeff; Larry and Tarquino had a Class III+ trip with Nick, Cliff, Sharron and David; and Darcy and Liam had a Tropical Tune up Class II/III trip with Pam and Ken.

Liam leading Pam through Pica Piedra, a solid Class III+ drop on the Rio Quijos.  This was the site of Pam's 2nd successful combat roll of the day AND of her kayaking career--you rock Pam!

This week was a fun reminder of kayaking’s ability to bring together people who otherwise would have no reason to gravitate towards each other.  The sport of kayaking is made up of an amazingly eclectic group of people; and it’s always been fun for me to sit back and think, “wow, I can’t imagine another situation where I would be throwing horse-shoes with a top level New York banker in the middle of the jungles of Ecuador…”

Left to right--Pam, Nick, Greg, Lucho, Liam, Jeff, Nathan and all the kids in Borja!  We had a sweet futbol (soccer) match up in Borja.  Tons of local kids came out to play and we split up the gringos and the kids and had a solid match!

Throughout various times in my life, I’ve been a member of the climbing community, ice climbing community, skiing community, and mountain biking community, but none of these, in my opinion, even comes close kayaking in terms of a true hodge podge of people!

Jeff gets control of the ball, but Cliff is hot on his tail.  Cliff scored 2 goals in the game after sand-bagging us all afternoon telling us he couldn't play soccer...

How odd can it really be you may ask?   Try this one: when else could you imagine a 23-year-old aspiring pharmacist from Wyoming and a 61-year-old P.A. at the University of West Virginia giggling together as they ride a crazy water slide at the “rolling pool” in the middle of Ecuadorian rainforest?   All this while the taxi driver is taking photos and nearly peeing his pants as he is laughing so hard at the crazy gringos screaming their way down the slide.

Liam leading Ken through the Class II+ rapids below Pica Piedra on the Quijos.  Ken ripped it up in Ecuador.  He came to Ecuador as a total beginner kayaker, paddled 7 days in a row, ran some sweet rivers and rolled like a banchi in the pools of El Chaco and Tena.  Great work Ken!

This same 61 year old had left the United States for the 1st time to go kayaking in South America—this sport really does drive people to do crazy things!

Then we have the London police officer fraternizing with a real estate agent from Montana and the list goes on and on...

Nathan and Jeff en route to an incredible day on the Oyacachi

The point, though, is that kayaking, aside from being a great and fun sport, also gives us opportunities in life that I don’t think we would otherwise have.  I’ve made very interesting, but certainly life-long connections with people through this sport that I know wouldn’t have happened in "normal life situations."

Los Yutzos pool, Tena, Ecuador--Napo Province.  This pool is "the shit"!   When you get tired of rolling, go for an exhilarating ride down the slide!  Sharron leads the way with Pam close behind on this ride.  Luckily Liam is setting shore safety and Darcy is in the water in case "live bait" is needed.

Kayaking really is a great equalizer in the sense that it allows people to forget about cultural norms (yeah, dropping trou (pants) in the middle of the street, no big deal), social stipulations (yes, it’s ok for a Ferrari-owning Republican to have a drink with a dirt bag democrat kayak guide and play with a plastic cow), and just let their inhibitions drop for the time they are on their kayaking holiday.

Don enjoying a little scenery on the Upper Jondachi.  Even though Don and the whitewater look crappy in this photo, I had to include it because the fern wall in the background looks so amazing.  The Jondachi truly is a beautiful river.  People always focus on how kick ass the whitewater is (which it is), but the jungle is darn purdy there too.

It’s incredibly fun to watch this happen, watch odd relationships being forged, and just watching people have a good time together.

The ultimate shuttle vehicle!

Ok, this one is really unparalleled anywhere in the world, in any universe--hands down, no arguing!  1 oil engineer, one chemical engineer, 1 life-long dirt bag kayak guide, and 1 18-year-old Ecuadorian aspiring kayak guide all riding on a gigantic mobile caterpillar with kayaks, in full kayaking gear, down the streets of Ecuador.  Now tell me, it just doesn't get any better than this, does it?  (well, ok, maybe it gets better--they could have served beer on the bug--but it certainly doesn't get anymore unique)

It has a cute butt too

Because, as different as our backgrounds may be, most of us can agree upon Don’s thought—“What’s Wrong With Just Fun?”

Leaf cutter ants on the trail to Pimpilala waterfall

So the moral of this blog?  Grab a kayak, hit the river and see what kind unique, life-lasting, yet totally off the wall relationships you can build!

Monkeying around at Puerto Misahualli