Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Edging in Ecuador

Mike styling this boof slot on the Upper Tena.  After 3 days of big water paddling, Mike was stoked to get on some technical runs.  It made him feel much more at home!

Learning to kayak in Ecuador!

Many people have the misconception that Ecuador is for advanced kayakers only.

It’s true that Ecuador has an amazingly high number of world Class IV-V runs packed into a tiny area; but what people often overlook are equally incredible Class II and III runs that the country also has to offer.

The group enjoying some sunshine and awesome jungle scenery on the Upper Misahualli

For the December 10th week we had a group of 5 aspiring kayakers come to Ecuador to hone their Class II skills and break into the Class III realm of kayaking.

We worked on a wide variety of skills this week but Tarquino and I both decided that learning how to edge successfully and practicing this skill in a variety of river situations is probably the most important skill to for an up an coming Class III boater to work on (that and combat rolling of course!  For more on the combat roll, check out our Nov. 26th blog

Some very impressive fungus growing on an old log along the banks of the Rio Tena.  The jungle is an amazing place that never ceases to amaze me

Why is edging important?  Well, you need to have good control of your edges for pretty much everything you do in kayaking—peeling into and out of eddies, surfing waves, moving your boat from point a to point b in any given rapid, boofing and much more.

In the Class II/III stage of kayaking, gaining control over your edge is quite a difficult thing to do, but with practice, the skill will start to feel more and more natural until, eventually, you won’t even realize you are doing it anymore.
Linda learning how to surf on the "perfect practice waves" on the Middle Misahualli while Tarquino coaches from the eddy

First let’s start with the definition of edging…it’s pretty simple, it just means getting your boat on edge and maintaining this edge.  Once you are on edge, you release 20-80% (depending upon just how much you get on edge!) of the hull’s surface area connection with the water, therefore making a myriad of kayaking moves easier.

To achieve an edge, start by weighting 1 butt cheek, pulling up on the opposite knee and more or less doing a sideways sit up--AKA the side crunch.  Most new kayakers won’t have the strength for good edging, so it’s important to do these practice skills to build up those obliques to allow you edge better and more effectively in the river—edging will give you those abs you’ve always wanted!  Actually doing side crunches at home will help you build the necessary muscles for edging in the river so as soon as you are finished reading this blog, hit the floor mat and do some sit ups! 

John acts as life guard while some kids who were on a field trip from school try their hand at kayaking

To get the hang of edging, you need to start simply—just practice edging in the eddies.  Edge to your left.  Now hold it and see if you can balance.  Take you paddle out of the water and find your balance point, try to hold it for 5 seconds.  Now to the other side because you want to be comfortable on both edges!

Happy kids after having hijacked the kayaks!   These kids were awesome--what, paddle around the Project 45 with 2 of my bigger friends sitting on it?  No problem!

Practice holding the edge for 5 seconds to start, then build up to 10 and even 20 seconds.  Once you can comfortably do this in the eddy and it’s not causing the “ab burn” so much anymore, put it into practice in moving water.

Apply that same edge as you peel out of the eddy into the current. 

Kathy practicing her paddle stroke timing through one of Ecuador's many awesome wave trains

Find an easy Class II rapid and practice shifting from edge to edge as you go down the rapid.    In this same easy rapid, start on the left side of the rapid and make a move to the right side.  For this move, you’ll want to get on your left edge, take a sweep stroke on the left to turn your kayak towards the right (where you want to go) and now take some forward strokes while maintaining that left edge until you reach your destination on river right.   Find a technical river with TONS of eddies.  Peel into and out of every eddy you possibly can over exaggerating your edge transfer.  This will help you build the strength, the balance, the muscle memory and the technique required for good edging.
John navigating the Misahualli's boulder garden rapids

Once you gain control over your edges and get good at “edging” you’ll find that you flip over less frequently and it’s all of a sudden so much easier to make those hard right to left cuts in the middle of a rapid.  It will be easier to catch eddies and peel out of eddies and you’ll find you can eventually start using little eddies behind rocks in technical runs to make your moves.   It will be easier to brace, and if it’s not clear by now, EVERYTHING about kayaking will be easier!

So get out there and work those edges!


Life ain't so bad so remember to enjoy it!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Week off in Ecuador. Pusuno trip report--plus the Rio Suno and few local favorites

 Don having a nice line down the Pusuno falls

Weeks off are very few and far between for us down in Ecuador these days.   For the 2011/2012 season we have exactly ONE week off which happened in the beginning of December.  So, we knew we had to take full advantage of it and enjoy our free time while we could!

 Don lending a little perspective to the low water on the Rio Pusuno.  At an ideal flow, you would be able to boof off that giant block of rock in the center of the photo in between the slot on river right and the trickle of water on river left!

We all love guiding and showing people down the rivers of Ecuador, and we all love kayaking.  People asked us if we were going to sleep in and relax and catch up with office work on our week off and we said, hell no!  We are going boating!

And that’s what we did.

Darcy on the lead in rapid above the falls.  Had this drop been anywhere else we wouldn't have even batted an eye; but since it was about 30 feet above the lip of the falls it was a little nerve wracking.  The left shore was totally undercut and the right shore and a mini sieve and log in it.  Middle was the place to be!  Luckily it was pretty easy to get there.

Don and I started the week off with a trip down the Pusuno River near Tena.   We have been skunked so many times before on this run and we were feeling lucky as we left Borja in the early morning hours and drove to the put in.  Our sense of luck was false it would turn out and we arrived to the put in to find really low water despite recent rains.  But it’s a darn long drive to the put in and we’d been turned away 3 times in the last 2 years and so we decided to just go for it.   We thought it would be an interesting experiment to see how the river was at a silly low flow.

Darcy on the Pusuno Falls.  Don got a cool, funky angle by laying on top of the ledge above the falls.

We had to walk most of the drops leading up to the waterfall.   Someone who didn’t mind boat abuse could have run 1 extra which was about a 15 foot drop where you boofed the 1st five feet, landed on a shelf of rock and then could slide the rest of the way down.  The big waterfall itself was great, although it didn’t exactly feel great upon impact!   The waterfall plunges roughly 40 feet into a beautiful amphitheater of rock.  The Pusuno rock is much different than most of the other rivers in this area.  It’s a layered limestone canyon—very tight and in tact above the falls and very shattered below the falls.   Once you leave the plunge pool (you’ll want to hang out there for a little while as it’s a really special place) you’ll find yourself in a land of sieves.

 The happy couple below the falls...ok, well somewhat happy couple.  I was a little peeved at Don because his job was to bring the water and he forgot.  I was wearing a drytop in the tropics (my fault, I know) and we had about 4 ounces of Gatorade between the 2 of us.   I'd like to think it was my dehydration making me cranky...and it's not just that I'm a biaaaatch!

In the lower section of the run, big hunks of this limestone have fractured off the towering walls and landed in the river.  The lower river bed is made up of pieces of broken off rock ranging in size from a small dorm-room refrigerator to a large house.   It makes for some really cool rapids, but it also creates an incredible number of sieves.  My advice for this section would be, boat scout with the utmost caution!  If you can’t see the exit, it’s probably because there isn’t one!

 This is the rapid directly below the falls and is indicative of things to come for the next 5 or so miles.

All and all the lower section was much better than we were anticipating with the low water.  Don only portaged 3 times and I portaged 4.  Again, someone willing to take more boat abuse could have run 1 more rapid.  2 of the rapids had zero water flowing above ground for the exits.

Sorry the shot is blurry but it's one of the only ones from the lower Pusuno.  This was a sweet boof around one of the many giant boulders.  When we weren't portaging sieves, there were some quality drops on this section of the river.

Next we were off to meet up with Larry to check out the Suno River near Loreto.  I’d never been to Loreto before (never been past the Huaturacu River on the Tena-Loreto-Coca road) and so just seeing the new area was exciting!  People have paddled the Suno before but it is unclear which sections have been run.  We spent a lot of time asking around Loreto about access roads and such and then finally found the right guy who pointed us towards El Progreso (an ironically named town) and the end of the road that goes up river left.

 Exploring is hard work!  Larry and Rodrigo take a rest on a well-placed bench overlooking the Suno
The road follows the river, but in the upper sections it follows the river from thousands of feet up.  We made our way to the end of the road where we met a nice family who said we could use their trail down to the river.  The woman said it only takes her 15 minutes to get down to the river.  She took one look at us and said maybe 20 for you.  After 40 minutes, we reached the river!  And we are no slouches when it comes to carrying our kayaks around.  But, we were still no match for the Ecuadorian mom in her gum boots!  It was an awesome jungle trail complete with Guans (a beautiful wild turkey-like bird), steep muddy walking and a cool forest experience.

Larry, immersed in the jungle on the way down to the Suno

The family who lived where we hiked in said they’d never seen any kayakers before.  I think the road is newly finished to their place so that would make sense.  If you are reading this and have paddled the Suno before, please post a comment on your access points, etc…we’d love to find out more info on this place!   We only paddled the upper section so are interested in how the lower run is.

The 3 amigos on the shores of the Suno after the hike in.  I'm lucky to work with, live with and be best friends with these guys.  Good company is part of what makes my Ecuador experience so special!

The run wasn’t overly challenging, I’d say it is Class III+ with a little IV- and all boat scoutable.  The special part about the run was how incredible the scenery was.  There were huge trees along the river banks and pristine rainforest as far as you could see.  Loreto is very out of the way to pretty much anything, but if you are in Ecuador for a long time and want to see a new part of the country, it’s worth the trek.  You can bus to Loreto then find a local taxi driver to take you up river left to El Progreso then beyond to the end of the road.  Start hiking here!

Larry cruising through a typical rapid on the Suno River

After the Suno, we headed back to the Quijos where we woke up to find our home river at 8 on the gauge.  We all hopped in at the lodge and paddled the Borja Run, El Chaco Canyon, Bom Bon Canyon and all the way down through Gringos Revueltos and the Lower Quijos.  El Torro rapid was HUGE and really fun!  Sorry, no photos...we didn't get out of our boats once in the 24 miles from our lodge through the Lower Quijos!

Larry and Don relaxing on the streets of Loreto, drinking a beer and guarding the maxi pad section of the store.

With the exception of 2 weeks so far this season, we’ve had lots of rain and really awesome water levels.   While all this water trumped some of our plans for exploration this week, it made for some other fun times around our home rivers.

Local Chiva bus.  By far the best way to travel around the hot areas of Ecuador!

Giving up on the runs we wanted to do if we had low water, we headed a bit north to enjoy the high water on our local rivers. 
 Bird at the take out of the Suno.  It's not a Guan, but somewhat similar...
It was a great week off!  Tiring, but refreshing at the same time.
Now we are ready for the big push—working everyday from now until March 5th

 Beautiful sky and clouds after a major rainstorm

It’s going to be great!  We can’t wait to introduce Ecuador’s amazing rivers to all these new boaters—including, perhaps, a couple new discoveries from our week off…

Don, having a little fun at the take out
--Kawabunga baby!

Visiting Ecuador is about a lot more than just the boating.  It's about seeing different things that we don't typically get to see in North America or Europe like a truck overloaded with plantains slowing chugging down the road

Don Beveridge soaking in the fact that he is a kayaker who lives in Ecuador, gets to see amazing places on a daily basis, and has a really great life

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Ever Important but Often Elusive Combat Roll

Maren walking down the river trail in front of Small World Adventure's lodge to paddle the Pica Piedra section on the Rio Qujos

Combat Rolling—the mental game. 

The combat roll to a kayaker, is the like dribble to a basketball player.  It should be instinctual, reactionary, a thoughtless process.

Michael Jordan never worried out on the court if he pushed the ball to the floor, would it bounce back up?  Would he hit it off his shoe, or trip and fall?   Sure, any of these things could theoretically happen, but I’d be willing to bet he was never concerned about any them during a game!

Once you find this Michael-Jordan-Zen with your combat roll, your skills will progress in a way you never imagined could be possible.

Gunnar blasting out of one of the large waves in the rapid just out in front of SWA's lodge

Your kayaking life will improve greatly once you no longer spend every minute on the river worrying, “will I tip over?”  Or saying, “Be careful, don’t hit that wave, you might flip”  “all my friends are learning to surf, but I shouldn’t try, I’ll flip.” 

Once these thoughts no longer pervade your thinking your kayaking will explode in a series of awesome breakthroughs and cause you to have a hell of lot more fun out there on the river!

 The crew enjoying a blue bird day on the Upper Misahualli

So, how does one master the combat roll?  It’s a very individual question and takes different training and different periods of time for everyone, so the number one thing is to not get frustrated with yourself.  This is very hard to do, but don’t beat yourself up.  You won’t gain anything from that.  So what if Jenny got her roll before you did, that doesn’t matter.  What’s important is that you eventually master the skill, and if you keep working at it you will.

 A cool perspective of Milling in the chaotic river waters

One mistake that most kayakers make is to learn the basics of a roll, maybe get a shaky one or two in the pool and then head to the river.  It’s natural; we are kayakers, we want to go down river, not to sit in some boring pool!  But, if you have a crappy pool roll, how do you ever expect to get a roll in the river when currents are doing strange things to you and you’re nervous because there might be rocks or big waves or holes coming?

So the number one thing to do is get a SOLID, BOMBER, AWESOME pool roll down.  It’s a safe, controlled environment so you need to take the time to hone in your technique here—not on the chaotic, uncontrolled river. 

Dropping into Lower El Chaco Canyon--enjoying a little scenery before hitting the rapids

I didn’t have the 1st clue about rolling for the first 3 months of my kayaking career.  I swam so much that I became an expert at pulling all my gear and my crushed ego out of the water.  But, finally, I got really sick of swimming, sick of holding up the group, sick of being afraid to try things, that I said I wasn’t going to kayak down a river again until I could roll.  I went to the pool and learned my on-side roll.  Then I learned my off-side roll, then I learned a hand roll on both sides.  I’d do 25 rolls in a row on each side because that tired me out and I felt like maybe it began to simulate a river experience.  Once I was so bored with my pool roll and felt confident because I never missed anymore, I went back to the river.  

 Some local school girls from Cotundo checking out the kayaks and posing for photos

I didn’t swim after that (well, I swam a LOT less often).  I could tip over in rapids, in surf waves, in holes and I rolled up!  It was the most liberating feeling I could have imagined.  In a matter of months, I went from “that girl that swims everything” to a respectable kayaker all because I could now push myself without the fear that tipping over = swimming.  I began to surf waves, play in holes, try harder lines in the rapids, try harder rivers and it was such an amazing feeling—I’d recommend it to anyone!

 Dee taking advantage of the warm weather to paddle in just her rash guard and PFD!

To get your solid pool roll you should:

--take a class from someone who really knows how to teach.  (someone who knows how to roll, is much different than someone who knows how to teach the roll)
--video yourself so you can see what you are doing right and what you need to work on
--spend more time than you think you need to in the pool

 Larry looks on as Claire and Gunnar contemplate surfing the "Thing"

But, having a solid, flawless, awesome pool roll doesn’t always translate into automatic combat rolling.  Getting over the fear of being upside down in a moving river is still a big hurdle.  But there are ways you can train yourself to overcome this fear.

A few things you can do:

--take that pool roll to the river eddies.  This is a nice and relatively controlled space, but it will feel different.  It’s probably colder than the pool, and you might feel some movement, so do tons of rolls in eddies.  Always be practicing every time you catch an eddy
--Flip over in moving water—not necessarily a rapid at first—just moving water and roll.
--Once you are comfortable, have your friends flip you over in moving water (when they know it’s deep)!  This will give you the “unexpected” feeling you’ll have when you accidentally tip over
--Find a small and deep rapid on your home river and purposely flip in it.  You’ll feel the different currents tugging at your body, your boat, your paddle.  Roll up; are you facing up river, down river?  Either way, be ready to paddle and prepare for what’s coming up next

 The group chilling on the banks of the Quijos enjoying a sunny lunch break.  From the left:  Tarquino, Claire, Maren, Larry, Gunnar, Kim--front row--Dee, Phil, Milling

Once you feel comfortable with everything here, you’ll be ready.  You’ll probably find at this point that combat rolling ain’t so bad after all.
But it all takes time, practice, and hard work.  It’s going to be boring, it’s going to be frustrating and it will piss you off.  But if you can persevere through all this, the reward will be well worth the suffering.


Ummm...I don't even know what to say

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Paddling New Rivers to Help your Progression from Class IV to Class V

 Joey picking his way through one of the many boulder gardens on the Lower Cosanga

We had a fired up crew of boaters last week, and they were a cool group to watch progress.  All of them had pretty strong Class IV skills and they are all pushing into the IV+ and even V realm.

One thing we thought about this week was how valuable it is to go out and see new rivers to really push your comfort zone without necessarily pushing your skills beyond their limits.

David showing off his boofing prowess on the Piatua River

To clarify a little bit:

What I am about to explain holds true for ALL kayakers.  For those going from Class III to IV, or even Class I up to Class II; but I think it’s especially important for kayakers who are making the transition from Class IV to Class V.  When you start talking about Class V, how you take that next step is extremely important and a decision that should be well thought out and planned.  It’s one thing to progress from running Class II to taking your 1st plunge into a Class III rapid.  It’s easy to find Class III rapids that are very safe.  So, what the hell, go for it!  If you mess up or swim, there is a good chance you’ll come through the experience relatively unscathed.
Darcy helping the boys pick out some very stylish soccer socks to give them a little protection from the ankle-biters (aka No-See-Ums) around Tena.  Luckily they settled it like gentlemen but I think the yellow pair was highly sought after!

But that is definitely not the case when you are talking about a Class V rapid.  The lines are hard to make and there are consequences—that is what defines Class V.  So, it’s not always easy (or safe) to take the plunge into Class V.  You want to make sure you are ready—both physically and mentally—for the challenge.

Craig making his way down the Upper Piatua.  This rapids offers all the challenge of a VERY low volume, technical creek, but with the push of a bigger river.

What we find can help a great deal is just to paddle a variety of different rivers in the Class IV and IV+ range.  In reality, it’s great to do laps on your local Class IV run to hone in your skills, but once you learn every line, every rock, every feature, you are no longer learning or pushing your skills in a very effective manner. 

Steve showing off said socks.  He even retro-fitted his pair so he could wear them with his flip flops and his Vibram "5 Finger" shoes.

So seek out new rivers!   You don’t have to come all the way to Ecuador to do that (although it is a great way to see a lot of new rivers in a short period of time).  Travel throughout your home state or your region and do as many new IV/IV+ runs as you possibly can.  Even if you are following people through these runs you will be amazed at how many new river features you can discover.  When people show you the lines, you still have to do the paddling for yourself and you’ll be completely immersed in the new character of the river.  If you aren’t following someone, you’ll have to work harder to read the water, read the currents, the features, and the geology.  Each time you do this, you’ll learn something and become a better, more experience paddler.

Wayne and Steve get to star in their own little "mini-video" segment.  Together they highlight some of the variety we got to hit up on this week of Class IV rivers.

I’ve paddled a lot of rivers in my 14 years of kayaking and no two are the same.  Each river—even each section of river—will have something new for you.  Whether it’s a differently shaped boof, crazy boils, reactionary waves, or waterfall with nice rolling take off, it’ll all be new.  And we can learn a lot by exposing ourselves to new things!

Doug punching holes in "Cease Fire" rapid on the Bridge to Bridge Section of the Quijos

This will help you really dial in your skills while paddling out of your comfort zone (not necessarily paddling beyond your skill level, just out of the “home” comfort zone).  It’s easy to turn your brain off on your home run—paddle to river left, punch a hole, boof right, eddy out.  It’s easy to get a run so dialed in that you no longer think or challenge yourself when you are paddling.  You can get lulled into a "cruising" state of kayaking; and the perfect way to knock yourself out of that is a change of scenery!

Giving the kayaks a rest while the kayakers eat lunch and enjoy a sunny day on the river.

The great thing about paddling on new rivers is that you really can test yourself without stepping it up a grade.  Again, when we are talking about the jump into the Class V realm, this is a much safer way to begin.

Kim navigating the big waves and technical moves of the Cosanga River

Once you’ve run tons of new rivers at different water levels and begin to feel more and more comfortable with the new things you’ve seen, then go back to that home run, look at some of the Class V drops and see if your perspective has changed.  If it no longer looks insurmountable and you can see the line and envision yourself styling it, well then, you are ready!
Darcy boofing her way through life down here in Ecuador

And remember to never push it until you truly are ready.   We all love kayaking because is is fun (remember SWA's motto, "What's Wrong With Just Fun") and if you are scared or are getting yourself into trouble, it is no longer fun.  So be safe out there, have fun, and go paddle some new runs!