Getting in to ‘eddy out’ – Low water levels point to learning opportunities for new kayakers
The drought isn’t good for much, but where there is water, kayakers are making the best of the low levels. Virtually every scheduled kayaking event in Summit County has been cancelled this season due to record low water levels in Ten Mile Creek and the Blue River, but there are still great opportunities for all levels of kayakers that are willing to drive for an hour or two.
In an average or above average snow year, rivers and kayak play parks would be raging this time of year. Although water levels are less than 15 percent of average after last winter’s scant snowpack, they are at their peak, and providing less intimidating learning opportunities for beginner kayakers.
“This is going to be a great year to learn to kayak,” said Chad Gorby, co-owner of Summit Kayak, local kayaking headquarters. “All those folks who have thought about it, been working up the nerve to finally go out and give it a shot, should take this opportunity. Going on the annual raft trip is probably going to be a little boring this year.”
If anything, the low water levels keep novice kayakers on their toes, or, paddle-ready to avoid obstacles exposed by shallow water.
Since picking the best line down the river is the crux of kayaking, learning to dodge extra obstacles without the fear of high, fast-moving water is a welcome introduction to the sport for many beginners, and a way to absolve newcomers of what many in the industry regard as the largest barrier to getting involved in kayaking.
“The biggest barrier for people to overcome in kayaking is the preconception that it’s dangerous, that it’s this super-extreme sport,” said kayak instructor Jim Levi. “In the old days, you had 15-foot-long boats that were hard to control. They were tippy, the cockpits were only a foot wide so they were very hard to get in and out of … it was extreme. It would be extreme to do a lot of the stuff they’re doing now in those types of boats. Kayaks are much stronger now, structurally stronger, and the cockpits are more comfortable to sit in and easier to get in and out of.”
As with any individual sport, alpine skiing, telemark skiing, biking or kayaking, recent technology in equipment has revolutionized the athlete’s capabilities. Ten years ago, “freestyle” didn’t mean much to athletes. No athlete would have thought he or she would see their successors do flips in the halfpipes on tele skis or do cartwheels in a river in a playboat.
Those in the kayaking industry will agree that the most groundbreaking alteration in boat technology was the introduction of the flat-bottomed kayak.
“The hull design is the largest difference in boats compared to the ones you saw seven or eight years ago,” said Franklin Crowe of Summit Kayak. “It’s like having a side cut in skis. Just like shaped skis revolutionized that sport, you’re really going to be able to take advantage of the flatter hull.”
Another popular misconception about kayaking is that it’s an expensive hobby requiring a ton of overpriced gear. Although new boats and other kayaking essentials – helmet, paddle, skirt, personal flotation device and wet suit – are made of lighter weight, specialized materials than those of the days of yore, gear has never been less expensive.
Colorado Kayak Supply (in Summit Kayak facility in Silverthorne) has a package including all the essentials and a new model Wave Sport boat (one of the first companies to introduce the flat hull) for $950. Plus, as regulars point out, once an individual has the gear, all that’s left to pay for is gas.
“You don’t have to buy a lift ticket, you don’t have to stand in lines … you might have to drive a little farther this season with the Breck Park not running, but it’s a good chance to take in scenery,” Levi said. “Kayaking’s become very mainstream. We’re getting more and more folks, people who don’t live in Summit County who aren’t necessarily that athletic, they just try it out because it looks fun.”
There is a different mentality for those who stick with it. Many people become addicted to skiing and snowboarding for the speed or the air. With kayaking, there are still good lines, face shots and carving opportunities (in and out of eddies), but many say the river itself is alluring.
“Being in the river is addictive,” Levi said. “You’re away from society, the majority of the time, it goes off into wilderness without roads … it’s river life. Kayaking itself, being in control of your own boat, it’s a great thing too. It’s what you do that affects the boat, and more than anyone else, kayakers are in the actual current of the water. It gives you better appreciation for the movement.”
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