Forward motion, headfirst & horizontal to gravity!
It got me thinking even more than usual - what is the limit for the sport of riverboarding?
Right now what riverboarding usually hails as 'epic', extreme kayakers don't even bother classifying, because it's just the stuff they paddle between the really good rapids.
But, there are definite differences between riverboarding and kayaking.
A world class kayaker in a 90 gallon creekboat has a lot more speed, much more buoyancy (as well as weight - and both are important), and another very key factor, much higher placed vision.
So are kayaking's limits beyond ours, or are they also riverboarding's limits?
Should we be more realistic with our approach, and instead of comparing what riverboarders can do with what kayakers can do, just focus on what riverboarding's potential is?
Last weekend a number of the world's best kayakers raced down class 5.6B Jacob's Ladder on the N. Fork Payette.
Some of them, including a couple of the paddlers who were on that Congo mission, stated that it's always scary running those rapids, and that they're among the most challenging on the planet.
Well, I witnessed 3 riverboarders successfully run Jake's a couple years ago (photo sequence). While one of the boarders stated afterwards that really, "it's on the fine line of just being out of control", I think most kayakers would also say the same thing.
So is the N. Fork Payette an isolated comparison that won't work across the broader spectrum of whitewater, or is it an indication that yes, if it's kayakable, we can find a way to riverboard it?
I'm curious what you think about riverboarding's potential in terms of going big, and why you believe what you believe is possible.
Josh, I think that improving rider to board retention is a big part of the game. Kayakers custom foam fit the sides of their seats and move their foot braces to achieve a super hold on their boats. On my kayak I have to let go the paddle and push down on the deck to get it off. Figuring out how to do that safely with a board would help prevent letting go of your board.
In big water, I don't think there is any difference in potential unless the limiting factor is a ferry across current with too little distance between rapids ( though riverboard design is rapidly closing that gap as well ). We may have one advantage in being able to dive deep by pressing down on handles.
With creeking, riverboarding has some limitations. A board / boarder can only boof in the best of situations: enough flow, good launch pad, deep enough for a good final kick, and not so aerated just before the drop that your fin doesn't grab any water ( usually only a problem if it's a multi level drop in close succession ). There will always be some low volume ledges / falls where a boof is needed to clear a keeper hole, "F.... You rock " or to avoid hitting the solid bedrock bottom ( Gorilla for example, which I'm not willing to touch ) that a riverboarder can't do or should avoid doing.
Undercuts and sieves. It's scary enough for a boater, but they are at least setting up higher and could push off a fall or have a better chance of their head still being above water initially if they pin their boat in a sieve. We are staring undercuts in the face and heaven forbid if someone hits a sieve under water because you will be pinning head first into it. Running sketchy stuff requires a balance of confidence in your abilities and being able to know yourself at that moment ( are you rested and physically, mentally, and emotionally hitting in sync ) and realistically assess river conditions.
Water levels. I don't know if any of us would have wanted to consider Jacob's Ladder for the first time if the flow would have been doubled.
Geology. Know the type of rock you're going on. This is more a factor for low volume steep stuff. When a few others were only willing to run the bottom drop of Dry Meadow Creek from halfway up, I made the full run from the top of the rapid look easy. If I had tried that in the Appalachians under similar flow, I would have come to a halt halfway down and been flipping head over heels for the finish. Even a few drainages over on Brush Creek was a different combination of flow and geology and required me to borrow a slick, hard bottomed board because my hydrospeed would have gotten stuck. Jacob's Ladder for example was created when the mountain was blasted out to make a highway and the road blast fell into the river. As a result, the rocks forming the waves are jagged and angular ( having had less than a century for the water to flow over them which isn't enough time to smooth them yet ) so they create chaotic, unpredictable waves.
There are some X factors as well that make formerly thought to be unrunnable rapids seem possible. One of those is the cumulative or even multiplicative skill and experience of a group. Running Jacob's Ladder, we had three of the best in the water, but two more top notch riverboarders on shore. When " this doesn't look as bad as I was expected" crossed the line to " we're doing this " we had five riverboarding brains, looking at every possible line, playing devil's advocate with those lines, and coming up with the best spots to set safety and contingency lines in the event someone didn't make the preferred line. Preparation is also key. We spent 45 minutes scouting Jake's ( I jokingly say that it took 45 minutes to scout it and it all flashed by in 45 seconds, but every minute was worth it ). I looked at each drop from upstream, even with, and downstream. I mentally rehearsed the run multiple times. We were as prepared as you can be, so much that even when I crunched my nose, I was still right where I wanted to be in the rapid. Besides having good experience, actually having boarded together can be huge too. The five of us had not been on the same river all at the same time, but all of us had ridden with each other at various competitions and trips. Another good example is when a friend was in a hole below a ledge on a class IV creek. I was following and was boofing over the ledge into clean run out. He instinctively threw out a hand at which I did too; and we linked hands in mid air and my momentum carried him out of the hole. I would have tried to do the same for anyone, but I don't know if they would have thought to reach out a hand. I guess the other question is whether I simply reacted that quickly or was I already expecting him to reach out a hand ( almost like I knew he would ). All that to say, when you ride with people a lot, you know their strengths and weaknesses, where they'll need help, and where you might need their help.
Marty, I agree. I think a personally fitted hydrospeed or someone going custom with foam in an Anvil so that they fit on the board like a glove is the best thing for riding on the edge of runnability.
Great info Kevin, solid points all the way around.
The comment you both made about contact in the board is one of my discussion points in the full Anvil review coming out later this week. I agree.
Sometime else that I thought was cool since you mentioned the North Fork Championship was the promo video to it prior to the event. We've all heard the debate about Jacob's Ladder - it's a V +, no the locals there rate it a IV+, etc. ( and this isn't a jab at North Fork local paddlers as I think that is the case anywhere. Familiarity breeds contempt and everyone probably downgrades the difficulty of a local run because it gets easy as you know it well ) , so it was cool to hear the best of the paddling world talk about how they still respected Jacob's Ladder and how it can humble you no matter who you are.
It's just like rock climbing, or any other sport for that matter, our children will be doing things that we thought were insane or impossible & they will do these things with style! :-)
Having done both.. there's several differences in what makes a river "easy" on a Riverboard vs a Kayak, and a new set of what makes a river "bad" for each as well. Not all of these are mirrored.
Riverboard - Pros
deeper in the water makes punching holes easier
Laying down produces a lower center of gravity, and thus a smaller chance of getting flipped
being essentially on foot makes for swift and easy carrys both for scouting, and portaging
RB offer limited protection to the boarder (from rocks, temperature, and river denizens)
No storage space
In Really big water there's less bouyancy than in a Kayak
limited mobility and power
Limited height of drops one can safely run
Very limited boof ability
To me what it spells out is there's an upper threshold of what's Safely runnable on a Board. Truely High volume rivers would be Ok only as long as you stayed out in the middle ( assuming the middle is safe) Based on that you could Probably run middle down say Niagra Gorge.. but that assumes you avoid the eddies and curlers ( they are deeper than you think)
Without support craft Multi day trips would be hard ( not impossible, as the girls proved in the GC a few years back) but it does open the possibility of runs such as the Grand Canyon of the Stikine ( hard to be sure, since I've seen little beta from within the canyon itself)
The biggest Stopping points are waterfalls and other things in the river. The Congo would be right out, so would Niagra falls.
Boards do make many higher volumes runs easier. Consider the relative experience of a boarder we take down the Lower Gauley to a Kayaker making that same trip. Our intro runs are usually class 3, which some boaters take a year or more to get to.
in closing I'd say that almost anything Kayakable can be boarded, but I've seen nothing that can be boarded that can't aslo be Kayaked ( though it may require more skill)
oh and Kevin... I think Gorilla can be done, it's Sunshine that I'd choose to walk around :)
btw I saw a great deal of this @ the NPFF. Steve Fisher came up and showed off several bits ( but not the whole film), and Man.... Whirlpools that eat creekboats, Steve got stuck in a hole and had to swim 1.5 Miles downstream before they could get to a safe eddy. 1.5mile swim ( translated to boarding that'd be like a 5 mile hike out)
I can't wait to see the whole film.