By Mary Mills
Editing by Haley Popp
When Would I Ever Need Slalom Skills?
This year is my first winter running creeks after being introduced to slalom by Juliet during an Endless River Adventures Private Instruction class in the summer. I admit I was skeptical when we headed for the gates at the Nantahala for the first time in June. I had always thought slalom was only for pros not paddlers of my skill level. I was in my FUSE, not a slalom boat. When would I ever need slalom skills or better yet run a slalom course?
Running the gates looks so easy when I watched people doing it, how hard could it be? I was so surprised by how hard it actually was. I thought I had good boat control till I tried to do slalom. I was hot even on the Nanty running those gates! I didn’t do so well that day and made it a point to go down there and run the gates at least once every time I ran the Nanty.
Often when I ran the Nanty I left time to run the gates multiple times. I spent days just running the gates. You can really see when you improve and what skills you need to work on to make the gates. I learned that to make the upstream and downstream gates requires planning ahead, presetting the angle of the boat , and looking at the upcoming gates to make adjustments. Effective and precise paddle strokes are important, both for speed and turns. A fast, efficient eddy turn comes from a clean entrance and exit from the eddy, not sliding or dragging on the eddy line. Focus and good boat control will help you make the gates efficiently. Sometimes dropping the right edge without flipping over will make all the difference.
In the summer, I participated in the Canoe Club Challenges and WOR slalom events offered on the Nantahala. I had never been in a race of any type and it was so exciting to be at the starting line with all the other boaters. The first race I was nervous and scared with so many people watching. The sign was given and off I went, the first gate was an upstream and I made it clean. It was so exciting to cross gate 10 and realizing I had made every gate! I participated in about 6 races over the summer and fall. I was never really great on time but, I I hardly ever missed a gate.
So why slalom? Well, I started to notice how much easier creeking was this winter. Dec 21st I was on Clear Creek for the first time and I kept thinking how much running those gates really helped making those technical moves between the rocks and it hit me, this is why you run the gates. I look at the rocks as gates and challenge myself to get through cleanly without hitting the “gates”. It was so much more fun when I thought of the creek like a slalom course.
So slalom is for everyone, not just the pros. It will help improve your boating skills and to top it off it is just plain fun! If you don’t have gates where you paddle, make them up! Rocks, sticks, etc. make great gates. Have a lake? Set up floating gates. So get out there and run some gates. You will be amazed at how much better your kayaking skills improve, plus it is fun!
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