Early spring forecasts of rain are a good indicator that rain-dependent creeks will run! And suddenly you want to be a creek boater. Unfortunately, your timing is off if you wait until the creeks run to “be” a creek boater. There is prep work to be done with boating skills that prepares you for creeking.
Creeking versus river running. The difference? The quick and dirty is that a creek is narrower, steeper and more technical than a river. Creek boating is where the magical components of paddling: balance, stroke timing and boat control/angle management come together. Every aspect of creek boating exemplifies all the skills you have worked on: Boofing equals angle, momentum, stroke timing; catching tight eddies above drops equals understanding angle, momentum, stroke timing….and the list goes on.
Boofing is always one of the coolest moves in creek boating. And one of the moves that can get messed up very easily if you don’t know how it all works. For starters, check out our article on boofing.
So how do you prep for creek boating?
1. Work on balance, stroke timing and boat control/angle management on rivers you are comfortable on. Rivers like the Nantahala and Ocoee Rivers are perfect training rivers for learning creeking skills.
2. Work up in difficulty with creeks. If you don’t know how to creek boat, don’t start on Class VI creeks. The southeast is blessed with creeks of all difficulties. Because you don’t have the experience, you might miss out on paddling with “the crowd” who is headed to their favorite Class IV creek when it rains. But there is always the next trip. One glaring difference between river running and creeking is that the penalty factor is higher on creeks: the air temperatures are typically colder, water temperatures also, swims longer, gear easier to lose, walks off the runs harder….
Make sure you have good back up when you head to the creeks that are running. A guide – whether a trusted friend, experienced boater, or professional is someone you need to trust to back you up as you advance to the next level of boating. But again, be responsible about who you chose to paddle with. Does the TL know the run? What type boats are the group paddling? What gear do you and the boaters in the group have along (paddles, throw ropes, etc)? Not sure what to look for? Review our three part article on essential rescue gear, advanced notes and group dynamics.
4. And when teaming up with a professional guide/instructor, remember that you are still the one in your own boat. A professional will have your best interests in mind, but they are not paddling your boat. Don’t let them/nor put them in a situation that is guaranteed to be a disaster. If they suggest you are not ready for the run– it might be good advice to take. Or if you have done your homework and something does not feel right for you – walk away from the river that day. Boating should be a positive experience!
Also understand that there are rivers that cannot be used professionally. Three in the southeast are Section IV of the Chattooga, the Tellico and rivers in the Smoky Mountain National Park (i.e.: the Little). Because of their US Forest Operating Plans, it is illegal for anyone to commercially kayak on the rivers. So don’t offer to “pay for gas and call it friends.” You both will end up in trouble with the US Government. But professionally, one thing we can reassure you is that even without those runs there are plenty of great runs in the southeast for prepping your skills and then going and proving them.
With that said – go and get your creek boating on this spring!