by Mary Mills

Mary Mills is a slalom boater.  She did not get into slalom because she aspired to go to the Olympics.  In fact, there was more than a little reluctance when the suggestion was made that she try paddling the slalom gates. Just a little…

Thoughts on “Slalom”

When Juliet brought me to the gates for the first time, I wasn’t sold on the idea. It just didn’t seem practical to me; it was something only Olympic people did. I thought doing a slalom course would be super easy, but it actually turned out to be incredibly difficult.The first time she took me out on the Nanty gates, I just couldn’t do them. I was so frustrated. I was determined to get the hang of it. It turned out to be the best thing to develop my skills and confidence.

So What Changed

This past weekend was a dual slalom weekend: with Olympic hopefuls racing at the Nantahala River’s U.S. Open, while a whole separate crowd of enthusiasts participated in the final leg of the 3-part Alabama Race series on the Locust Fork River.

After an awesome weekend on the Locust Fork, Mary shares a little perspective on where slalom has taken her:

Why Slalom Makes you a More Proficient Paddler
I have to use the water features effectively to make ferries, eddies, and gates. Presetting your boat angle and planning at least 2 or 3 moves ahead is crucial, you just can’t make the gates unless you plan way ahead. I used to be awful on creeks, now they are my favorite thing to kayak, one giant slalom course. Doing slalom all the time makes a technical creek move much easier since now I am not thinking of just the move I am on, but the next few moves. Just like a slalom course. I certainly wasn’t sold on the idea of slalom gates the first time I did it, but I am sure that the reason I have improved and can now catch just about every eddy anywhere is because of all the slalom practice and the races I do.

And Then There are the Races
Plus the races are so much fun. You sit in the staging eddy with someone holding your boat, your name and number are announced over the speakers,the countdown begins, your friends are cheering at you from the banks, your are so excited, your adrenalin races, you hear the go signal and everything vanishes but the gates as you take off. 20 to 25 gates later You come to the end exhausted and everyone is cheering for you! You make the last upstream gates cleanly without stopping your momentum or touching the gates, You sprint to the finish line and realize you made a clean run, no touches or missed gates, everyone is cheering for you. It is the just the best feeling. I have gone from touching almost every gate and missing quite a few when I started last year, to almost a clean run every time.You can really see your improvement each time you go out and race.

That’s the winning attitude!