Kayak Slalom and Creek Boating: the Parallels

When the recreational whitewater kayaker thinks about slalom, the first impression is that it is all about speed.  What wins a slalom competition is indeed the fastest time, but there is so much more to it than that.In running a slalom course, winning is as much about some basic principles: presetting boat angles, anticipating the reaction of your boat to unexpected river features, and committing- both to the gate you are going through and the next gate downstream.

How does slalom translate into creek boating?

Take running the Cascades of the Nantahala.  If you struggle a bit with solid lines, it may be that you are not on target with any of the same principles that make a winning slalom boater:

  • If you come off JunkYard with the wrong boat angle, there was no making the move between the rocks and you pinned.
  • If you misread the water above Big Kahuna and lost angle or momentum due to unexpected eddies or diagonal waves (or this past weekend, holes), you might have blown your line.
  • If you are not committed to driving into your eddies, then it was out the back of the eddy you went – always exciting above a ten foot drop.
  • If you do not know where your next eddy was there was no way to anticipate that next move.

Try going out to a slalom course with the plan of running it three times. Here is a scenario:
First time through you go way too fast, blow a gate (or two) and nearly lose your balance/flip.
Second time, you slow down to be more deliberate about your moves.
Third time through, you smooth things out.
What you will find is that your time between the first and second runs will be almost identical. And often, the third run is your best time – even though you were not paddling as hard as you could have.

Whether running a set of gates through the Falls…or creeking down the Cascades, the principles behind a successful run are very similar.  Take the time to switch it between river running and slalom and kayaking will be that much more fun!