by Carli Beisel
From Green Truss to the Nantahala
I was supposed to be paddling the Green Truss in White Salmon, WA, but instead I have found myself back in the Nantahala Gorge. Life has come full circle: the Nantahala is where I first learned to kayak, and it is now where I have returned to when the world closed for maintenance due to COVID-19. At first, I was disappointed that I was stuck at a Class II river, instead of the ambitious plans I had made for pushing myself this spring on rivers out west. I was envious of my friends who were quarantined next to harder rivers, and worried that when quarantine was finally lifted, I would find myself out of shape and out of practice for harder whitewater. I could not have been more wrong. Slalom showed me that,
Juliet started inviting me to come do slalom at Nantahala Falls in the evenings, which absolutely kicked my butt and showed how idiotic I was for thinking I was “too good” for the Nantahala. I had never tied slalom before, but I had always wanted to get into it because slalom kayakers are usually the smoothest paddlers on the river. I showed up at the gates and got crushed by phenomenal paddlers who rarely left the Nantahala.
The Challenge of Slalom
I started catching new eddies and doing new ferries on Nantahala Falls, a rapid I had spent years and years running, that I had never even thought of before. And they were SO hard. I found myself missing gate after gate, but the cool thing is that you can just attain back up to the start for another try. It is easy to track your progress with slalom because if your stroke timing and boat placement are on point, you will make the move. If you do not execute the move perfectly, you will be denied from the eddy. I went back day after day, trying the same moves over and over until I finally got them dialed and then adding new eddies and ferries.
In order to be an efficient and successful kayaker in any discipline, you have to use the features on a river to your advantage. The river is unquestionably stronger then you, and if you fight it and try to force it to do your will, you will lose. A lot of eddies are impossible to reach unless you surf the correct wave, with the appropriate ferry angle and speed. Too much speed or too much angle, and you might fall off of the wave and get flushed downstream. Slalom helps improve precision, so that when you do find yourself on a harder river having to do the same moves with more consequence you will have the skills to do so.
It is also such a hard workout. One hour of slalom leaves me more exhausted then a full day on the river. Especially if you bring your play boat as well and finish off the day with some time doing cartwheels in the play hole!
You Are Never Too Good for a River
Even a Class II river has so much to teach people, even if you are a Class V kayaker. The Nantahala Gorge offers one of the most amazing training grounds in the world for new paddlers their first taste of a Class 3 rapid, for Olympic slalom athletes, and for world champion playboaters. You are never “too good” for a river. If you say that, you have never tried slalom.
For more articles about slalom, check out the Endless River Adventures library.