Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 184 : 23rd Sept 2012, Home

Home sweet home... for a few days!!!
(photo by Dave Whortley)

1 day short of 6 months and I am back at Manchester Airport where this years USA and Europe adventures began. This time its my Dad meeting me to take me home. I have so many stories to share, so many photos, videos and incredible memories I don't know where to begin. I start to fill him in on everything thats been happening and I realise what an incredible journey I have been on. I have had the chance to go to some incredible places and share the experiences with some amazing people, all the time whilst doing the sport that I love. It isn't long and he asks; 'Whats next?' and I remember this is only 1 chapter finishing, the next has just begun...  

Where will the next adventure take me?

Charlotte, NC - WK Pro/Am For First Descents 2012

USA National White Water Centre
My final day in America arrives as I head south to North Carolina again. I'm flying out of Charlotte so have chance for one last paddle before I board my plane home. Charlotte not only is home to the International Airport but also the National White Water Centre in the USA. Today the Charlotte NWWC is hosting a charity freestyle whitewater event to raise money for Ultimate Descent an organisation that gives people with Cancer the chance to go kayaking. The Pro Am event invites paddlers to donate money to the charity and in return they get the chance to paddler, get coaching and compete with professional kayakers. I'm really glad to have the chance to call in, test out the whitewater centre, meet all the paddlers and support the event. Unfortunately I can't stay long though as my plane leaves at 6pm.

I once again pack up my kit this time loading it into flight bags. I return my red Rockstar small to the Jacksons, say my final goodbye to friends in the states, board the plane and watch my last US sunset for 2012.

Night skys in the USA
(photo by Dave Whortly aka Scout)

The Perfect Wave

Fayetteville home of kayaking WV

Despite the perfect levels mystery move master and squirt boat specialist Steve O'Keefes not at Last Chance with us and instead is downstream stand up paddle (SUP) boarding 'the perfect wave'. As the water levels drop we head down to join him and as the sunsets over the Gauley we have one of my most enjoyable surf sessions of the trip. SUP'ing is a new discipline of paddle sport that is getting really popular but that have never tried up until today. Its a really simple concept, standing up on a specially designed river surf board and using a paddle to help balance and control the board whilst you surf around.

Sup'ers in West Virginia

Steve O's got a few boards and brings them down to teach me and Clay how its done. I start off on the beginner long board and have a crash / splash course on how to paddle, as I try to paddle up the eddy to the wave and ferry glide across the main river flow. Paddling the board was actually relatively easy to pick up but it was balancing that was causing a few issues. Not because the board wobbles (its really stable) or because I haven't got much balance stood on a board (several years windsurfing as a kid helped that) but mainly because Black Dog had jumped aboard and joined me for the start of the trip. So my first SUP experience was made super challenging by a 20kg dog perched or should I say moving around on the front of the board :o)

Randy Fisher on the perfect wave at low water levels

Once I eventually made the ferry glide and black dog jumped back to the safety of land it was time to play. After a couple of practice wipeouts. I caught the wave and the fun really began. Its a really enjoyable experience standing up, surfing a stationary wave midway down a beautiful gorge. A chilled out relaxing experience only broken by the massive face full of crisp cool whitewater each time I accidentally caught an edge and flipped. The locals call it the 'Perfect Wave' and that it is. Steve O spends hours here each day and its no suprise, its great.

Suping in West Virginia

Relaxing fun on the water, in a beautiful valley, with some great friends. Its the perfect end to my West Virginia trip.

The end of another great trip to WV

Final few days... Sinking... Last Chance

Before I know it the boats done and i'm on a plane heading back to West Virginia with my new 'super low slip'. Its been raining hard here the last few days so the levels are up. Halls and a lot of the other squirt spots are washed out but the playboatings not. The New is at a super level so we blast down this big water run surfing every wave and hole. Loads of paddlers are still about so its a really fun run. We finish the days with 'Pies and Pints' aka Pizza and Whiskey!!! and several games of pool. Then its time to start packing up.
Clay and Claire check out the new float
Its takes an hour or so too raid Clays truck and find all the missing bits of gear from the last 6 weeks. Its crazy to think this trip is almost over. It feels like it has only just begun, especially after having just been back to Ed and Mariolas. Soon enough i'm packed and we head back to the river. We meet Steve O'Keefe and drive the long, bumpy, windy road down to 'last chance' and the 'perfect wave'. I can't wait any longer. Its time to take the squirt boat out. I squeeze into the boat, slide of the beach and sink! Its perfect :o) floating about 6 inches under it is really low but I lift my knees and the bow raises and the boat planes across the current. I cruise up the eddyline and mystery. The Slip is such an incrediable squirt boat and nows its tiny its insane. We session the seam for ages and then throw down some flatwater work. For the first time ever (with some help from Clay) I get a 'Snow Angel' (a flatwater 360 degree end over end rotation aka a completely non aerial loop). So much fun.

Sessioning flatwater moves (video coming soon)

Murky Water

6am Sunday and it was an early start. The plan being to leave West Virginia and head back to Canada to get my squirt boat re cut (made smaller) at Murky Water. With a 9 hour + drive ahead of us we head out early. I'm super lucky as Matt Hamilton and Johnny have offered to give me a lift so well before everyone wakes from their festival induced commas we are on our way north and before we know it was have crossed the Canadian boarder and I am back at Ed and Mariolas, where our trip began 6 weeks ago. The boys head on another 7 hours North back to Beachburg and the Ottawa and Ed cuts open my squirt boat and the float tests and re cuts begin.

Chocolate Fondu marshmallow boater action on the long drive north
(photo by John Rathwell Photography)

5 float cuts later and the boat is perfect. Ok, well to me its perfect, to everyone else it looks so tiny and small. Normally most squirt boats look small and float just below the surface of the water to perform their best. But Jim's new design the 'Slip' seems to work best when it doesn't float at all. In fact its best performance is when it floats 4 – 6inches under the water. So by the end of the day we have my boat so small it floats about chest level, 6 inches under... perfect.

Its smaller... a lot smaller :o)

Ed spends the next 48 hours working super hard somehow managing to get inside both ends of the tiny boat and put it back together. I sit and wait super excited that I will soon be able to take it back to America and test it at the Halls. Its strange not being able to do anything to help but great to watch a craftsman at work.

Custom squirt boat building 

Gauley Festival 2012

Gauley Festival 2012

Almost as if the relaxing squirt boating week was the calm before a storm, the weekend quickly rolled in and the action level picked up with the start of the Gauley Festival.

SUP ing below the New River Bridge
Each Friday to Monday in Sept and October the Gauley river's dam releases and this weekend each year over 5,000 paddlers descend to the small town of Summersville deep in West Virginia to paddle, shop and party at the annual Gauley Fest. The event kicked off with a Stand Up Paddle Board Race (SUP) on the New River on Thursday and then the arrival of the water on the Gauley on Friday. It was great on my 3rd trip to West Virginia to finally be able to paddle this incredible whitewater run.

Stephen throws some big moves

I ran the Upper on Friday shown down by Gauley and USA whitewater legend and expert guide Clay Wright and the lower on Sunday. Both super fun, play and big water, river running, runs. Saturday I joined Colin Kemp and the World Kayak team and took a group of 'first timers on the Gauley' paddlers down the lower. In just one day, 40 'new' first timers (41 if you include me) ran the Gauley. Thanks to Colin and the World Kayak team of guides and instructors who gave their day to share their love for these runs.
Fun times on the Gauley
After paddling some super impressive rapids, surfing some great play waves and holes and kick flipping and macho moving down loads of waves trains we headed back to the festival site, where there was live music and loads of stands and stalls offering great deals on boats and kit.

Everyone checks out the deals and kit on show
The party went on well into the night and with a great atmosphere it was great opportunity to catch up with a lot of paddlers from all over Canada and the USA.

Jackson Kayaks draws in the crowds as the party goes on late into the night


Clays clocking in some big rides @15ft deep!

Clays shoulders still injured so he skipped the Green creek run and went for a squirt boating mystery session on the lower green instead. 

Squirt Gathering at the Halls of Karma
Sinking quickly became the theme of the trip as our next stop was West Virginia, the home of squirt boating and the famous New and Gauley rivers.

Steve O'Keefe shows us how its done
The next 3 days were spent at the New River in West Virginia paddling the famous squirt boating park and sink spot called 'Halls of Karma'. Everyday during the midday sun all the local squirt boaters would descend on this quite little eddy line and enter into some 3 dimensional squirt boating fun. 

Sinking in the sun
Between sinking at the Halls of Karma and Dogma, swimming and sunbathing on the rocks it was the perfect recovery process after such an intense 3 weeks. Add to this hot tub sessions and great meals at the lovely Julie Sellars house and what a week :o)
Capturing some awesome underwater footage (video coming soon)

Green River Narrows

Bren Orton fires up Gorilla at 200%
So after 3 weeks of intense competition it was time to head out to the rivers for some pure paddling fun. First stop was the Green River Narrows a class 5 creek in North Carolina, not far from the NOC. Famous for its incredible whitewater, a huge crowd of us set off for a day of fun. It was super impressive watching the young ones fire up rapid after rapid.

Claire O happily walking the big 3
I'm still having a bit of a head game out on the creeks, especially after the loss of another friend on a river, so I opt to walk the biggest rapids. But it was still super fun to be deep in the beautiful gorge experiencing this incredible run. Thank you to Hunt and Adrienne for showing me the lines and to Hobbie, Mario and Islay for helping me keep my focus.