From the Shop: “Downstream flow” Boat Design
I originally called this week’s post “Trickle-down” Boat design, but I’m not a fan of “Trickle-down” economics, and I’m hoping that I can show that what I’m talking about is more than a ‘trickle.’ So I’m going with “Downstream flow.” The basic premise is that a well designed boat for running hard whitewater will also benefit intermediate, and even beginning paddlers on easier rivers. Across the board, the whitewater business uses images of paddlers running hard whitewater frequently- too frequently- in our marketing. As a result, I get the question “is this boat too advanced for me?” too frequently. My answer is a hard no- the same things that make it a “shitrunner” will make your day better on any whitewater.
Let’s start with what I want in a boat for running hard whitewater, and I’ll look a the Option as my example, because for quite a while now, it has been the standard against which other open canoe creek boats have been measured. When I look at a complex rapid or a difficult move or a stacked sequence, I want a boat that’s stable, nimble, and above all, predictable. I want it to be dry, but I also want to be able to pick the bow up with little speed or when the boat has water in it. I’m not as concerned about the the overall speed of the boat, as much as I want to know how the boat will respond in any given situation. After paddling the Condor for most of last year, jumping back in the Option this for this spring’s snowmelt felt very different, but mostly had a feeling of “Hello old friend!” Like the Condor, I know what this boat is going to do, even in the most chaotic rapids. No surprises, predictability is key.
And yet, the vast majority of my paddling is on class III rivers, but I still want the same attributes in a boat. I still want the predictability; I can challenge myself by picking out different moves, I can adjust my level of challenge based on how I feel on any given day. I don’t need the boat to challenge me. Some people will say paddling a challenging boat will make you a better paddler, but I generally disagree. There are some boats that do take some learning, but that generally has less to do with the inherent design of the boat and more to do with adapting your paddling style to a particular boat. If a boat is inherently challenging (lacks stability or maneuverability or seems to have a mind of it’s own), it really only leads to frustration. I’ve been there and I don’t feel that I grew as a paddler because of it.
I should point out that “predictable” doesn’t equal “boring,” just as “having edges” doesn’t mean a boat is “edgy.” I want a boat that’s boat predictable and fun to paddle. I want to be able to engage the edges and carve and drive- but I don’t want them to do it on their own, or trip me up.
Perhaps linking up a sequence of boofs through a steep boulder pile while half full of water isn’t your cup of tea, and that’s very understandable. That’s why I offer multiple designs. But I believe that the same attributes that let upper level padders do that will make for a good day on the water for paddlers of any ability, whether they’re pushing their limits or not. And continuing to refine what we want for hard whitewater continues to “flow downstream” and improve the experience across the spectrum.