From the Shop: Going against the flow.

I guess sometimes I like to do things the hard way.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’m sometimes met with funny looks when I talk about the satisfaction I get from paddling upstream.  As someone who came up paddling in the mid-Atlantic, ‘attaining’ rapids was a thing people did.  Start at the bottom, see if you can make it to the top.  They’ve even got upstream races.  But apparently it’s not something people do everywhere, so I figured I’d share why I think you should spend some time paddling the wrong way.

The biggest benefit is it makes you a better paddler in so many ways.  It’s great exercise to work against the current; it makes you stronger.  Planting your paddle in water that’s moving past the boat forces a higher stroke rate to be effective.  In terms of control, you receive instant feedback if your ferry angles are off just a little bit- you’re suddenly blowing downstream instead of making that next eddy.  Because of that, I find it’s a great way to dial in a new boat.  The mistakes happen quicker and more obviously.  But the beauty of it is you get to come back around, reset, and try the move over and over and over until you make it.  You can pick out moves you’re not sure you can do, and work them until you can make it.  That’s something that’s a lot harder to do while running downstream; you make a mistake, but might not be able to go back and try again.

I also like the puzzle aspect of it.  How do I break down a rapid into a series of moves, linked together, following the path of least resistance?  Eddy to eddy to eddy.  It’s taught me a lot of about reading water.  Where there’s a hidden rock that will interfere with a crucial paddle stroke, how to carve up across a wave to the next higher eddy, where there’s a thin thread of slow current I can exploit.  And the forced precision of putting the boat’s hull in that thin thread of current and keeping it there while paddling as hard as possible.

Attaining is also good practice for real-world scenarios.  Sometimes when things go sideways, it’s important to have the skills to get back upstream in a rescue situation.  On the Gauley this fall, I came across an empty raft getting surfed in a midstream hole.  It had been there for a while, and was too far from shore to make land-based extraction feasible.  There were a couple of small eddies downstream of it, and I was able to eddy-hop and attain back up, and after a few tries, paddle up to the backwash of the hole and hook the raft with my t-grip to pull it out.  In this case, the stakes weren’t very high (other than the PBR I helped myself to from the cooler in the raft), but you can see how these sorts of skills are useful for more important rescue situations.

Attaining doesn’t have to be a “put in at the take out” sort of endeavor.  You can pick off a series of moves in your favorite rapid and work it a few times before moving down to the next rapid.  Eventually you might find yourself linking several of those rapids together going agains the flow, and you’ll be a better paddler for it.