Greenhorn on the River
An Adventure Guide Gets Her Feet Wet in Whitewater SUP
By Casi Rynkowski
Forward momentum slows to a halt. Time out. Reset. If you can't seem to get beyond the cloudy haze of dull routine in fitness or life, a new challenge or adventure could possibly shake you lose.
As a trainer and outdoor fitness adventure guide, I often hear, "I've always wanted to…" or, "If I only had time…" or, "I've got too much going on…" These are the kind of statements that keep us from living beyond the crazy 60-hour workweek culture. I'm as guilty as anyone, especially since my job does not have a "clock-out" time. My cloudy haze was overwhelming. My directional compass was spinning. A whitewater SUP adventure sounded like just the ticket out of the haze.
My dulled senses perked up as I pulled into the colorful urban setting of the Riverside Outfitters in Richmond Virginia. Graffiti style painted buses and a building that looked like an urban river hut sat wedged between businesses. It made me think, "Where in the heck are we going to paddle whitewater?"
All of this was a stark contrast from the usual beach and surf paddle scene that I seemed to have grown immune to. I had been running late and fellow BIC SUP Ambassador Ben Moore came out to greet me and nudge me along to get ready. This was the first time Ben and I paddled together and he was about to give me a huge dose of river schooling.
Helmet yes, PFD yes, paddle yes, but no fins or leash. That left me feeling naked and a bit worried. I've only played in light whitewater before and used both a quick release waist leash and side-bite fins on my board. There seem to be varied opinions on what gear to use for whitewater SUP. From board type to safety gear, opinions seem to run deep and I guess the only way to figure out what works is to try them all.
Spinning like a top was how the first 15 minutes of paddling went. Without fins, every stroke I took, I had to counteract on the other side. I quickly learned that you need to keep your stroke short. And that awkward cross-forward stroke that I see all the whitewater paddlers do? Well it is necessary. The first few rapids without fins required one Hail Mary and some brute force and ignorance.
By the time we were almost to the class-III portion, my confidence was back. I even decided to switch to Ben's favorite river board, a BIC windsurfer. We then stopped to join two kayakers who were surfing a standing wave. The hard work and power required to get into the wave got my heart pumping and my adrenaline soaring. This was what I loved about a new adventure; the part when it brings you back to life.
The James River blew me away. A collision of urban meets rocky mountain river. It was truly two worlds merging, separating, and coming together again as we paddled on. It's good to occasionally throw yourself into a contrasting world. There are many physical and mental benefits to exploring a new adventure sport. The physical ones float to the surface easily while the mental ones sometimes stay submerged until later. Many of my clients explore outdoor adventure-sports as a form of cross training or to break out of a training rut. What they often find is the contrast of the "new" with the known opens their senses, allows them to refocus and clear their minds. It does not have to be the physical contrast but something as subtle as the change in scenery. I found this along the James River.
"You are going to kneel for your first class III rapid," was not what I expected Ben to say. I always thought you just kind of went and hoped for the best. The "Pipeline" section of the James river normally runs as a class IV but the water was a bit low so it was closer to a class III today. To me the section looked like one long, boiling rapid. But Ben knew every detail including the ones I was not experienced enough yet to see. He was able to point out the correct line that we would need to follow. "A line" is a vee shaped path of water flow that you follow so you don’t get stuck or go over rocks. Ben knew them all. He knew how the current acts around each rock. How you need to head the board in at each line and come out ready for the next move. His knowledge was priceless. So it shall be, a sleigh ride before we learn how to drive. Certainly glad we did, because the force of the class III was so different. At the bottom of the first drop I paddled like a madwoman to eddy out and I yelled to Ben, "Hell *!&^#! yeah! I'm ready to stand."
I am tenacious and grabbed hard onto the idea of standing up through the next class III section. It didn't go exactly how I had played it in my head. I stood for just part of it then dropped to my knees, my board spun around and I went out the shoot backwards, which is never a good idea. I eddied out and took a breath. I then smiled, stood back up, and was quickly sucked back into the stream of water for the next section. "Ok", I thought, "guess I'm going now." Bracing, crouching low, drawing water to the nose on one side and back to the other, I was able to keep the line. This section was a combination of wave trains and violent side mounds of water. The power of the wave was incredible. I trusted Ben's instructions and kept my eyes looking down the line where I was going. In a flash it was over. I cleared my first class III rapid! Hell-to-the-yeah.
For 8 years now, I’ve made it my business to help others achieve their training goals or explore outdoor fitness beyond their comfort zone with adventure sports. The part that is always my favorite is seeing the moment flash upon their face when they know they are hooked. At that moment I felt it creep upon my own. Crazy—you kind of have to be, but that is the only way you get to feel these moments. Crazy doesn’t have to mean you throw caution to the wind. Crazy just enough to step out, explore, and take a chance. These are the moments that can bring you out of the haze and into the clear. These are the moments that make you feel alive and reap the physical and mental benefits of exploring outside your comfort zone.
About Casi Rynkowski…
Casi Rynkowski has been living her dream training athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and those who want to live a healthier lifestyle. Her passion for fitness outdoors exploded when she launched her outdoor fitness business, exposing clients to the idea of fitness outside the gym box. Surfing, standup paddling, rock climbing, ice climbing, winter mountaineering, and hiking became her new training ground in New England. Her clients not only found new ways to cross train outdoors, they found new passions for life.
Check out Casi’s fitness website.
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