I know what’s coming. As I bounce over ledges and slam through frigid walls of foaming whitewater, it’s just a matter of time. The Gorilla is up ahead.
Two weeks ago, I’d flipped my kayak on the Gorilla’s nasty rocks and somehow paddled out of the canyon, bleeding, wobbly and scared. And now I’m back, looking at it—the rock that sent me to hospital where I left with 27 stitches and a huge scar on my face. I can do it. Brace hard. Remember . . . you love extreme whitewater kayaking. You’ve paddled since you were three. At nine, you had your own kayak. At 15, you were a three-time Canadian Junior Slalom Champion. At 18, you’d snagged a bronze in the 2008 US Open Finals and became the Senior Canadian Women’s Champion. Don’t hesitate. This is what you do. What you love . . .
North America’s most extreme whitewater kayaking race—North Carolina’s Green Narrows Race—lists ominous monikers like the Gorilla and Go Left or Die. Unlike the Olympic sport of whitewater slalom racing, held on a set course with hanging gates over rapids, extreme racing is all about huge water (Class 5), speed and waterfalls. The Green River Race is held the first Saturday every November and racers (of last year’s 200, only 10 were women) have to sign a waiver loaded with warnings of “lacerations,” “impalement” and “extensive dental damage.”
I’m still holding out for a slot in this summer’s Olympic games in London, but my true passion is extreme paddling where I want to be the fastest female racer in the world. Rivers like the Zambezi and the Royal Gorge of the North Fork of the American River in California are on my list.
Two weeks before the 2010 Green River Race, I smashed my head on a rock after a 7-m drop on a Class 5 gnarly stretch of water. Some 27 stitches and a concussion later (despite the helmet), I covered up my stitches and ran the race, finishing third. I was so scared when I cruised over the lip of the Gorilla, but I told myself, over and over again, I could do it. I was on an adrenaline high at the end. I didn’t stop smiling for days.
You’ve got to be a very good technical paddler, and love adrenaline, to enter an extreme race. But beginners can take whitewater lessons from schools like Ontario’s Madawaska Kanu Centre, Montreal’s Kayak Sans Frontieres, Manitoba’s Northern Soul and B.C.’s Sea to Sky Outdoor School. Highlight Running my first waterfall in downtown Ottawa. Forty feet of pure free fall, landing right next to the Parliament Buildings—so much fun.
Why do it?
The sport of kayaking has something for every kind of paddler and traveller. Only a few of us ever push it to my extreme where we want to drop over a 90 ft. waterfall (my dream). Most people can master standing waves and certainly can sea kayak or canoe on flat stretches. Whatever you paddle, rivers can take travellers to magical places—that’s a huge allure for me.
Photo by Wes Schrecongost.