Initially utilized by the Inuit, Yup'ik and Aleut people, kayaks were utilized for hunting and fishing. These long kayaks constructed of wood, bone and/or animal skin were a revolutionary invention that transformed the way of life for the North American Natives. A longer kayak meant speed and efficiency, which was necessary for the long distances to be covered in short periods of time.
With a drastic transformation in boat design over the last few decades, especially within the whitewater world, kayaks have grown shorter and shorter. This metamorphasis has brought upon revolutionary changes that have opened previously unfathomable avenues for innovation. Today we can surf our 5-6ft. "playboats" on monstrous river waves and hydraulic features, or send our 7-9ft. "creekboats" off 100+ ft waterfalls, into tight narrow creeks, and through the world's biggest rapids.
But now, as we have become accustom to these shorter kayaks there has grown a desire to once again move faster across the river currents, paddle for longer distances and pack more gear for multi-day trips. This yearning for change sparked a recent rebirth of longboats in the whitewater community. Now a number of whitewater kayak manufacturers have come out with their own re-designed version of longboat.
I personally remained completely content in my shorter creekboats (a Mamba 8.6 or Nomad 8.5) for years, until last spring when my brother offered me the opportunity to borrow his Greenboat for the weekend. I was nervous, scared, but excited as well. I left my creekboats at home and threw the narrow 11'9" boat atop my car for our weekend outing to Leavenworth, Washington. There, on Tumwater Canyon of the Wenatchee River, I immediately fell in love with the speed, agility and power of such a long yet seemingly nimble kayak. I felt like I had been unleashed from chains that had held me back for years and right then an entirely new sense of confidence in my paddling and connection with the hydraulics of the river swept over me. After a weekend of portage-less laps down Tumwater Canyon at high flows I felt as though I had been reborn. For the rest of the season, in Washington, Alaska and British Columbia I grew more and more comfortable in my longboat and frankly less interested in paddling my creekboat. Paddling a longboat gave me a new challenge and a fresh perspective on whitewater kayaking.
Towards the end of the summer season, and with sufficient experience in my longboat I was ready for the next big challenge: The Grand Canyon of the Stikine. Since my first time down the Stikine in 2010 to my prior trip in 2013 I had never imagined that I would one day take a longboat down the ferocious section of whitewater, but there I was in August floating towards Entry Falls in almost a 12ft kayak, just as Rob Lesser and his team had done during their first descent of the canyon almost 30 years before.
I had an absolute blast, and when I finally approached the most famous and seldom-run rapid of the river, Site Zed, I decided I was ready. I had looked at the rapid numerous times in year past, but never with as much confidence as I did when my long boat was slung over my shoulder. I conversed with my team mates, and without any pre-existing plans to run the rapid I stopped portaging, and hauled my boat back upstream to put-in above Site Zed. Following my brother Brendan, whitewater ninja Jules Domine, and Site Zed's first female paddler Nouria Newman I peeled out into the steep and powerful rapid. With one flip in the main hole, but otherwise a fulfilling and thrilling ride, I made it to the bottom of the rapid with an overwhelming sense of happiness and fulfillment. For the rest of the river we continued downstream at a brisk pace, portaging none of the remaining class V rapids. We were confident in ourselves and confident with our boats.
My experience in my Greenboat over the course of 2014 and on the Stikine was amazing. I felt like a I had made a revolution in my paddling, when really I was simply taking a step back in time. I know my next season will be full of more days in a longboat than ever before and I cannot wait to see what else may possible in such a magnificent and elegant craft.
Different kayaks can provide each of us with fresh perspective on whitewater, and if you are looking for a new experience on the river, I encourage you to consider a day a long boat. Maybe you be reborn as well!!
This is the #LongBoatRevolution
For a video from our Stikine Trip this summer, check out Mountain Mind Collective's most recent feature episode below: