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What's Your Angle?

Posted: 10.08.2012 by Anna Levesque

Do you have trouble ferrying or feel that you get pushed off-line a lot? If so try paying more attention to the angle you're setting with your kayak before you make your move.

Setting the correct angle can mean the difference between a ferry that feels hard and sloppy and a ferry that feels easy and precise.  It can also mean the difference between struggling to be on-line and hitting your line effortlessly.

I've witnessed kayakers paddle fast and furiously only to end up tired and struggling.   In their attempt to paddle as hard as they can they forgot about other important whitewater technique such as boat angle.   Paddling hard only helps you if you have the correct angle to get you where you want to go.

It's true that paddling as fast or faster than the current will help to keep you upright, but as you progress from a beginner to an intermediate paddler you need to be more selective about when and how you take every stroke.  If you have correct boat angle when ferrying and entering rapids then you are setting yourself up for success and you don't need as many strokes to carry your speed.

When you're entering a low-volume, technical rapid your angle is important because you don't have a lot of room to make big maneuvers and if you start paddling too hard without paying attention to where you're going you can quickly end up in the wrong place.  Look at the water in front of you and decide whether the move requires moving with lateral momentum or straight ahead and then set your angle accordingly BEFORE you enter the rapid.

In big water you need to set your angle early so that you're ready to carry your speed when it's time to make a move.  It takes a lot of time to change your angle and then pick up your speed in a big rapid.  If you've anticipated and already have your angle to the left or right of an obstacle then you're ready to move when the time is right.

In ferrying angle is THE most important piece.  If you set a good angle (45 degree relative to the current) BEFORE you cross the eddyline then you allow the water to carry you over to the other side effortlessly.  Setting a good angle for your ferry also requires that you feel what the water is doing to your boat in addition to reading the water with your eyes.  My favorite drill to work on this skill is to set your angle and then ferry with your eyes closed.  Pick an easy spot to start so that you feel comfortable closing your eyes.  Have a friend spot you just in case.  I've had several students, both beginners and intermediates who react in shock when they get the angle right because it feels 'so easy!'

So next time you go out focus less on paddling and more on setting your angle.  You'll notice more precision and less energy wasted.  Have fun out there and always be thinking of your angle before speed!

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Girls at Play Ladies on the Lower G Fundraiser for AW!

Posted: 08.23.2012 by Anna Levesque

Ladies on the Lower G will be taking over the river again this year on Friday, September 14th to raise money for American Whitewater (AW)!

As usual, Girls at Play staff is volunteering to be safety kayakers and guides for the day and in exchange, this year, we are suggesting that each person donate on a sliding scale between $25 and $50 (whatever you can afford, keeping in mind all of the great work that AW does for us).   All of the proceeds go to AW so that they can continue to work for the river access and conservation that we whitewater paddlers have the privilege of enjoying.

The idea is to get a bunch of awesome, fun, women paddlers together enjoying the river and helping each other gain confidence and skills.  This is a great day to come out for your first time down the Lower G.  We are taking up to 20 paddlers so be sure to make your donation early.

Everyone who participates will be entered into a drawing to win awesome prizes from our partners including Kokatat, Vapur and Smith Optics!

We’ll meet at the take-out to the Lower Gauley (upper lot) at 10 a.m. Please bring a lunch to eat on the river and be prepared to help with shuttle.

IMPORTANT! You must register ahead of time! For safety and fun we are limiting the group to 20 women.  You can register by calling Girls at Play at 828.333.4482 and giving your donation via credit card OR by choosing one of the donation options below and paying online. We can’t take any money on park service land so everyone has to book ahead of time by credit card.  We look forward to paddling with everyone and supporting AW!

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Lovin' the New Dagger Mamba!

Posted: 08.13.2012 by Anna Levesque

I really liked the original Mamba. It was stable, forgiving, easy to maneuver and easy to roll. The perfect boat for beginner whitewater kayakers, and a fun boat for river running class III/IV.

Because we put all of our beginners in the original Mamba I was nervous about the new design and whether it would be just as good. Now that I’ve had the chance to paddle and teach in the new Mamba this season I am a convert! The new series featuring the Mamba 7.6, 8.1 and 8.6 is awesome. It’s even more stable, rolls like a dream for beginners AND is way more fun to paddle for intermediate/advanced paddlers on class IV/V whitewater. It boofs like a champ with easy edge to edge transitions on landing, it tracks better and carves beautiful turns. I’ve paddled it while teaching, while running class IV and I’ve watched beginners excel in it. If you’re in the market for a new river runner I highly recommend the new Dagger Mamba. At Girls at Play it’s our #1 boat choice!  

Some small women may find that the 7.6 feels too big, but I’ve also seen very tiny women paddle it well.

I suggest that you take it out on the water and try it to see how it maneuvers and if it fits you. Here are some photos of the Mamba performing in a variety of settings during our Girls at Play whitewater programs this summer including our Mother/Daughter paddle, Beginner Clinics and Creek Week!

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Tips for Paddling Big Water

Posted: 09.09.2011 by Anna Levesque

Big wave trains are good for the soul. They induce smiles, giggles and fun!

I’ve been fortunate enough to paddle some of the bigger rivers in the world including the White Nile in Africa, the Slave River in the Northwest Territories, the Ottawa, the Grand Canyon, the Salmon and I highly recommend the big water experience.  To paddlers who learn to kayak on low volume rivers big water can feel intimidating and unpredictable, but for someone who learns on big water the boils, the huge waves and whirlpools feel normal and fun.  It’s all in where you learn and what type of rivers you start with.  Inspired by the learning curve of the awesome ladies on our latest Girls at Play Main Salmon trip who were paddling big water for the first time, I’ve decided to put together my top 7 tips for learning to kayak big water successfully.

Tip #1

Remember that you have a lot of room to maneuver in big water.  One of the reasons why I feel so comfortable in big water is because to me it’s like paddling a big highway.  Most of the time the ‘V’s at the entrance of rapids are bigger so  you have more room to set up for your moves. This is especially true in class III and IV big water.  There is less margin for error in Class V big water as with all class V.  Having said that…

Tip #2

The water may be more powerful than it looks so you need to commit to your moves and paddle aggressively.  This is especially true if you have to make a lateral move from left to right or right to left to punch through a reactionary wave or avoid a hole.  Since you do have a highway to start you can give yourself even more room to get that lateral momentum going.  Paddle harder than you think you need to when first starting to paddle big water and make your moves earlier.

Tip #3

When you paddle big water you’re going to have to punch through big waves and wave holes so be aggressive about it.  Make sure that you’re paddling strong and not freezing up in the middle of wave trains.  Waves are less likely to flip you over if you’re padding and maintaining a speed that is as fast or faster than the current.  Stay focused on your paddling not on your nerves.

Tips #4

Paddle through boils with speed.  Boils can be the most disconcerting part of paddling big water because they even bubble [6069507359_f513799a1c] up in flatwater!  The best way to deal with boils is to get speed and paddle through them.  As you get more comfortable with boils you’ll be able to use your edges to stabilize better as you paddle through and you’ll be able to slow down and even use the boils to play!

Tip #5

Take paddle strokes as you’re moving up a wave.  This will give you momentum up and over the peak.  Then be ready to do it again in the next wave.  Not only is this good technique, it’s also a lot of fun!  As you get more comfortable in wave trains you’ll be able to relax more, keep your hips looser and take fewer strokes when needed.  The tops of waves are also great places to take a look downstream to see what’s coming.  It’s your highest point so practice looking around from the top.

Tiip #6

If you swim in big water be as self sufficient and aggressive as you can.  If you paddle whitewater you know about the ‘feet up/safe swimmer position.’  The safe swimmer position on your back with your feet pointed downstream in front of you is important for shallow, rocky rivers.  In big water you want to be more pro-active, especially if you know where to swim.  Keep a hold of your boat and paddle if possible because they can get swept away quickly in the powerful water — especially the paddle.  When you have the opportunity to swim into an eddy or toward a friend who can help swim aggressively.  The eddy lines are bigger and swirlier so they are going to take more energy to get across.

Tip #7

The water is deep so take your time setting up for your roll and try as many combat rolls as you can before bailing.  One of the big advantages of learning to paddle in big water is that you can hang out upside down much longer without running into rocks.  And if you do swim you’re not bouncing off of rocks which makes it easier to swim aggressively.  On our Main Salmon trip I witnessed some big shifts in paddlers from not wanting to hang upside at all to getting impressive combat rolls.  Everyone likes that!!

I hope these tips are helpful on your journey to paddling bigger water.  Enjoy and see you on the river!

These are my tips for learning to kayak in big water.


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The Yoga of Kayaking

Posted: 06.14.2011 by Anna Levesque

As kayakers we have the unique ability to spend a lot of time close to water and observe the qualities and energies of her currents firsthand. The inspiration for this article comes from that intimate proximity to water and the lessons water has taught me throughout my kayaking career.

The word ‘yoga’ means ‘union’ and there are wonderful life lessons to be learned when we allow ourselves to feel ‘united’ with the waters that we paddle. That’s why I like to call what I’ve learned from water ‘The Yoga of Kayaking.’  In this article I’d like to share with you some of these important and inspiring life lessons.

Go with the Flow

“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” – Bruce Lee

Anyone who has kayaked in currents whether they be strong or easy-going has witnessed what Bruce Lee is talking about.  When water comes up on a rock it flows around it, when water hits a fallen tree in the river it flows through the branches.  Eddies on the river are formed when water flows around an obstacle, such as a rock, and then flows back upstream behind the rock to fill the void that is created by the diversion.

Water accepts what is and continues on its path.  When we accept what is happening at this moment in our lives we are better able to go with the flow without creating suffering for ourselves and others.  This doesn’t mean that you just let life happen to you and become apathetic.  On the contrary, when we accept what is we are better able to take right action.  The water flowing down a river doesn’t resist when it hits the rock.  It doesn’t complain, feel victimized or react in fear.  The water simply changes shape and direction to flow around the obstacle.

We can refer to the same example as paddlers.  If we get stuck on a rock while we’re kayaking down a river we have some choices. We can resist and react in fear and tell ourselves a story about how we’re stuck and can’t get unstruck and about how scary it is.  Or, we can pause for a moment, accept that we are stuck and calmly lean into the rock and push ourselves off.  By staying calm we are better able to respond to the situation instead of reacting out of fear and creating unnecessary suffering for ourselves.  We wouldn’t just sit there apathetic saying oh well, I guess I’m stuck and I can’t do anything about it.  We always have a choice to respond out of a sense of acceptance or react out of a sense of resistance.  Acceptance allows us to go with the flow like water.

Effortless Doing

“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it” – Lao Tzu

I have a funny story that I feel illustrates this quote.  One day I was using a toothbrush to scrub out the shower — very vigorously – so vigorously that I was getting frustrated that the bits of mold I wa [recboat-H-091] s scrubbing weren’t coming off!  I looked and noticed that the bristles of the brush were almost flattened from the force of my scrubbing so they weren’t really doing much.  At that moment I remembered the teaching of effortless doing and started to scrub more gently and guess what!? The mold came right off without resistance.  I had a good laugh at myself – especially since such an inspiring reminder came to me in such a non-inspiring situation.

I always tell my students that the goal of good, strong kayak technique is to look and feel effortless on the water.  There should be no power struggle or fight against the water, but instead an effortless dance with the water.  When we feel effortless on the water we’re actually embodying the powerful gentleness of water that Lao Tzu is talking about.

When I first started to kayak I loved it so much that I wanted to be good immediately.   There were days when I would spend hours and hours on the river trying to get better.  I would push myself hard and when I wasn’t paddling well I’d get frustrated and sometimes end up breaking down.  Now that I think back on some of my most frustrating and emotional experiences on the water I realize that I was trying too hard to force things to come to me.

Frustration and unhappiness with our progress in any aspect of our lives is a sign for us to take a step back and remember that gentleness, effortlessness and patience can generate amazing results.  We don’t have to push and do all the time. What I’ve come to realize is that sometimes it’s not about making it happen as much as it’s about doing the work mindfully and then allowing it to all come together – effortlessly.

Compassion Towards Ourselves and Others

“We are both the wave, individual and unique, and the ocean. Both.  At the same time.”

– Erich Schiffmann

Each drop of water, each river, stream, lake and ocean is part of all the water there ever will be on this planet.  They are all unique expressions of the collective that we call water.  Just like we are individual, unique human beings that are a part of the bigger collective called the human race.  And all of us at our core want the same thing – to feel happy and fulfilled. Being human connects every human to each other and yet we often, too often, forget this connection.  This is more apparent when we feel wronged by someone else.  It’s easy to judge and lay blame than to set our egos aside and feel compassion towards another.

A wise kayaking student of mine recently told me:  “Never assume that you know someone else’s story.”  Maybe the woman who was rude to you was having a bad day.  Is that an excuse for her to be rude, no, but perhaps receiving some compassion will soften her mood and brighten her day.  It may not happen instantaneously, but it will have an effect. One of my favorite quotes attributed to Gandhi is:  “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, and it takes more strength and faith to be kind.”

And remember that compassion is not only reserved for others, but also it’s important to practice compassion toward ourselves.  Even though each drop of water in the ocean is small, each drop is an important part of the whole.  Appreciate your unique contribution to the world!

Pay Attention

“In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Paying attention to the present moment has been one of the most transformational practices in my life.  The present moment is all we have because the past no longer exists and the future has not yet happened.  When we focus our attention on the past and the future we are missing out on the awesomeness unfolding right now.

One of the reasons I love whitewater kayaking so much is that it forces you to focus on the moment.  If you don’t pay attention in a rapid you could end up somewhere you don’t want to be.  People are addicted to whitewater kayaking because they feel that intense joy that comes with being really present, in the moment.  You don’t have to be a whitewater kayaker to experience this.  Sea kayakers experience this and lake paddlers who are able to get really quiet and pay attention to the beauty around them are also able to experience the present moment.

A really simple way to tune into the present moment that anyone can do is pay attention to your breath.  You can do it right now as you’re reading this article.  Notice the path of the breath through the body and stay with it for a few breaths.  See what happens.  I bet you’ll feel calm, relaxed and energized!  This is the cheapest stress-relief available to you anytime.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a few of the lessons I’ve learned along my kayaking way.  There are many more…  These lessons are not meant to be practiced only once.  Just like we enjoy going back to the water to paddle over and over again, these teachings are meant to be referred to over and over until they become second nature. This could take years, just as developing good kayaking technique takes years.  Enjoying each part of the journey is important.  I remember some really awesome moments from when I was a beginner kayaker – there is joy in every part of the journey.

Article by Anna Levesque

Photos by Paul Villecourt


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