Today was supposed to be the biggest day we’ve seen so far this week, although tomorrow is supposed to be even better. Today I was scheduled to do another run in a double ski, this time with American legendary paddler Carter Johnson. If you don’t recognize the name, check out Joe Glickman’s movie about the US Surfski Championships a few years ago where he points out Carter as being top American. It was Carter’s videos in the Gorge that convinced me to come here. I’m not sure what insane level of organizational skill you need to have to organize a week long event for 300 paddlers and still have time to go out for paddles with people like me, but Carter has it.
The forecast was for it to really start ripping by 3pm. We were scheduled to paddle at 12:30, but the wind actually picked up pretty strongly by the time we got on the water. Carter was understandably in a hurry, so we rushed a bit at the put-in and I forgot to hit start on my GPS, so I don’t know exactly when we got going, but I think it was around 1:15 or so. Also unfortunately, my problems with my GoPro continued so while I thought I’d gotten it started, it actually didn’t record anything. Which is really too bad, because Carter gave a ton of good advice and instruction that I wish I had a record of.
As we were walking down to the beach, he emphasized that we were going to let a lot of waves go – unlike the guys like Dawid and Jasper Mocke or Sean Rice who train 25+ hours a week, we have other jobs and so we have to economize on our paddling and only go for the waves that we can get on easily, not the ones that you have to really dig for. But by picking the right waves, we’d keep our boat speed up and get good rides. And he wasn’t lying – we ended up on huge waves, with Carter holding his paddle and arms up triumphantly over his head while I tried to catch my breath and get a look around.
As we started out, once again I noticed that twitchiness I mentioned yesterday, even before he got in. He tried to calm me down and relax me, and we paddled out at a warm up pace. But then suddenly he would give a signal and we’d sprint like hell, and 4 or 5 strokes later we’d be up on a wave and recovering. His sprints are amazingly fast, and it often took me a couple of strokes to get synced up with him and sometimes I’d barely get one or two strokes in before it was time to stop paddling. He’d point out a wave on our left or right that we were heading to next – unfortunately I relied on my GoPro catching all this stuff, so I’d just make sure my head turned that way with an eye to review it later, and not always taking it all into my consciousness. Carter keep up a complete monologue of what he was looking at and what he was doing. I just wish more of it had sunk in.
We went into Swell City, and it was even more amazing than yesterday. He warned me ahead of time that things looked a little hairy and he might not be able to talk all the time, but for me to watch his body language and try to match him when he needed power or when he needed me to stop paddling. He also reassured me that even if I blew my balance or leaned the wrong way, that I wouldn’t put him off because he could easily overpower me. Well, it turned out that I don’t think anything stopped his monologue. I blew my contribution a number of times when he was putting in huge amounts of power very quickly – sometimes all I could do was try to keep my paddle from dragging and just watch what he was doing. At least this time I didn’t clonk him on the back of the head like I’d done with Ryan yesterday – today I was a lot more cognisant that when you’re bracing down a wave front, your up hand needs to be forward rather than equal with the down hand. That’s a lesson I vaguely remember from Tarifa but it had never really been a problem until yesterday (and now today). I’m not even sure how that prevents you from catching a blade so well, but it does.
I spent a lot of time with a bucket full of water. This is especially true when trying going across the waves. Towards the bottom of Swell City, Carter said that the waves were driving us towards the left shore, but we needed to move right. I assumed that was so we could exit the big stuff near the end of the sand spit. But after crossing a few wave fronts and moving right, we seemed to be moving left again. I wanted to ask why we were doing that, but never got a chance. We were so close to the left shore I felt I could have thrown something onto shore. But then we got even further down – almost level with the sand spit. And now we in smaller choppier waves, and we were moving right almost perpendicular to them. We crossed behind the spit and were now in flat water and perpendicular to the wind, and it was suddenly obvious just how strong the wind is – it felt like it would have taken my hat if not for the (unfortunately useless) GoPro head strap. We paddled at what Carter considers a warm-down and what I would call a moderate cruise, and finished in the shallow water of the channel.
Tomorrow is the race day, and the winds are supposed to be strong again. I’m thoroughly intimidated by what Swell City looks like in big wind conditions. They say that there are less intimidating conditions to the right side of the river. The other factor is that after a 7 mile downwind run, I’ve ended up sore and tired and was actually wishing for the end before it came. The long race is 13 miles, but only the last 8 miles is through or beside Swell City. There is also an 8 mile race, but the start line is almost exactly in the entrance to Swell City, on the left side of the river. I could switch to the short race, but it seems like I’d have to go right through at least the early part of Swell City to get to the more benign part of the river. But on the other hand, I’d at least not be tired for that part of the river. I guess I’ll have to make that decision tomorrow morning.