It’s All About Bouncing in the Right Direction!
Cresting a horizon line recently, the thrill of running a steep creek was heightened seeing that I would be following a path of mostly water – the best part, though, would be bouncing off a series of rocks which, if all went well, would direct me toward my next eddy.
Running steep, low volume rivers draws on both traditional water reading skills and a host of unique tricks designed to take advantage of the many exposed rocks. Using rocks to guide your canoe through rapids is one common trick used on creek runs, but not so much so on deeper rivers. When river running, canoeist who strikes a rock may state “I meant to hit that”. At best it comes off as weak justification for drifting off line. However in creeking, doing so is all part of the game.
A pioneer of many first descents of creeks in the Southern U.S., Dave “Psycho” Simpson coined the phrase that went something like, “it ain’t if you hit a rock or not, it’s if you hit the rock and bounce the right way”. In low flow steep creeks rocks often are not to be avoided, rather, they are used to assist boat placement. Some of the best lines use of mix of channelized water and boulders to descend a steep run. Besides, rocks offer that quick change in direction that no stroke could ever match.
Hitting rocks may also help to stabilize your canoe. Often when water piles onto boulders it builds a pillow wave with an upstream seam of descending water. Getting caught here may pull your paddle deep upsetting your balance, or perhaps cause you to catch and edge. Either way the risk of capsize is increased. Better to cross the seam and hit the rock. By reaching out a hand you can reduce the risk of capsize further by using the rock for stability.
Things to remember while developing your rock hitting skills:
- Lean and tilt into rocks
- Consider using your hands to cushion and guide your boat’s path
- Account for friction after slamming into rocks and prepare to speed up after impact
- Strike using the front half of your canoe as striking past midships can cause pin wheeling out of control
- Although not essential, a plastic boat is both the toughest and slipperiest for bouncing off of rocks
- Elbow pads!
Steep, creeky, low flow runs often require striking rocks. Bouncing the right way is key to holding your line and definitely adds to the excitement of your run.
Author’s Bio: Andrew Westwood is an open canoe instructor at the Madawaska Kanu Centre, member of Team Esquif and author of The Essential Guide to Canoeing. www.westwoodoutdoors.ca. Article first appeared in