For whitewater kayakers, winter is a quiet time. Part of the reason is obvious: when it’s cold, flopping around in mountain streams is less fun, because your hands freeze. A less obvious, but perhaps bigger problem is that most rivers have little water. Levels rise only when the mountain snow melts in spring. Until then, a lot of creeks are kind of, well, boring.

Last Saturday a small group from our kayaking club ventured out for the first time. Not to a creek, though. We went to the Eiskanal in Augsburg, Germany.

This is an artificial whitewater river, created for the Olympics in 1972. While it’s somewhat less charming than a real creek in the Alps, it’s excellent for practicing, since you can run the same exact route again and again, trying to improve each time. Real rivers can also contain nasty surprises like newly fallen trees that trap unwary boaters. The Eiskanal doesn’t have that problem, and is fairly safe.

The weather left a bit to be desired, what with highs about 7°C and a lot of rain. I had taken one of my kids along. Even though we had just re-fitted his boat to account for him having grown over the winter, it turned out that he didn’t fit into the kayak anymore. That was a bit of a bummer. He handled it quite well, though: After the initial frustration had worn off, he chased our kayakers down the track on foot, offering extensive commentary after each run.

As for myself, it took me a couple of runs on the easier parts of the canal to recover the feeling for my boat. Then I finally felt ready to take on the “Olympiastrecke”, which is intermediate to difficult whitewater (grade III - IV).

I made it down safely four times. In between, I caught a hole the wrong way. The river flipped me over and sent me for a swim. This sort of things happens to kayakers a lot, and when I got out, the only injuries were to my pride. I simply emptied out my boat and hauled it back upstream, to try another run.

That day made an excellent start to the kayaking season. I can’t wait to get out on the rivers again! But first, we’re going back to Augsburg this weekend. A friend there sold us a bigger boat for the kid. We’ll pick it up, get it fitted, and then give it a bit of practice on the Eiskanal.

See you on the water!