Spring comes early this year. It’s the first half of March, and the days are already wonderfully warm and sunny, with highs around 16°C. This is a clear sign of the climate disaster, and absolutely isn’t great for nature. But it’s warm enough to get the whitewater kayakers stirring, assembling their gear, and heading out to the river.

On Friday evening, a club mate asked “anyone up for a few runs?” The timing couldn’t have been better. I had ordered a new boat, which had just arrived on Wednesday. It’s a beauty! See below.1 So I spent Friday night fitting my new shred sled, and putting together my equipment after the winter break.

Image of the same two kayakers running the Slalomstrecke

The runs in question were to take place on the river Saalach, over the border in Austria, on the “Slalomstrecke”. This is a stretch of just 500m, rated grade III-IV. For me, this is in the upper third of my skill range. I knew I’d probably do ok, but I was still happy to be running with people who are far better paddlers. I would get out at the end of the stretch, and they would continue into the Devil’s Gorge (Grade V, meaning that mistakes are potentially deadly).

I was nervous. I’d hardly been on the water over the winter. And now a new boat! The model – a Lettmann Machete 85 – is a fine river runner, and more stable than my previous ride (a gen 1 Pyranha Ripper M, for which I was a bit too heavy). But a new boat means that I’d have to learn lots of little things from scratch. And I’d have to do it under pressure, and after several months’ break.

Things turned out great though! My river buddies were two guys who had been occasionally coaching me for years. They let me do my thing, but kept an eye out for me. They didn’t give unwanted advice, but were happy to answer questions.

I paddled conservatively, not trying anything fancy. I did get the Machete up on its stern a few times; after all, that’s what it’s built for. It hardy wanted to come down again, but at least it was quite stable. On the whole, the boat was far more forgiving than my old Ripper.

On each of the three runs we did, I ended up drifting down a particular spot backwards. That’s… not a good sign, and usually predicts a swim, or at least a roll. But amazingly enough, I made it down upright each time!

A new whitewater kayak, a Lettmann Machete in purple and white, sitting in our living room

It’s all in your head

Next time will be even better. My head will be quieter, and I’ll slowly adjust to the new boat, and learn its peculiarities. So, while challenging, this was a great start to the season!

Even better, it capped off a phenomenal week. The previous Saturday, I walked the beaches of the Baltic sea with one of my dearest friends, deep in conversation for days.And just seven days later, there I was, running a creek in the Alps, getting back into the swing of kayaking!

I want to note that my river buddies are amazing. Fortunately, whitewater kayaking isn’t a particularly macho sport. Sure, people brag; but once on the water, you see how good someone really is. So generally people try to be realistic about their skills, and communicate their limits clearly.

With these guys, that spirit went a little further. They sought consent a lot, checked in with me frequently, and were generally awesome. Thanks!

I can’t wait for the next run.

  1. You’re naturally free to think otherwise, in which case you’re warmly invited to keep your views to yourself. ↩︎