Whitewater Paddling
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In and Around

River Conditions
Tohickon Creek
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Learning Curve
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Most of the terms used in describing canoes, kayaks and rafts are the same as those used in describing other types of watercraft. However, there are some unique terms paddlers need to know.

Boof: To bounce off rocks in the process of paddling from point A to point B. Not healthy for fiberglasss boats. :-)

C-1: Decked canoe, a cross between the C-boat and a kayak. Like the kayak, it's decked (and in fact, it looks a lot like one), but like the C-boat the paddler kneels on a saddle and uses a single-bladed paddle.

C-2: A two-person C-1, often seen at whitewater slalom races. Requires a great deal of coordination between the paddlers to keep upright and moving somewhere useful.

C-boat: Whitewater open canoe, a version of the canoe that's made to handle rough water. Usually includes lots of floatation to keep it from swamping; paddler usually kneels on a saddle in the middle of the boat. Also known as OC-1, or OC-2 in the two-person edition.

CFS: Cubic feet per second, a measure of river flow.

Continuous: A characteristic of a river. Continuous is usually used as "continuous rapids", meaning that there is little or no flatwater between rapids. Opposite of pool-and-drop. Some pool-and-drop rivers become continuous at high flow. See Pool and Drop.

Cross-stroke: What C-boaters do when they need to take a paddle stroke on the other side of their boat. Really good C-boaters develop equal power and finesse on both sides.

Eddy: The quiet area behind a rock, pillar, bend in the river, etc. A good place to rest. The line where the whitewater meets the quiet eddy water is called the eddyline. Eddylines sometimes cause sudden flips, especially if there is a significant velocity differential between the current going downstream (main flow) and the current going upstream (eddy flow). An "eddy turn" ("breakout" in the UK) consists of leaving the main flow and getting into the eddy.

Ender/Pop-up: A hot-dog move favored by hardboaters (and some rafters!). The idea is to paddle the boat into a spot where the river pushes the bow down, thus lifting the stern into the air. Doing this just right in the right spot can cause the entire boat to be launched into the air backwards, which is known as a pop-up. (Going in stern first results in a backender.) Optional paddle spins, salutes, and pirouettes complement this move. :-)

Eskimo Roll: Basic self-rescue technique for kayakers and C-boaters. The paddle and body are used to turn the boat rightside-up after a capsize. Some even do it without a paddle ("hands roll").

Flatwater: Sections of relatively slow-moving water in between rapids. Allows paddlers time to share their impressions of the last Huge Gnarly Boatmunching Rapids before the next one.

FPM: feet per mile, a measure of how fast a river is losing altitude.

Hairy/Hairboating: Usually means boating over your head, or boating extremely dangerous stuff. Some people consider the term "hairboater" to be an honorific. Running 300 FPM creeks or 50,000 CFS floodstage rivers are exercises in hairboating.

Haystack: Big standing waves which are breaking on their upstream face. Many rapids will have a series of haystacks downstream of the main hole; riding these is much like bouncing along on a rollercoaster, and can be a lot of fun. Haystacks are a pretty benign form of whitewater, and allow paddlers to show off by "catching air".

Highside: This is what you do in a raft when one side goes way up in the air and the raft threatens to flip. Leaping to that side and pushing it down can prevent flips and/or wraps.

Hole: The whitest whitewater. This is the area downstream from a drop or rock where there is a boiling action of the water, with a lot of water being reccirculated. This is also known as a "stopper", which is what they do to boats. Some people have named certain nasty holes: Maytag is one memorable one, and that's what it feels like to be in one, upside down. Stay rightside up, however, and they're fun to play in/on. Learning to read the water in and around holes in order to figure out what it will do to you if you land in it is an excellent skill to develop; learning how to get out of grabby holes is another good idea. See Hydraulic.

Hull: The bottom of canoes and kayaks can range from flat-bottomed to perfectly rounded. While rounded hulls have the speed advantage, flat-bottomed craft are more suited for whitewater due to their stability. The best bottom for most craft is some compromise of the two, usually a shallow-V type.

Hydraulic (AKA reversals): This is a hole formed by current dropping over a vertical or near-vertical obstruction (or a drop in the riverbed). If the obstruction is perpendicular to the current flow, uniform, symmetrical, or some combination of all three, the hydraulic can become extremely powerful. The forces generated as the falling flow pulls surface water upstream can be powerful enough to flip a boat and hold it indefinitely. Swimmers caught in such places are said to be "maytagged", for obvious reasons, and it's not pleasant. Most hydraulics will let go of boats, boaters, and other gear after one trip around or so, but other "keeper" hydraulics will recirculate their contents indefinitely. There are some hydraulics, notably those formed by low-head dams, which are known as "terminal hydraulics", again, for obvious reasons, and are to be avoided at all costs. See Hole.

K-1: One person kayak; the paddler is seated and uses a two-bladed paddle. Variants include the squirt boat, bat boat, creek boat, slalom boat, downriver boat and sea kayak.

K-2: Two-person kayak, not seen much here in the US, but apparently quite popular in Europe.

Lambertville: When used anywhere near Pennsylvania, usually refers to the section of the Delaware River just below the wing dam between Lambertville (NJ) and New Hope (PA). This is the whitewater equivalent of a jungle gym, and is a great place to train at normal flows. At high water, the wing dam becomes dangerous to approach due to the reversal formed behind it, the waves in the center get very large, and any swim could be long due to the length of the rapid and the width of the river.

Loop: When used anywhere near Pennsylvania, usually refers to the first part of the Lower Youghiogheny ("Yock"), which starts just below Ohiopyle Falls. The Loop is about 1.2 miles long, drops at 52 FPM, and is rated III-IV. The name comes from the river's shape: it almost bends back on itself, making it possible to run this section, portage back to the start, run it again...

On-side/Off-side: (1) For a C-boater, refers to the side on which they paddle/don't paddle. A right-handed C-boater's right side is their on-side, their left side is their off-side. (2) Most people learn to roll first on one side, then the other, and few develop equal facility on both sides. The stronger side is generally called the on-side.

Peelout: Crossing the eddyline back into the current, usually facing upstream about 45 degrees, with the intention of turning downstream.

Pillow: When water strikes the upstream side of a rock, it sometimes tends to "pile up" in a standing wave. These "pillows" tend to bounce a boat away from the rock and can be used as an aid to maneuvering... provided you don't wash into or over the rock. The absence of a pillow on the upstream side of a rock can mean that the rock is undercut, BUT the presence of a pillow DOES NOT necessarily mean that it isn't.

Pool and Drop: Many rivers are characterized by fairly short rapids interspersed with flat stretches which make rescue a bit simpler and allow paddlers to compose themselves before the bottom drops out again. Such streams are known as pool and drop rivers, as opposed to continuous. See Continuous.

Pourover: Pourovers are rocks with flat tops that are just under the surface of the water. Running them can be tricky: if there's not enough water flowing over the rock, the boat (especially a raft) may become lodged on the rock. Occasionally, pourovers also come complete with sharp surfaces capable of putting new holes in boats. Generally to be avoided unless you're sure of what you're doing.

Rocker: Another measure of the shape of the hull, this time below the water line. Rocker refers to how curved the bow is along the keel line. As expected, no rocker produces a fast canoe that loves to go straight, a nice feature when touring on large lakes. A heavily rockered boat will turn on a dime, but will not track well. Most recreational canoes will have a slight amount of rocker and a straight keel line.

Scudder's: When used anywhere near Pennsylvania, usually refers to Scudder's Falls, a great drive-up play spot on the Delaware River just north of where I-95 crosses it (upstream from Trenton). Scudder's main feature is a chute (on the NJ side) where the water drops over a ledge and forms a very nice series of waves suitable for surfing, pop-ups, roll practice and general silliness. There are also some nice waves and other features out in the less-crowded main channel. (Don't be fooled by the "Falls" designation; just about every rapid on the Delaware is a "Falls".)

Sluice: Water going through a very narrow passage between two rocks at high speed. Usually terminates in a strainer or something equally nasty, and should be avoided.

Staircase: When used anywhere near Pennsylvania, usually refers to the section of the Shenandoah River at Harper's Ferry. The Staircase itself is about a mile of the river, just about its confluence with the Potomac, which contains dozens of diagonal ledges ranging from a few inches to several feet high. It's class II-III at most levels, but becomes significantly harder at high flows due to the continuous nature of the rapids.

Standing Wave: This is where fast water meets slow water, causing a wave to build up. They're fun, but can swamp open canoes.

Strainer: This is what happens when trees, trash, and other assorted items become lodged in rocks in the path of the current. Boats and boaters who float into strainers tend to stay there, so avoid these, period. If you do by some remote chance find yourself swimming into one, try to climb up onto whatever's in there -- you might be able to get over it and float off the other side, or possibly climb out of the water. Many undercut rocks have strainers under them, creating an extreme hazard.

Surf: Surfing the standing waves in a river is much like surfing the moving waves in an ocean. Surfing is done by getting onto the upstream face of a wave, and then letting gravity (pulling the boat down and upstream) balance the force of the wave (pulling the boat up and downstream). All the boater needs to do is to keep the boat pointed parallel to the current, and the river does the rest. Surfing with the bow downstream is known as backsurfing. It's also possible to sidesurf hydraulics; one leans downstream on a low brace and balances the recirculating force of the hole against the friction of the current on the boat's hull. This takes quite a bit of balance, and one's first few attempts usually terminate in a *very* fast upstream flip ("window-shading").

Tumblehome: Refers to the shape of the sides of a craft, especially open canoes. If the sides flare, the boat will be better at keeping water out, but harder to paddle, as the paddler has to reach out farther to place the paddle in the water. Again, a compromise is best: combinations of tumblehome and flare will change as the use of the canoe changes. Racing canoes which rarely see a wave will have extreme tumblehome, but larger touring canoes will have more flare to keep the waves out.

Undercut: Over time, rivers can erode out the bases of rocks which are in the path of the main current, forming undercut rocks. Undercuts represent an extreme hazard to boaters, since rescue is nearly impossible once someone becomes trapped under such a rock by the force of the current. Some, but NOT all, undercut rocks are characterized by the absence of a pillow on their upstream face: the current goes under the rock rather than bouncing off. Some, but NOT all, undercut rocks may also be recognized by the presence of a current coming out from the under the rock on the downstream side. Avoid undercuts, period.

Vee: These come in two flavors, upstream and downstream. A downstream vee (i.e. the point is downstream) indicates the main flow of the current is passing between two obstructions. Generally speaking, the middle of the vee will have smooth, flat water moving a high speed; this is sometimes called the "tongue". Upstream vees indicate the presence of an obstruction at the point of the vee; they usually also indicate the presence of an eddy just downstream from the obstruction.

Wrap/Pin: What a boat does when it gets plastered onto some obstruction by the current. Rafts tend to fold around rocks, dumping the occupants into the river. If you're in a raft that's in the process of doing this, try not to (1) get caught between the raft and the rock or (2) get your foot stuck between the tubes and the floor as the raft pins. Luckily, most of the time, raft occupants will fall out to either side of the pinning obstruction and wash away. Hardboaters are in considerably more trouble: the decks of their boats may collapse, pinning their lower bodies inside. Wrapping and pinning situations are extremely dangerous, and call for quick, knowledgeable rescue.

Wet exit: What paddlers do if they miss their roll. Embarassing in benign situations, and dangerous in difficult whitewater.

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