Rocks n’ rolls |

Rocks n’ rolls

Matt Zalaznick

“One thing that’s been hindering kayaking is a lot of events are super remote. Spectators don’t have access,” Tyler Curtis, a kayaker from Ottawa who was “playboating” in the Gore Creek Whitewater Park, said Thursday.

“It’s great,” added kayaker Courtney Lynch, a Wisconsin native. “This will introduce the sport to people who don’t normally get to see it. People can be strolling through the village and we’ll do a roll and it stokes people out.”

Playboating isn’t running the rapids. It’s flips and rolls and sticking the kayak upright out of the water. And lots of village strollers Thursday were lured to the International Bridge to watch Curtis and his fellow kayakers twirl in the chilly rocks and rapids. Thousands more spectators will be able to see the events today and this weekend. Macy Burnham, a kayaker from Eugene, Ore., said there will be lots of exciting action.

“There are plenty of good features in the park to make for good, interesting competition,” Burnham said. “There should be a lot of good, crowd-pleasing rides.”

“The park’s super spectator-friendly,” said Brendan Mark, a boater from Ottawa. “A lot of places we go boating are out in the middle of nowhere and no one gets to see it.”

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Kayak vs. yacht

Because some people in Vail may be more familiar with luxurious yachts, Burnham took a minute from his chilly practice to make a comparison between kayaking and sea-cruising.

“Kayaking could compliment the mega-yacht,” Burnham said. “If you’re out on your mega-yacht and looking for something else to do, you can hop in your kayak and get to some places that the mega-yacht won’t go.”

“It’s a lot harder to hold a martini when you’re kayaking,” Mark said.

Local kayaker Brad Ludden said the valley has a lot to look forward to this weekend. And he said spectators shouldn’t feel trapped on the sidelines.

“There’s going to be a lot of action and entertainment. There will be some contact in the head-to-head races, which people always like,” Ludden said. “It will be the best paddlers in the world and our goal is to get the crowds involved.”

The best paddlers?

“Define top boater,” said kayaker Ruth Gordon, from the Ottawa River in Canada. “I’m on the Canadian National Freestyle Team and I got invited to this event, so I must be something.”

Low snowpack in Colorado has left some wondering how the creek is running and if low water will hinder the games. Gordon, Ludden and other kayakers agreed the creek was lower than normal but said the whitewater will still be exciting.

“It’s going to be hard because there’s not as much water as in the past. But I think the top boaters will shine because of the circumstances,” Gordon said.

“Due to the low snowpack,” Ludden said, “the creek’s peaking right now. If it warms up over the weekend, we’ll have plenty of water. It depends on the weather.”

For those in the valley that prefer golf course fairways to river rapids, kayaker Curtis said kayaking is a lot like golf.

“They both take a lot of focus, and you’re trying to conquer nature or conquer the sport, not another team,” Curtis said. “Way more water in the mouth and more ear infections.”

OK. It’s not that much like golf.

A few minutes later, Curtis paddled out in the rapids under the International Bridge and whacked his head on a rock. He was wearing a helmet and he was OK.

“If you’re going to hit a rock, hit it hard,” he shouted.

So maybe he wasn’t OK.

With so many Canadians in the creek, why aren’t these watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs? After all, there’s one Canadian hockey team left.

“I was rooting for the (Ottawa) Senators, but unfortunately they got knocked out by another Canadian team. Now I’m rooting for the Leafs,” Curtis said. “But my priority is definitely to get on the water. But hockey’s good for apres-paddle.”

Go Avalanche.

What about the fish?

A concerned reader wanted to know if fish are a big nuisance in kayaking? Some kayakers count fish, Lynch said.

“We tease people when they’re underwater or upside down too long, “Are you doing a fish survey,'” Lynch said. “But I can’t say I’ve ever run into a fish.”

And fishermen?

“Darn hooks,” said one kayaker.

“Most of the time, kayakers and fishermen get along real well,” said Andrew Holcombe, a boater from North Carolina. “If you’re kayaking and you see a fisherman, you just paddle to the opposite side of the river.”

An integral part of paddling is, of course, the paddle. But, Lynch said, the paddle is more versatile.

“It’s good for putting out fires – and we like to sword fight,” she said. “They’re good for keeping the boys in line.”

Kayaker Anna Levesque, from Ontario, said even though kayaking takes place in the water, swimming is not a popular option.

“The water’s usually cold and you don’t have as much control, so you’re exposing yourself to more danger,” Levesque said. “But it’s not a big deal to flip over. If you’re trying to do tricks, you’re going to flip over a lot.” “You’re gonna spend a lot of time upside down,” Mark said.

Scuba divers like to be upside down. That’s true, said Mark, but most creeks don’t have colorful coral reefs and schools of shiny fish.

“You’re looking for the surface, not the bottom,” Mark said. “You’re always looking for the light.”

But all the kayakers agreed that it’s a sport that almost anybody can get into and have fun doing.

“You would pick it up so fast,” Holcombe said. “If you’re any kind of athlete, you’ll pick it up in an incredible hurry and you can take as far to the edge as want.”

“Kayaking is just a lot of fun,” Burnham said. “Anyone can get into it because there are so many different facets – extreme, playboating, touring. It has its niche for just about everybody.”

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