The Saint Laurence Seaway empties the largest lake system in the world into the Atlantic Ocean. One stretch of the river called “Rapids de LaChine” is the source much frustration in the shipping world. The otherwise tame 750,000 cfs summer time low river, explodes into a mile wide series of waves and holes that even the best kayakers wouldn’t want to happen upon without knowing where they are going. One ¼ mile wide holes, underwater caves, and the shear width of the river are all dangers worth considering before paddling there.
Luckily, the biggest surfing waves are easy to get to and in a relatively safe place with eddies. Little Joe is the main surfing wave, it is about 10 feet tall and super smooth. It tends to fluctuate from totally green to big foampile every few minutes. The ferry out to the wave takes about 30 seconds and then you drop down into it from above. It is an impressive sight when you get close enough to get a full view of the wave. It is so wide you have to decide where you want to hit it. There is an elevated trough on the surfers right side and a deep pit or bowl on the surfers left. The deep bowl is where the big moves happen.
I drove out to Montreal from the Ottawa River yesterday which is a 3.5 hour drive. I got to the river in time for Emily, Dane, Steve Fisher, and I to do a few surfs. Emily and Dane were nervous about their first paddle into the ocean like river that doesn’t seem to have another side to it. Steve had already scouted out a nice line for the kids to take through the rapid to the Little Joe, which is about ½ mile downstream.
They both did great on the paddle down. Emily jumped out on the island and decided that she would sit out the surfing and watch us. Dane was fully focused on surfing but was clearly nervous about his first big ferry out to the wave to the point of no return. I have found that it is best for me to have another person other than me take them through some of the things that make them nervous. They know that if it was too hard I would not put them with somebody else, and that puts them more at ease.
Steve gave Dane the instructions he needed to make the ferry out above the wave, which is a ways downstream from the point that you peel out of. Dane then followed Steve across the eddyline and out. The choppy waves, multiple eddylines, and big boils all pushed Dane around at some point, but he has great big water skills and just kept driving his boat across it all until he was told to stop paddling by Steve and the two of them drifted down to Little Joe.
Steve caught the wave and quickly surfed out of Dane’s way as Dane dropped in. From the eddy I could see Dane rise to the peak of the wave, then drop down out of sight like a skateboarder dropping in on a big ½ pipe. I knew everything was alright at this point because that boy loves to surf and once on the wave, he would certainly know what to do. Steve carved up to the peak of the wave and gave a thumbs up after about 1 minute to let me know that all was well. About five minutes later, the two of them surfed off of the wave and dropped into the next two big breaking waves below Little Joe on the way to the eddy.
Surfing Little Joe is not for those against exercise. The ferry out is demanding, then surf itself is quite tiring. To get back to the eddy requires some fast paddling and then to top it off, you have a 5 minute attainment back up to the starting eddy, using ropes and pushing yourself over rocks.
I dropped into Little Joe for some aerial playboating action, focusing on getting my boat as high out of the water as possible. There is something quite addictive about floating over fast moving water in the middle of a sea of river water. I caught up to Dane in time to take him out for his second surf. He was grinning ear to ear and just kept jabbering on about how good the wave was. I followed him out to Little Joe this time so he could show me that he can get there on his own. He caught it and then looked upstream to see me coming down fast and couldn’t decide which way to turn. He had the deer in the headlights look in his eyes for a second. Then he remembered that he wanted to surf the pit and quickly cut left leaving me enough space to catch the wave.
I just sat there in a front surf watching Dane in full surf mode, screaming back and forth and up and down the wave, spinning and catching air. His vertical wave moves are not developed yet but his ability to get the boat off the water seems to be. He would carve over and then up the wave, then scream down it and bounce the boat two feet off the water and throw and aerial flat spin or roundhouse. It was exciting to see him spend nearly as much time backwards as forwards and look over at me with that boyish grin that says, “can we stay here for awhile?”.
Since we didn’t put on until 7 pm it was beginning to get dark and the ferry back is about 10 minutes long and physically hard. I grabbed Emily and Dane and we walked up to the top of the island where there is about an inch of fast water over the rocks and we put in there. It took me holding the kids boats and then giving them a heave-ho to get them off. Emily is super fast in her boat and was able to make the ferry better than most people there, while Dane, at 55 pounds using a 150cm paddle and a 4’11” Boat is not quite as fast. If you don’t paddle super hard and make the moves back you get swept down the next smaller rapid and have another ½ mile to walk back. Dane struggled for a full 5 minutes to make the last move just barely avoiding getting sucked down the next rapid and finally made the eddy at river’s edge. Now, that was good exercise for everybody.
The next day would be the LaChine Freestyle Competition. Dane decided to enter and paddled incredibly well against the men’s intermediate class since there were no other juniors. Dane also learned how to attain back up to the top eddy without getting out of his boat, which was a great feat for his second day there. We didn’t stay for awards since our goal was to make it back to the Ottawa that night. However, I just got word from Tanya Shuman and Steve Fisher that Dane had won the Men’s Intermediate category. Apparently the video that was used for judging got reviewed more than once to assure that there was no mistake in case there were any hurt feelings. I can’t be sure but I think the organizers bought the prizes after the event. I doubt they planned on giving the first place winner a set of squirt guns until after Dane one. I thought that was a nice touch.
At 7am this morning, I woke the kids up for an early morning surf at McCoy’s Rapid on the Ottawa. We are staying at the “white house” at Robertsons which, for those of you who don’t know, overlooks the first major rapid on the Ottawa. In fact, I am looking at it right now and watching Dane paddle away with his friends Joel, Nick, and Number 2 as they head out to run the “Main Channel”.
I have been coaching the “keeners” which are the kids in the Keener program at Wilderness Tours. It is for teens to train for their respective national teams while getting accommodations, coaching, food, and development of solid work ethic, and general moral teaching. The top Canadian paddlers came out of this program. Ken Whiting, Tyler Curtis, Kevin Varette, James Roddick, Sharky, and more. Now, there is a new generation of Keeners as the program became relaunched this year. Dane and Emily love to train and paddle with this group. I highly recommend this program to any parent looking for the ultimate summer opportunity for their kids.
On Tuesday, Emily starts school with Huge Experiences. The school will begin here on the Ottawa and will stay here for the next month. I will be coaching for the next week to get them started off, then head home to Rock Island, and to the Gauley. Right now Kristine and Emily are off shopping for those last minute things before we drop Emily off for her first time away from us for any extended period of time. I can’t imagine what she doesn’t already have, but it is that mother daughter bonding thing, I guess.
Today I caught about 15 Smallmouth Bass, and one Muskee after the morning kayak session. I must say that I am enjoying my unemployment so far. No much has really changed other than not worrying about how Wavesport is doing and what I can do to make it better. I am getting itchy to make myself a new boat for the upcoming season though. David Knight and I have already discussed it and I expect that we will be getting back to our roots together. Just a couple of guys that like to make boats because we feel that we can make something better than what is out there.
Stay tuned, I will be going to Rock Island, where my activities will be quite different than here. Less fishing, but lots of horse back riding, airplane flying, and of course kayaking. Then, I am super excited about getting the kids down the Upper and Lower Gauley Rivers for the first time.
See you on the river!