I headed out Friday evening for Erwin, TN to participate in the H20 Dreams Polar Playboating Clinic the following morning. My destination for the night was Uncle Johnny’s Campground and Hostel as it promised a bed, all the wood I cared to burn (to keep the bunkhouse warm) and showers. It all that and more! There were some very nice people staying there already and in the morning the resident helped me make coffee and get my truck loaded as I was to meet Chris Wing and the other clinic goers at the Nolichucky Gorge put-in.
Kentucky had an overwhelming presence at this Polar Clinic. I think out of the nine participants, all but two were from the Bluegrass. We gathered at the Nolichucky Gorge put in near Poplar, NC where we geared up and put on the river.
The clinic began with us warming up in the flatwater near the parking lot. Chris showed us several warm up drills designed to teach concepts like torso rotation and engagement, spinning a playboat, edge control and the importance of good posture. He helped us adjust our kayaks so that we were sitting in the center as well as tons of good advice for outfitting playboats.
Once we were all warmed up it was time for a little downriver action on our way to “Jaws”, the actual clinic location. Everyone styled the Class 3-4 rapid “On the Rocks” upstream of the playspot.
Jaws was at an excellent level for the day (~1400cfs), the air temperature was far from polar– nearly sixty degrees that day. I later learned that the water was a not so balmy 34 degrees, but we were dressed for it and we all had a solid combat roll. Any swims were contained to the two basketball court sized eddies just downstream of the hole and assisted by the three safety boaters.
“As a new boater, I went into this clinic not knowing what to expect.” said bluegrass paddler, Jimi Smith. “I’m about as beginner playboater as possible. Chris Wing made me understand the basic ways to setup for moves and how to position my self.”
Although Jimi had been boating for less than a year, he was surfing and rolling in the hole like a seasoned paddler.”
This was a beginning playboating clinic, but everyone was able to enjoy this feature. Chris focused on getting the participants comfortable with moving around in the fluffly white pile of water.
Not into the playboating scene? Chris has a great arguement for all boaters trying their hand at it especially in the winter.
“What’s great about this time of the year is that many of these freestyle spots are actually running and it is a great way to get out and enjoy the winter outdoors and knock off many of the cob webs of sitting sedentary this time of year. Freestyle in general is a great method to learn boat control and overall orientation in a very disorienting environment (waves and holes) which can directly translate to river running combat skills, not to mention it’s fun. I have never regretted a day of playboating no matter how chilly it sounds.”
Owen County High School Student Bernie Engleman was among those tearing it up in Jaws spinning and even accidentally hand rolling in the hole after losing his paddle. “I had a great time down there. The weather and the whitewater were perfect and the instructor was awesome. I learned so much to, I definitely had a awesome time and I can’t wait to do it again.”
Looks like he won’t have to wait too long. Chris has openings for his next Polar Clinic March 13th @ Eternity Hole.
Here is a small amount of video I shot and Jbob edited.