Wesley's Wild World of Kayaking & the Jackson Action Wagon (JAW)

News, Info, & Events from my kayaking life

Late Spring Heavenly Highland Whitewater

This past winter and early spring was starting to look like we were not going to have much of a creek season in the southeast.  Warmer and dryer temperatures was the theme of the winter months in our region.  Then spring sprung and we had a few showers here in there in late March into early April that started getting an occasional run up to a runnable level for a day or so if you could catch it. 

At the end of April the weather changed and a more consistent heavy rain pattern started in the highlands region of northwest North Carolina and northeast Tennessee.  The highland area is centered in between Roan Mountain, Beech Mountain and Grandfather Mountain.  Out of this region flows some of the best rivers & creeks any Class IV-V boater would be thrilled to fire up such as: Watauga Gorge, Elk River Gorge, Doe River Gorge, Wilson Creek, Laurel Fork of the Doe, and the mighty Linville River Gorge.

  Running the bottom drop of Darwin’s Revenge on the Laurel Fork of the Doe. Photo by Matt Dalton.

I live only about 45 minutes to the center of this mecca of whitewater and we have truly been blessed with multiple option in the highlands region in late April and May.  I have been fortunate to catch many of these runs multiple times here lately and guide several first timers.

  Running Stateline Falls on the Watauga Gorge. Photo by Amos Ivey.

With all these local creeking options it has given me a chance to use both my trusty JK Karma Large and JK Zen Large on these runs back to back.  I still prefer my Karma for the harder steeper whitewater, but I love the sportiness of the Zen.  The extra buoyancy and boof ability of the Karma gets the job done well for me when I feel I need that extra safety net like on the Laurel Fork or the Elk.  However the Zen excels with speed and nimbleness in handling runs such as the Watauga and the Doe with the plethora of different moves and lines you can take on these runs.  The Zen also still amazes me at how well it stays on top of the whitewater despite my larger size.

Running the bottom drop of Groove Tube on the Laurel Fork of the Doe. Photo by Matt Dalton.


One of the highlights from this highland creek season was getting show down one of my best friends, Brain Vermillion, down the Elk Gorge as a birthday present with another best friend, Ryan Horn.  Check out Brian’s great video edit from the run:

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After Work Doe River Gorge Goods

Weekday after work runs are always a special treat for me.  Catching the Doe River Gorge at a good 750 CFS level is an even sweeter treat, because the take-out is only 10 minutes from my house!

Me and a group of 5 friends rallied earlier this week for delightful river trip in this under rated and hidden gem of a gorge!  Good times for sure with Todd Emma, Clay Landrum, Sarah Stine, Ryan Horn and Chris Clark on the Doe!! :-)

It was also nice to have a good place to take-out when we got to Hampton thanks to the partnership and work of the Elizabethton IDEAS Group and Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts Club in the development of the new river access site.

Congrats to Clay on his person first decent of this run and a nice video edit from the run!

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JAW Demo at the Paddle In Pink Confidence Series: Dirty Bird

When: June 24, 2017 @ 10:30 A.M.

Where: NOC Outpost on the Pigeon River

Who: Presented by Paddle in Pink for the ladies!


Ladies get out your playboats and your slicey boats, Paddle in Pink is putting on its 3rd annual Dirty Bird Confidence Series.  Come on out and join Crystal Gustin, Nikki Winkler Malatin and Katie Dean for this fun day on the Pigeon River Gorge!!  They will be guiding you down the river and showing you how to play your way down the river.

Last year was a big success with over 20 women learning how to get vertical and throw about in a playboat. This year the format will be very similar to last year; we will divide into two groups: short  playboats and slicey get vertical boats. If we have the interest, we will send a group directly down to the hole at NOC and work on park-n-play moves. Team members from Dagger, Pyranha and Jackson will lead the groups down the pigeon and instruct rock splats, eddie line squirts, surfing, loops and any request you want to throw at them.

The groups will progress to the NOC play hole where music and SweetWater beer will be enjoyed. A friendly competition will be in store to show off any move you would like to showcase. Pretty or otherwise.

The day will conclude with a raffle of prizes by various sponsors. This year the top prize will be an Orion cooler loaded with SweetWater Brewing Beer that is in Paddle in Pink colors, hot pink and black! All proceeds will go to a local animal shelter in memory of Jennifer Watson (our inspiration behind Paddle In Pink).

Please invite your friends!

Facebook event website for all the latest 411: https://www.facebook.com/events/772239839602140/

Don’t have a playboat or a slicey boat?  The Jackson Action Wagon is looking forward to supporting the event with FREE Jackson Kayak demos on-site!

Sponsors: Jackson Kayak, Orion Coolers, SweetWater Brewing Company and Kokatat

NoliFest Was Gnarly!

The third annual 2017 NoliFest was so much fun on and off the river!  We were blessed with rain in the week leading up to the event and had some high river levels to enjoy the might Nolichucky River.  River trips were enjoyed by many paddling groups both in the gorge and on the lower .  We saw river levels from over 7,000 CFS on Friday to 2,400 CFS on Sunday!

There was lots to do off the river too for folks attending the event!  The vendor area was filled with many paddling and outdoor businesses/organizations representing.  Several tasty food vendors were on site.  There were many other activities going on throughout the weekend: One Wheel demos/race, SUP jousting, bands, trail run, kids nature scavenger hunt, SUP yoga & race, AT hike, kids fishing derby, fly fishing lessons & fireworks.  There was a  ton of fun to be had for sure!  USA Raft & Mountain River Guides did a stellar job of hosting and organizing everything!

The Jackson Action Wagon was proud to be a part of NoliFest again this year!  It has been amazing to watch this event grow each year!  The J.A.W. had a great demo/showcase event for Jackson Kayak on Saturday of the festival!  We raised $782 for Camp Bays Mountain in a raffle to give away a #JKAntix!! Congrats to Will Saylor as our lucky winner of the new boat.

Nolifest for the win! Enjoy this quick recap video and see you next year:



The JAW is Giving Away a JK Antix at NoliFest!

Where: USA Raft – 2 Jones Branch Rd, Erwin, Tennessee 37650

Check out all the announcements of event sponsors, bands, demos and more at:

http://www.nolifest.com/home.html and https://www.facebook.com/Nolifest/

2017 JAW Fleet Rolls into Action!

Are you ready for FREE Jackson Kayak demos in 2017?  They’re here now!

Check out the full fleet on the Jackson Action Wagon page: http://worldkayakblogs.com/wildwildwes/the-jaw/

You can see more photos of the new fleet on our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1267105856701809.1073741837.615362971876104&type=1&l=6ab8db7104

Schedule your FREE demo soon! :-)

What Jackson Kayak would you like to paddle in 2017?

The Jackson Action Wagon’s is in its 11th year of spreading kayaking fun by providing FREE JK demos on the traveling showcase trailer. :-)

I am now taking suggestions for what JK whitewater, fishing/hunting , recreation/touring, kids kayaks or SUP’s you would like to see stocked in the 2017 J.A.W. Fleet.  Take a look at all the current products we are offering this year with the link below and let me know your thoughts by 3/1/2017:


I already have a Antix M, Antix L, Karma Md and Karma Unlimited (UL) in stock.  This leaves me with about 6-8 more spots for boats on the JAW, so let me hear your suggestions to help stock the fleet!  I plan to pick-up the new fleet at the factory toward the end of March, so stay tuned for new JK demos coming to the Tri-Cities soon!

Click on this link http://worldkayakblogs.com/wildwildwes/contact-me/ to send me JK suggestions.  Thanks for any input you give!

JK Antix Large Initial Thoughts as a Big Guy

I got to paddle the new JK Antix L for the first time at our local pool session on the evening of 2/7/17.  Here are my first thoughts after paddling this new design:

Fit – At my 6’-4” height, 235lbs, 38” waist, 36” inseam, and size 12 shoes I fit quite comfortably in the boat.  My hips are a bit snug for my wide frame, but not as snug as in my JK ROCKSTAR Lg for sure.  This is the only fit issue I have with the boat.  I’ve got room to spare in all other areas. 

The knee position feels to be around what I consider mid height and a bit more narrow than my JK Zen Lg.  Overall I really like how my knees fit. 

Seat height feels good in comparison to the parting line in the water and the sidewall reach over sits at about the same distance as my JK Zen Lg, which I like that position.  The 4Fun seems to have a bit more reach over than both these boats due to the taller sidewalls.   

I placed the seat in the rear position to see how much leg and foot room I have to play with and I can paddle the boat in the rear position and one hole forward from the rear with the stock 1.5” foam on the bulk head.  I can comfortably wear my Astral Loyak or Hiyak in the boat in either seat position.  Not sure if I could wear my Chaco Tedinho in the boat with its bulkier sole?

Float – I float surprisingly well in the boat.  I initially thought I would be maxing out the boat at my weight, but I have about 1.5” between the parting line and waterline at the cockpit area of the boat.

With the seat position in the rear the boat trims out a bit stern heavy and the bow trim is high, but the deck still floats above the water line when sitting flat.   When I have the boat in motion and lean back I can get part of the stern to dip down under water.

 With the seat position one up from the rear the boat trims out closer to level from bow to stern, but I’m still floating bow high.

I plan to try out both positions to see which works best on the river.

Stability – This was the area in the new boat design that shocked me!  The boat has very solid initial stability both sitting and paddling the boat around the pool.  This instantly gave me confidence for its river running/creeking abilities.  The secondary stability is a fine line for sure on edge.  The Antix has a short sidewall, compared to other JK designs, so naturally there is not as much secondary stability.   

Performance – The boat gets up to speed quick with only a couple of strokes and is quick, but it is not Zen or 9R fast for sure.  The boat is super zippy in the turns.  When you activate the edges in a turn the Antix responses!  There is plenty of volume up front to keep you riding high at speed and the slicey edges in the back act like a slalom boat in the turns!  The ride is incredible overall!!

Rolling – It’s a Jackson Kayak, so you know careful consideration went into this design on this aspect.  I found no major issue in rolling the boat.  The lesser sidewall reach made it easy for me to setup and execute the maneuver with ease.

There is more initial resistance in breaking the surface tension when initiating the roll.  I think this is due to the spoon shape design of the stern.  The lesser secondary stability also makes you stay on point with your follow through also.   

Summary – This Anitx is truly unique from anything JK has ever produced!  I thought the Fun Runner might be comparable, but they are nothing alike.  I am overall happy with the general fit and float of the boat at my size.  I can’t wait to get it out on some flow to see what I can do with it there to truly try out the stability and performance.  Could it be the best Watauga Gorge playboat ever?!  We soon will see…

Wesley’s 2016 Rain Gauge Report

The link below is to a spread sheet for my rain gauge I have installed at my house.  It’s a really nice gauge and it measures precipitation to the nearest 1/100th of an inch.  2016 was a little below average since I started recording daily rain amounts, but not far off normal.  Click the link below to view the spread sheet:



Yearly Rain Amount Total History:

  • 2013 = 58.50″
  • 2014 = 41.16″
  • 2015 = 52.07″
  • 2016 = 42.59″

2016 Ocoee River Race Report

The 8th annual TVCC Ocoee Race sponsored by WORLDKAYAK.COM went down on Saturday, October 8, 2016.  The race was a great time for the competitors and volunteers as always!  Big thanks to Jen Maxwell and the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club (TVCC Kayaking) volunteers who organized and hosted another fantastic event!!  It is amazing to many of us racers that the TVCC crew can get over 150 race runs down one of the USA’s busiest rivers with such poise.

The race is a time trial event format with racers starting in one minute intervals between commercial raft groups.  The race starts at the Middle Ocoee put-in ramp above Grumpy Rapid and runs the entirety of the Middle Section to the finish line below Powerhouse Rapid (4.4 miles).  Due to the length of the race you really have to set a quick steady pace for yourself to finish well.  It is not a race that you hammer as hard as you can because you will wear out well before the finish. 

The finish line is a raft you have to tag tied to the river right bank directly below Powerhouse out of the main flow.  You really have to carve hard right coming out of Powerhouse rapid to tag the raft or else the main current sweeps you wide left around a pile rocks and you have to eddy out and paddle across flat water to tag the raft.  That mistake can easily cost you several seconds when you are trying to finish.

The Ocoee Race is also unique to itself, because it draws a very diverse crowd of men and women paddlers.  The kayak racing longboats has been the majority of the field in the past few years, but there are plenty of other crafts going fast also: rafts, open single & tandem canoes, tandem kayaks, shortboat kayaks, hand paddlers, SUP, C-1 and even a few play boats.  There are many classes and divisions to choose from during race registration to keep things fair to all who participate.  This gives ample opportunity for the top guns to duke it out with each other while the weekend warriors can have their own heated contest!

Unlike the Green Race and Lord of the Fork Race the Ocoee Race course is primarily on class III whitewater, making the race more accessible for many whitewater paddlers with an intermediate skillset.  However, it is a good step up from racing on the Nantahala Gorge, so the Ocoee Race makes a great bridge to step up the racing game!

One of the more fun aspects in racing for me is the friendly banter and trash talking that goes on in the weeks leading up to race day.  My best racing buddy and close rival, Brian Vermillion, and I had a go at it on social media to try and prove our supremacy this year.  Ryan Horn and Casey Jones also got in on the trash talking action with us this year making some high quality entertainment!  We had a blast racing with each other this year!! :-)

This was my third year racing in the event and I was pumped to put the hammer down with my Mitchell Paddle for some fast lap times!  This was my first year racing in both the Long Boat and Short Boat classes (Often referred to as the Iron Man League in our sport).  I raced my Jackson Kayak Karma Unlimited/UL in the Elite Men’s Longboat Class and I raced my Jackson Kayak Zen Lg in the Elite Men’s Shortboat Class.  I knew it was going to be an extremely difficult task to beat the time I posted last year, because we had some extra flow last year with rain and this year we were going to barley be at normal release flows with the dry weather we have been experiencing over the past couple of months.  So I set the goal to at least beat my original time I posted in 2014 as a benchmark.

My first race run was in my Karma/UL.  Iron Man Racing Tip – Typically you want to race your fastest boat first to be fresh to post the best time overall.  My longboat run was going very good and clean for me up until the second to last rapid in the course.  The right race line at Hell Hole is a fine line to ride through clean.  The line is only about 3 feet wide and since you are in a kayak that is a little over 2’ wide you don’t have much room for error.  If you enter the line with any angle to the left you end up taking a big chest full of water hitting the exploding wave of Hell Hole; which can result in an unintended extended surf session.  If you enter the line with any angle to the right you end up catching the eddy on the right.  I spun out in the river right eddy on accident and slammed into the rock bank losing all my forward momentum.  I tried to quickly spin my kayak back up stream to peel back out into the current to keep from losing too much time, but Casey Jones passed me at this exact moment and I knew that he was going to beat me by over a minute.  I peeled back out behind Casey and I used what energy I had left to charge hard to the finish line raft.  I was happy to find out later that I did complete my race goal of beating my 2014 longboat time even with the spin out at Hell Hole by almost 1 minute, but alas… Brian beat me for his 3rd time in a row in this race.  I guess there is always next year!

My second race run in my Zen started well, but I was already tired early into the race at Gonzo Shoals from the previous longboat race run.  I came into Broken Nose and was lining up for the greasy race line that cuts through the top of the traditional right line to the left through a channel that connects to the sneak line left of the island.  I came into the top drop a little too far to the left and my bow pointing too far right, so I tried to correct with an air plane boof sweep stroke on the right to get me turning left in the drop toward the channel I wanted to hit.  Midway through the stroke, with my head turning left looking the way I want to go, my paddle tripped over the strong eddy line and decided to go for a mystery move taking me with it underwater.  At this point I was in a bit of a state of shock.  I’ve never been upside down in Broken Nose in all my years on the Ocoee and I’ve heard all the horror stories of flipping in this rapid.  I was also sucking wind profusely right before the unexpected flip occurred, so I was not quite ready to be in an non-oxygen rich environment such as I found being underwater!  I tried to setup for a roll and right before I began to execute the maneuver my head impacted into a rock underwater.  Casey Jones started behind me on our shortboat lap again and he said he saw me bounce up out of the water upside down from several hundred feet upriver when I hit the rock!  His exact words were, “It looked heinous!”  

Thankfully my trusty Sweet Protection Strutter helmet took the brunt of the blow and kept me from experiencing any kind of concussion.  However the hit was still hard enough to really ring my bell and leave a nasty looking scratch on my helmet that ripped all the way into the substrate of the helmet (You can see light through the helmet now when you pull back the interior padding).  I’ll have to replace my Strutter now, but I’m glad it did its job well on this crash! 

After the hit, I tried to regain my composure and I tried to roll on two attempts that both resulted in carping, but was thankful to get a couple of breaths on the missed attempts.  I knew I was drifting down river in the rapid, because I could feel the flow around me.  I decided that I had to hit my third roll attempt, before I go over the bottom hole of Broken Nose upside down, so I composed myself to setup correctly and execute the fundamentals as best I could.  I rolled up backwards just in time to find myself cresting over the left side of the bottom hole of Broken Nose.  I quickly placed a couple of back strokes to gain some speed to try and punch the hole backwards and the hole sucked my stern to the right as I began to drop into it. I quickly engaged a big left back sweep stroke to freewheel my Zen around 180 degrees and using my now forward momentum to escape the hole to continue downstream into the run out rapids below the main drop.  In the run out rapids I had to coast for a while to shake off the hit and make sure I was OK.  Once I assured myself I was well, I kept my eyes toward the finish to complete the lap.  I knew I had wasted several seconds with the crash at Broken Nose and I had no chance of trying to beat my goal of finishing the short boat lap in under 35 minutes.  I was happy I was able to finish the lap though coming into the finish line extremely exhausted from paddling hard two full laps!  

Complete overall 2016 Ocoee Race results at WORLDKAYAK.COM:


No one likes to crash or not meet goals, but that is what going fast and taking chances is about sometimes.  I try to take these moments to develop myself into being a better paddler by embracing my failures and focusing on the recovery.  I find no use in making excuses and getting frustrated with myself; this makes me get scared and want to quit.  In this sport we are all in between swims and beatering due to the forces of nature we are dealing with in whitewater.  I have learned over the years that perseverance and shaking off a mistake is key to finishing a race or river run, if I’m within my skillset.  That way I get to come back another time to try again to be a winner! 

Overall I had a blast racing this year again in the Ocoee Race.  It was a great time with many good friends on the river.  Then Brian, Sam and I topped off the day with a delicious meal at the Ocoee Dam Deli!  Good times going fast for sure!!