Finding Low-Water Magic


Andria_Davis_31-100x100Stuck at home in a low-water season? Quit complaining and hit the river! Andria Davis reports on her success in making the most of a bad water year.


I was surfing The Weather Channel the other day, hoping for some good news.  I clicked on a link about the upcoming summer forecast.  The weather lady said something like, “If you hated this winter, you’re really going to hate this summer!”  This statement really got to me—not because of the Weather Channel’s forecast, but because of her attitude.  A few hours later, I caught myself complaining, “It’s so dry!  There’s nothing to go kayaking on!”  After so many years of just hitting the road as soon as the conditions weren’t optimal for boating, I became frustrated by the fact that I was home, it was dry, and I couldn’t escape.  I, too, had fallen victim to complaining about the weather, and in the process made myself into a victim of circumstance.  I realized this and decided that I needed to make a change:  instead of complaining about what isn’t happening, I would learn to love what is happening.  This is the yogic concept of contentment.

The reason that the ancient yogis came up with a system of ideas was to alleviate the suffering of the human condition.  People in general can be very hard to please.  You could spend your whole life never being satisfied because things aren’t going your way.  They figured that by cultivating the opposite of dissatisfaction—contentment—one could suffer less.  I agree with them.  As soon as I decided to quit wishing things were different and love what I have right now, everything was better.  I noticed more of the scenery around me and became more engaged in my life.  All of a sudden instead of sulking and watching videos of all the other people in the world who are traveling and boating right now, my time became filled with so much fun stuff to do that I didn’t even have time for the internet.

So if you find yourself in a dry season in your area, and you’ve worked on your attitude first, here are some ideas to keep you, my fellow amphibians, satisfied:

  1. Dam releases!  Thank goodness for American Whitewater!  This probably sounds really obvious, but it’s certainly worth mentioning.  I’ve seen people complain that there is no boating, and they just refuse to travel outside of a 30-mile radius of one area.  There are tons of dam releases all over the country, and they usually occur no matter what the conditions are.  Get out there and enjoy the fruits of the labor of the hard-working crew at AW.
Tiger Creek in CA:  this is an AW release that is a fun class III, IV run that we ran during a drought year.
The Cheoah, a favorite Southeast classic brought to you by AW
  1. Low water.  I learned to boat during a drought, and I’d go out on some ridiculously low flows.  Most of the boaters during that era quit boating; but I was new and eager, so I went out there and worked every feature to death.  Get back in touch with that beginner boater in you and learn to see the river with fresh, eager eyes instead of as a grumpy, dissatisfied snob.  Unless, of course, you really want to give up kayaking and become a gardener.
  1. Learn to paddle a different craft.  When you boat a lot in an area, the dam releases and low water runs can become too familiar and boring.  Before you go spending your money on climbing gear or a mountain bike, get a different type of river craft.  Try a play boat, long boat, slalom boat, squirt boat…  You could also learn to Bellyak or SUP.  There are tons of opportunities to spice up a well-known river or even a lake that can keep you on the water and end up making you a better boater when the rain or snow returns!
Gettin’ Vertical in Yard Sale rapid on the Cheoah.
Gettin’ Vertical in Yard Sale rapid on the Cheoah.
Get it boys!
My friend Suzie surfing it up on a river board at our local playspot at low water.
  1. Creek Hike.  This activity might be one of my favorite things to do when the rivers are low.  I love to put on river shorts and a pair of river sandals and explore on foot!  As I’m hiking up the creek beds, there are often pools to swim in and slides to ride on my butt!  There are flowers to identify and berries to eat.  You could also turn this into a scouting mission for a future creek to run or carry a chainsaw and clean out your local run.


Pisgah hike

Pisgah swim
The reward instead of the consequence this time!
  1. Cross train.  Sometimes having a break from kayaking can be really good for your body and your soul.  Try yoga (I have put together tons of sequences on this NRS blog), weight training, mountain biking or climbing.  Watch out with this one, though—you could get hurt, and then you will certainly miss boating!  And also, even though cross training is good for you, everyone knows that 7 days without boating makes one weak.

This is a great whitewater season in many areas of the world right now, so you may totally blow off this article claiming you have no need for it.  Just make sure you save it for later, because one thing I have learned in 20 years of boating is that everything changes.