A conversation today triggered many thoughts. Here’s my unfiltered brain dump.
I’ve been thinking of changing my boat line-up. Most modern half slice designs have been made for people who eat more pies than me, or, in the case of the small sizes, pixies. In other words, there’s no half slices that are fun for me at present that I could take on harder grades if I wanted. My Party Rexy is a cool boat, but I’m finding the rounded hull difficult to get used to after so much time in a playboat, and it actually feels like a canal barge that I have to fight like an octopus. I can get in an Ozone or a Z One and immediately be at home and fire them around, yet modern boats seem to be designed for hugeness now. For reference I used to love my Veloc, which is now considered an old design that is apparently un-boofable.*
I once got into a small Machno upon its release in what now seems like 1896, and observers nearby were (seriously) asking me if it was the large. The problem is that in reality modern creek boats are designed to keep the team boaters happy. And that’s fine, because they are running huge shit, and pushing boundaries that any ‘mortal’ boater would only dream of, and they get good poster photos to help sell the boats to people who are running grade 2. In the UK, I don’t really think there is any river that truly demands some of the latest designs. Sure, they’d make some of the runs smoother, but many of them were run in Spuds at one point. Some of the best boaters I know run the UK steeps in absolute nails. Old Dagger Nomads that have had an Elastoplast placed over cracks. Oh, the original Nomad… That was a nice boat. Hole bait, but when you weren’t side surfing for your life, it was great.
However, one aspect triggered my thought process. The idea of running steep G4 runs in something like an Antix 2.0. Let’s get one thing out of the way. Dane Jackson has shown that the Antix 2.0 can run some gnarly shit. But he’s Dane Jackson. You know, the guy who ran his final run at the recent 2022 Freestyle World Cup without a paddle for a bit of a laugh, and still scored over 800 points. Yeah, that guy. Not you (the proverbial you).
In other words, let’s look at this beyond the scope of someone who could paddle a bin liner down a river and still be a better than 99.999% of boaters out there.
One question that came up was, what safety features does a creeker offer over, well, a downriver freestyle thingy slice boat? It’s a question that comes of experience. Sure, you can take your river play boat onto the steeps, and if you are a really good boater, and I mean a really good boater, you can probably be confident that all is okay. The problem comes when you are 99.999999999% of white water boaters. Sure, you might be happy to take that river play boat on grade 4, but is it actually grade 4? The thing to remember here is that there’s grade 4, and then there’s *grade 4*.
Bala Mill falls or the last main rapid on the popular Conwy run at normal levels is probably more like 3+. Not truly high consequence, and the line is very obvious. The point is this; that a true G4 run does not have obvious lines, is powerful, has actual consequences if you fuck up, and is consistent at the grade throughout the river trip. In other words it’s not a one-off rapid in the middle or at the end of a generally grade 3 trip. The Etive, or many other popular Scottish runs, at a dog-low level, do not run at the grade. Some do, but many don’t. The Etive is an example of a river that often gets run mostly at a very low level. See it higher than the tourist levels and you might reconsider… It’s a serious prospect. Would you be looking at it and thinking that the splat boat is the weapon of choice? I think the colour of the inside of your pants would be the decider.
For runs that are actually steep, and involve big drops, a creek boat, or a boat that has been designed for those environments, even if a ‘fake’ half slice design (like one of the Waka things), have safety features that are crucial. The foot block design is one aspect, the step out pillar another. A river play boat, if it plugs deep after a big drop, say 15ft or more, may not resurface in a stable way. Let me rephrase that, it *won’t* resurface in a stable way. Steep rivers often have tree blockages and other pin hazards. Does your boat have grab handles that are accessible if you are pinned onto your back deck or the front, or even neutral? Many river play boats do not. They are river play boats for a reason. They aren’t designed with crucial safety features in mind because they aren’t designed for those steep environments. Some have some crossover, but they’re not designed as your grade 4 low volume steeps go to!
Some things come from experience. When you haven’t yet experienced a full on continuous G4 run, a true steep environment, or the consequences of getting it wrong, or even, tragically, losing a friend to it, it’s hard to grasp the considerations of running harder white water. Today there seems to be a race to run harder stuff as quickly as possible, or worse, to to get an idea of a more difficult grade from experiencing it at low water levels and allowing it to form your perspective.
I’ll leave you with this. If you think of yourself of someone who can comfortably run G4, can you approach a true G4 continuous run and own it without guidance, despite never having seen it before? If the answer is no, then you are a visitor, you need guidance and more skills. I don’t have the chutzpah put myself in that category. I’m way out of practice from when I used to paddle with people who were far, far better than I’ll ever be, and I was still shit by comparison then. So if you’ve never truly been in that environment…
So, what does this have to do with the title of this article? It’s simple. Many modern creek designs are designed for the type of water none of us will ever run, while the river play designs are designed for top level paddlers who promote them as being able to run hard runs that most of us can never run in them, while not offering some of the safety features needed. But then there’s the question of skill, knowledge, and learned experience. Make of that what you will. And yes, I’ve had wine, so this is unfiltered.
*According to people with no skill at all.