Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Boat choice and spring races

Last night my buddy Martin emailed inquiring about a canoe triathlon that he is thinking of doing this spring in Montana. It is called the Peaks to Prairie Race and it looks like a hoot. His question centered on what kind of boat would be effective for this kind of race. I thought about it for awhile and realized that this is something worth pondering a bit. Every spring from California to Maine there are spring races, generally centered on run-off and fast water. Boat choice in these races is extremely important to race success. At first I was just going to send Martin three boats out of the Wenonah line that I felt would be good on the course but then I decided I should go through the paces and see what the river was really like. It was a great exercise and would be a good thing to learn for anybody looking to do a race or even just run a river. I did a bunch of google searches and sought out info on the exact section of river that Martin would be paddling. I also looked at the DNR flow charts and water level graphs to get a feel for the size and speed of the river. I checked out the past results, lookinf for times and names that I might remember from racing. I checked out the race sight for the river route description. My conclusion? First, that you can never trust the river description from the race directors! To read the route description I would look at the river (lower Yellowstone near Billings) as fairly serious whitewater. Digging deeper though I found that most likely it is a large, high flow river with some standing waves and bridges to get around. A different boat entirely than the boat I would have chosen from the race description. Now of course the best way to choose a boat is to run the water, a luxury I dont have sitting here in MN. The main point of this rant is that you need to do your homework to pick the best boat. By doing that however you will literally make huge time increases on the competition, especially in a moving water contest. Many participants will choose highly rockered, huge depth whitewater boats to deal with the obvious challenges but then will suffer where time is really made, on the longer flat and moving water. Another tip, learn to paddle minimal craft in bigger water!

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