Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pommies Uganda Trip - Nile Special

In October 2005 Ed Smith and myself flew out to Uganda to spend 2 months paddling Africa’s White Nile, we ended up having an amazing trip so here is a picture report on our time spent at Nile Special.
Some of the birds around the lemon

Ed in a cool looking pose
Me chucking a nice panam
Ed throwing an awesome backstab!

We split our time river running the top section staying at Nile River Explorers campsite and playing on Malalu and Nile Special whilst staying on the Hairy Lemon Island.

Even surfing around on Special is fun!
Ed in a sweet pistol flip
Me going for the BigMAC

Nile Special is one of the gems of the White Nile and we were lucky enough to spend a fair chunk of our Uganda Trip camped out 10 minutes from the infamous Wave…needless to say we made full use of it!

Ed shooting some film
Me hucking a really sweet backblunt!
Ed going huge!

The Wave works best when the water is low usually in the mornings as it is at its greener levels then and is perfect for launching some huge moves!

One of the local kids with Ed's helmet on
Cool shot of me
Trying my hand at bodyboarding
Ed huge Misty Flip!!!

Both me and Ed took Riot Astros with us and they rocked out there so rather than tell you how good they were we thought we would show you with a little film I made (needs Quicktime 7);

Right click save target as on

have a good one,


Me and Ed doing our best goofy impressions hehe!

-To read more posts about our Uganda trip and other trips visit: and click on the news page button.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Toxaway and Big Creek update

Download Toxaway Headcam Here(44 mb)
Download Big Creek Headcam Here(25 mb)

Well, this has been one of the more fun/eventful weeks for me. I missed out on a great deal of paddling last semester because my full days of class always seemed to correspond with the heavy days of rain. Everything always ran on Wednesday! I don't understand exactly how this works, but I have read that the smog in our atmosphere from the workweek actually does have an effect on the "schedule" of precipitation. For some reason, the weekend is the least likely time for rain to occur, because there is not nearly the same amount of hydrocarbons entering the atmosphere from industry. I also think that this is exacerbated by the fact that Asheville is in a thermal inversion area, in which the mountains trap polluted air from the nearby industrial centers of Knoxville, Oak Hill, and other Tennessee cities. Quite unfortunate considering the fact that many residents of Asheville really care about the environment. Anyways this is just my interpretation, I'm not sure if it's accurate, but I digress...

I am now free from school for a semester, so I have the luxury of a fairly flexible paddling schedule. This past week was a great one to have no commitments! I didn't realize until Tuesday night that we had a gigantic front coming in from the east, and there were going to be plenty of options for where to go paddling. At the very top of my list was the Toxaway River near Brevard. Spencer and Josh Bruckner took me down this river for my first time, and after running it I was convinced that it was the best day of my entire life! I've run it five times since then, and each time could be described in a very similar way. It is my favourite place to be in a creekboat.

Pat Keller was nice enough to allow me to crash at his house Tuesday night, and we started narrowing down our options for paddling the next day. After waking up to snow flurries outside, Pat headed off to an early class, and Toby McDermott and I started our rigorous waterfall preparation, sitting in Pat's new hot tub! After some breakfast and rechecking of gauges, we decided to head in the direction of Toxaway, and if it was too high, to run the Whitewater. Upon arriving at the put in around noon, the day had warmed up considerably, the sun was out, and the river was at an absolutely perfect level. We were all amped. John Grace and Jason Hale joined us at this point, and everyone was super pumped to get back on this bedrock playground.

I've kind of been getting back into the groove of things since a very scary experience on the Chattooga on Christmas Eve. I was pumped to get on Toxaway, but admittedly pretty nervous because it's a very demanding river with some huge consequential drops on it. I made a dumb mistake on the third rapid of the run, a 15 footer, and took a pretty hard glancing piton at the bottom. Lesson learned on that one, and I tried to get super aggressive after that and get rid of the uneasiness and timidity that a bad experience like my Chattooga pin will give you. The rest of the day was filled with nothing but good lines, a couple backwards ones on Energizer and Landbridge(!), and a tonne of fun being out there with the boys. I have nothing but respect for each of these guys, and it was really cool to have the opportunity to paddle with them on such a great creek. They are a very safe and solid crew.

The 3.5 mile hike out at the end is always painful, but only adds to the expedition style experience of that river. I always end up daydreaming about the rapids that I have just run anyways, and it seems to go by fast. Another incredible day on my favourite creek!

Toxaway Headcam(44 mb)

The next day I was kind of looking for a non-stressful natural flow day of paddling. My friend Chris Schell called me that morning and said that Big Creek was running at a perfect level. I was super pumped about that, because I've only run this creek 3 times, and it really is an awesome place to practice boat control skills without being in a great deal of danger.

We arrived at the put-in and started the hike up the creek(pretty painful after my previous day's hike out of the Toxaway), and before long Mr. Chris Harjes came running up the trail after us. This guy is a ball of energy if I've ever seen one! We hiked the rest of the way up to Superman with Chris, about a half mile above the bridge, and put on.

The day was going super great until Action Alley. I ran the first four drops direct, and caught the eddy below the rapid to wait for Chris and Chris. I saw a red boat come out of the foam in the third, horseshoe shaped drop, and fall over the last one full of water, and soon thereafter Harjes swam off of it too. I was bummed to see my buddy swimming, but I wasn't too concerned and started ferrying into the flow to drag him back into the eddy. When I saw the look on his face though, I realized things were more serious than a little swim. His right shoulder was out of socket, and Schell and I got set up to try and help him get it back in.

I couldn't believe how tough he was about it. I had an idea before this of how to relocate a shoulder, but Harjes is a nurse in Asheville, and knows exactly whats up when it comes to this type of thing. In between winces of pain, he was giving us directions on which way to rotate the shoulder and how hard to pull on his arm to try and get it back in! I couldn't believe he could keep his composure. Anyways, Chris and I rotated off between keeping Harjes static and trying to pop his shoulder back in for about 20 minutes. That thing was not cooperating!

We finally decided it was time to seek outside help, and after roping Harjes across the river, we started blazing downstream to try and get back to the car before he could hike the trail back. Thanks to Glen Theiling for helping with getting him out of there too! Long story short... his shoulder was out for probably 4 hours total, and they finally popped that thing back in at Asheville Mission hospital with him on strong sedative drugs, and with three people holding him down and one huge doctor pulling on his arm! It's a majour bummer that Chris won't be out paddling with us soon, but he's got an awesome, super positive attitude, and I'm sure he'll kill it with Physio and be back out there soon. Good luck Harjes!

Big Creek Headcam(25 mb)

Anyways, I used my headcam both days and got some pretty cool footage. Some of the Toxaway audio is choppy because my CD was scratched, but that song was too good not to use!

Hope you all enjoy, I'm off to Africa on Wednesday for a month and a half!

Chris Gragtmans

Also, thank you so much to all of my sponsors for allowing me to live the lifestyle that I do; it would not be possible without you! Please visit their sites and check out their products:

Riot Kayaks
Level Six
Fortress Watches
Shred Ready
H2O Audio
Keen Footwear
Plug-It Noseplugs

Friday, January 20, 2006

Saluda River Drawdown

click here to see Saluda Drawdown Video! Quicktime format 21.1mb
Pictured here is Maytag hole at 17,000 CFS

photos courtesy of Deadman Productions
Columbia, South Carolina. First, it really isn't the Saluda River Drawdown. It's the lake Murray Drawdown. And I don't really think Drawdown is one word, nor should the D be upper case. I just thought it sounded cool and was more to the point to say Saluda River Drawdown. And I figured a bit more prestigiuos for the D to be capitalized. After checking my spelling, Drawdown is infact one word and being included in the title of this here novel, the D should be upper case. Did I pay that little of attention in English class? Yes. Drawdown means... a reduction in the size or presence of a military force, or... a withdrawl of oil or other commodity from stocks, orrrrrrrrr... our winner... a reduction in the volume of water in a lake or resorvoir. Correct! This year the Drawdown was pulling four inches of water out of Lake Murray per day. That equals a ton of water. About 17-18,000 CFS. This lasted about two weeks and I was happy to participate for four days of it. I stayed down in Columbia a couple nights with Joey. He lives about five minutes from the water.
Here is the putin at US Interstate 26

A normal, good Saluda level, around 5000, gives you "pop-up hole" where you can do just about any move in the book. Several pro level paddlers of today grew up in Columbia, SC playing at pop-up hole. But when the lake puts out 17,000 or more, new spots come alive and old ones either get better or go away. Upstream of "Millrace," the rapid on the Saluda, it is normally flat water with some very small drops up above. At high water the small drops up above form two defining features known as "Maytag" and "Lap of Luxury."

Maytag reminded me of Jaws on the Nolichucky. A bit shallow in the bottom but if you stay on the pile you can do all kinds of trickery. Like, I pulled a rabbit and a couple doves out of my helmet on one ride and then sawed my friend in half while he was lying in this wooden box. You wouldn't believe what you can do if you stay back on the foam pile. Otherwise, I beat the dickens out of my boat trying loops at this spot. I just couldn't be content with the fact that there was a rock down there and that I was hitting it on nearly every loop attempt. Keep on trying. One day we were at Maytag and I bet every paddler in South Carolina was there, or a least Columbia. People there have it made for play boating, and when it's good they take advantage of it. It's cool they have such a fun play run practically right in town. Oh yeah, there's a fun hole right above Maytag called "HJ" that's really fun too. I think HJ means Hall, Joey, like if you looked it up in the phone book.
Here is HJ hole

So, next on the list... Lap of Luxury. Chris Gragtmans has been telling me about this "amazing" hole/wave for like the last five years, and how "insane" this place is, and how he did like a 720 helix there back in aught 3, and how the hole part was pretty nasty and it would serve you a beating. Man, I was scared out of my britches and excited to ride this sick wave. Lap of Luxury is truly an awesome hole and wave but not quite what I had come to believe. Chris, you liar! (A wrestling match may very well ensue between Chris and I due to that comment, but that's what friends are for.) Anyway, this spot was nice and deep. You could in fact pull helixes, flip turns, small air blunts, loops, wheels, you name it. I've never done a "you name it" but I've heard about it. I think it's like a mix between a loop and a roundhouse kick to the face. I'm pretty sure Chris has done a ton of them. Email him at to find out how to do a "you name it."
These shots from Lap of Luxury

After Lap of Luxury you go into Millrace. Pop-up hole is gone at this level but you get "Blastomatic" at the top of the rapid. You can do all kinds of wiggity wack moves in Blasto. It has a long, drawing foam pile so you can sit there all day if you want. Down lower in the rapid you have two catch-on-the-fly waves called Cookie Monster and Cookie Dough, right behind it. Cookie Monster is there at a lot of levels but it really beefs up at high water. Cookie Dough just forms at certain flows. Anyway, at this point you have to walk back up to get back on these spots. Not bad, but each day we were so tired from the other spots that we took one ride and called it a day.
Possible Saluda Boy sighting

Oh yeah, if you go down there to paddle watch out for a group of guys called "Saluda Boyz." They are completely inconspicuous. Positively identifying a Saluda Boy is like seeing a Sasquatch or a UFO. They seem like normal dudes to the untrained eye, but that's a coverup. There happens to be a similar group on the Nantahala called Team Unknown. More on that later. Saluda Boyz is like a gang or something. I've tried to join for years and I can't figure out how to get in. Saluda Boyz will wait until you mess up and then give you hell for the rest of your life. "Mess up" meaning swim, get trashed in a hole, pull your skirt, etc... Basically, if you crash you are to be mocked, taunted and hazed for the duration of your paddling career. Some "targets" of the Saluda Boyz have been known to quit paddling all together due to the frivolous and scornful badgering they received. Be careful who you paddle with. It just might be a Slauda Boy. Disclaimer: Truthfully, these fellas are very skilled, safety minded paddlers who would help anyone in trouble on the water, friend or foe.

Finally, every year there is a race at the Saluda called the Millrace Massacre and Iceman Championships. I think this year may have been the fifth or sixth annual. It's always the first weekend in January. This year it was on the 7th. Local, Andy Grizzell, has organized the race for the past three or four years and does a killer job. I've been to three of the past four Saluda Races and had a blast at each one. Every year it gets better. They feed everyone a huge meal after the race and have tons of sweet prizes to give away at the end of the event. This year they gave away an Astral PFD, some Fortress Watches, Shred Ready Helmets, $150 gift certificate to Half Moon Outfitters and plenty more.
Pre or post race parking lot

The Millrace Massacre is a time trial race in boats 8'6" or less. Massacre Video There is a class III course with five must-make eddies including some precision ferries. About a 2.5 minute course for most people. You have to start the race out of your boat, jump in, skirt on, seal launch and then punch it as hard as you can. Additionally, the top ten placers draw numbers for pole position and race the course again, head to head.
At the putin for the Millrace Massacre

The Iceman Championships is another thing all togehter. Iceman Video Unique, rightfully so, and aptly named, the Iceman is a race that will push any paddler who attempts it. I'd love to see a larger turnout from the extreme racing community. Though the rapid isn't "extreme" I think a lot of those folks would really love this race. This year there were about five people racing the Saluda who I also saw racing the Green Narrows, back in November. That said, any level of paddler can do it, and that's one of the cool things about it, and this year there were over 35 competitors. It's a mass start in long boats about 1/8 mile above Millrace. To start the race they fire a cannon that nearly rips your skin off. The shock wears off after about twenty paddle strokes though. You cross the pool, through Millrace, cross another 1/4 mile of flattish swift water, around the bridge pile-on, attain back up the swift water, out of your boat, run 1/8 mile with your boat up the trail to the top of Millrace, put back in, paddle back through Millrace, jump out of your boat at pop-up hole, swim 50 yards with your boat and paddle, pull your poker chip out of your pocket and give it to Andy for the finish. Whew! It is exhausting to say the least, but rewarding and fun.

I will be back and I hope to see more people coming down to the Saluda next year for the race and all year to play. This is a great boating community and a very awesome river. Good people and good paddling.

Stay in school!

click here to see Saluda Drawdown Video! Quicktime format 21.1mb

and click here to see the Millrace Massacre video Quicktime format 32 mb

and here to see the Iceman Championship video Quicktime 30 mb

Spencer Cooke, team Riot and

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Team Riot does well at the Iceman Championships

Team Riot members Chris Gragtmans, Spencer Cooke, and Joey Hall put in a good showing at the 2006 Millrace Massacre and Iceman Championship race

Held in Columbia, South Carolina, on the Saluda River, this race features 3 different categories.
The Millrace Massacre is a time trials for boats 8'6" and under, with several must-make eddies.

The top ten finishers in the Massacre then compete in a short boat head-to-head race which also features must-make moves.

The final race of the day is the Iceman Championship, which is a mass start downriver head-to-head race with no length limit that also involves paddling back upstream, running, and even swimming.

Congrats to the Riot boys on their finishes:

Millrace Massacre time trial:
Spencer Cooke - 1st place - Museum quality replica Riot Glide prototype
Joey Hall - tied for 2nd place - Riot Magnum
Chris Gragtmans - 5th place - Riot Magnum

Short Boat Head-to-head:
Joey Hall - 2nd place - Riot Magnum
Spencer Cooke - 3rd place - Riot Glide proto

Iceman Championship:
1st Chris Gragtmans
2nd Spencer Cooke

The guys will be posting videos and photos from the event soon.

Riot Kayaks

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Low Water Training

Here in North Carolina we are not always blessed with ideal water conditions. It's very difficult to gauge when the best creeks and rivers will be running, simply because we depend entirely on rainfall, rather than snowpack like out West. One thing that I love about living in the Southeast however, and Asheville specifically, is that we have year round low water creek runs to stay in shape and fresh for when the big stuff runs.

My two personal favourite places for this are the ultra classic Green River Narrows, and Triple Falls on the Little River. The Green is dam controlled and runs for most of the year, and well, even when Triple Falls is bony, like it was today, it's still a great place to practice your creeking skills.

I was able to get outside on this 65 degree(!) January day, and paddle in these two great training grounds. The Green was running at a standard 100% flow, or about 10 inches on the new gauge, and my good friends Cooper Lambla, Chris Schell, and Will joined me for a quick film session. I've only included a couple of shots of Cooper, as he will probably be putting up an update of his own soon, and we saved his best shots for that. Awesome run on a beautiful day, and after meeting up with Johnny Kentucky and Billy we packed up and drove the half hour to Triple Falls. For anyone who hasn't heard of Triple Falls, it is a spectacular series of drops descending a total of around 90 ft. The first two drops are good clean fun, and I would describe the third one as scary and stressful. You have to be really pissed off for that one, because even a perfect line hurts a bit, and a not so perfect line will have some serious consequences. No third drop silliness on this video guys, sorry. Either way, it's an awesome couple of drops, and great practice for lots of other bedrock runs, like Horsepasture or Toxaway.

There is also a class 2/3 section between Triple Falls and the parking lot, so a couple of those rapids are included as well, for anyone interested in running from the big drops down. More water is recommended for that section though, and for 10 foot Hooker Falls downstream.

Anyways, enjoy the vid.

Download Here(17 mb)

-Chris Gragtmans

**All photos by Mefford Williams. You're the man Mefford!**

Monday, January 09, 2006


It's almost been a year since Dru and I left -20 degree Vancouver for Uganda. Oh how I wish we were leaving for the warm Nile waters again. We stayed in Africa for five months and it was not nearly long enough. We got quite attached to Nile Special mainly because we hit prime water level conditions during our awesome stay at the Hairy Lemon (rock on Rob, Erin and Austin) and big waves are addicting. You haven't had a real taste of Nile Special until you've seen the green monster stage, unbelievably fast and bouncy. It takes the reflexes of a mongoose to throw down when this feature is primed up. And when you do connect on the timing there is the potential to go absolutely huge. Check out the video dru put together of some of our Nile Special footage. A huge thank you to Riot Kayaks who designs the boats that are the future of aerial kayaking. And a hell of a nice try to Nimbus paddles who sent us with five paddles to Uganda of which only one survived (mine). Enjoy my photos too!! Peace out.
Click to view the video (WMV format)

sunset (sunrise?) from the Hairy Lemon campsite

dru- skirt popped and sinking