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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Effort.tv