Take a video tour of the USNWC - CLICK HERE to download in quicktime format!
Last weekend I was privileged to be invited along with fellow paddle sports reps and friends, Rion Smith and Scott Sullivan, to try out the whitewater course at the newly operational US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. This facility has been under construction for a few years and has finally become a reality. Sarah Harper is the director of paddling instruction at the park and kindly showed us down the course for a couple hours last Saturday evening before the US National Slalom Championships.
I have to say I was extremely impressed with what they have built there. With this blog entry my goal was to show my experience paddling there for the short time we spent on the water. Hopefully the stills and video tour will give you an idea of what is in store for your first visit to the USNWC.
This is the pool where you start. Some people call this a "put in." Over to the left in the background you can see the control tower and the water pumps to the right of it. On the right in the background you see the climbing tower and park entrance.
If you put in and paddle to the right you will go down the Class III-IV "race" channel. This is the course where they held the US National Slalom Championships. It is shorter, steeper, narrower and faster than the other channel, though very fun.
This is a pretty nice drop with a hole at the bottom. After you enter the race channel you are pretty committed. If you are not a solid class IV paddler I would recommend that you work over in the other channel for a while before paddling here. The reason I say you are pretty committed is that you can't just get out any old place. You will notice that the walls on the sides are at an angle that is very difficult to climb coupled with the fact that most of the eddies are moving about as fast as the downstream water. With all this in mind don't let me scare you away if you are easily spooked. The will have river guards (life guards) on duty at all times and you can stand up just about anywhere in the entire river. Plus, some of the employees have already swum the entire course from top to bottom just to see what it would be like for a swimming boater. The swimming report got two thumbs up.
Here is the last major drop of the race channel, terminating in a somewhat sticky hole and some seriously turbulent eddies on both sides. If you don't like "funny" water you should blaze right down the middle here. I should mention that throughout this entire course you can eddie hop pretty easily and scout your line as you go. You'll want to make that call depending on your skill level.
You end up at the bottom in this massive pool where you catch a quick ride to the top on a magic carpet. This river almost ends where it begins. I'm sure this will confuse the average joe rafter who is already notorious for asking the question, "do we get out the same place we get in?"
At the top you slide over these shiny rollers and plop back in the pool where you started. If you cruise to the right at this point you will be heading down the "rodeo" channel.
This is a view looking back upstream just after dropping into the rodeo channel.
At this point you may choose to split Left, into the beginner, Class I-II channel, or split Right, into the Class III-IV stuff. Notably the Class I-II section is much lower volume and has large, slow eddies. It's perfect for any beginner whitewater paddler. I should also note that the whole park does have rocks on river left and right every hundred feet or so where you can get out of your boat if you have to. Some spots are easier than others. Also regarding the "rodeo" channel, the width is much greater over there than in the race channel. Probably twice as wide for most of its length. This photo gives you an idea of the width difference.
This course is littered with small holes and waves that are fun for wave wheels, kick flips, cartwheels, blunts, you name it. I imagine they will tweak most of these play spots the more they learn about them as they go along to alter and improve them. This spot was a really fun surging wave where you could hit spins, blunts and cartwheels. I even hit a couple mcnasties there.
About half the way down the rodeo channel you go through this semi-munchy hole that is actually really fun to play in. Cartwheels were really fast here and I saw Sarah Harper hit a loop. I think this spot has a lot of potential.
Just after this the river turns right and funnels down before the last hoorah of rapids. You can see here that it gets calmer but more constricted and you notice a horizon line at the bridge.
When you drop over this you start down a slide that ends at M-Wave, which is a close duplicate of the M-Wave in Montrose, Colorado. For anyone who has ever surfed at the actual M-Wave, the Charlotte version is pretty similar except more foam pile and about half as fast water speed, making the wave more friendly. The eddies are similarly turbulent to the real M-Wave, but not quite the same power. Though, the incoming green water is just as shallow as the actual M-Wave so be aware of that.
Here is looking back upstream from a surfer's point-of-view in the M-Wave.
And a shot of the same wave from the bridge. There is a photo of this wave in the newest Paddler Magazine that you may have seen.
After this there are a couple hundred yards more of fun whitewater, ending in a smaller, but fun wave, then flattening off into the bottom pool on the opposite side from the race channel.
Rion, Scott and I all agreed that this place is awesome and it holds huge potential for the growth and perpetuation of our sport. Hopefully other US cities will take a note from this fine example and use their resourses to make something similar happen in their own towns. Asheville, Atlanta, DC, Columbia and many more places already have perfect, urban rivers that are aching to have their stream beds altered slightly to accomodate the many paddlesports entusiasts living there. Not only is it really accessable and fun but this park makes huge economical sense, saving tons of gas money for local paddlers who previously had to drive hours to paddle. Additionally it projects an incredibly healthy, active image to the impressionable, non-outdoor enthusiast, especially urban kids who have never been exposed to the outdoors. Furthermore, I believe this place will make an incredibly positive and substantial impact on local and otherwise southeastern outdoor retail businesses, namely whitewater paddlesport dealers.
The people working at the US National Whitewater Center are extremely nice and welcoming and there is something at this facility for everyone. Aside from the river you will find 25 miles of mountain biking trails, climbing walls, a high ropes course, flat water paddling on the Catawba River (located beside the park), food, retail shopping and more. If you have your own boat and all your own gear $15 gets you an hour and a half of boating, and believe me that is plenty of time to wear you slap out. A bonus is that they only allow 30 people per session. Apparently the Penrith, Ausralia course only has one channel and they allow 100 people per session. So, Charlotte is making this as appealing as possilbe. Oh, you'll want to remember to stay hydrated out there. The water is warm and so is the air. I imagine fall, winter and spring will be very pleasant times to paddle there, concerning the temperature.
I give this place an A+
Take a video tour of the USNWC - CLICK HERE to download in quicktime format!
Thanks for visiting the Riot blog,
Spencer Cooke, Team Riot
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