A River Of Thanksgiving --- by Lindsey (O'Shea) Gray

Pam Boteler, Lindsey, Kata Dismukes

Pam Boteler, Lindsey, Kata Dismukes

Just as the pilgrims launched the Mayflower out of Plymouth in search of new adventures, hundreds of paddlers disembarked from Ross’s Landing on the bleak morning of October 28, seeking to settle their mettle over a 31-mile stretch of the Tennessee River.

Photo Credit:  Shawna Herring

Photo Credit:  Shawna Herring

The riverfront park’s namesake, John Ross, was a white man who served for thirty years as chief of the Cherokee Nation. In the 1830s, he sadly had to lead his people forced to relocate to western land.  Part of this “Indian Territory” included the present state of Oklahoma, where I spent a decade of my life. In 2014, I packed my possessions and reverse-Trail of Tears’d to Georgia, where I arrived wielding a double-bladed paddle and cursory knowledge of sprint kayaking. Immediately, I was adopted into a band of people who have been encouraging and exciting ever since. Though I’m enjoying Thanksgiving back in my home state of New Mexico, where the sun is always shiny and the dirt is always dusty, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my gratitude for the camaraderie I’ve found in the paddling community, and nothing epitomizes the strength and support of tribal solidarity quite like the Chattajack race.

I trudged out to Ross’s Landing in the frigid rain, with a dismal disposition that was quickly lifted when I discovered that Myrlene Marsa had left a giant cat mask by my boat to surprise me. We may be cunning competitors on the water, but on land, most of the female paddlers are dear friends.

 

One Cat Mask --- Check

One Cat Mask --- Check

Kata Dismukes had given me an extra hat to wear, and Dana Richardson gave me the pogies I’ve worn in sub-60-degree weather. I had no clue what paddling gear to wear in rainy, 40-degree weather. Between registering for the Chattajack on May 1 and the race itself on October 28, I paddled 746 miles in warm weather. After all that training, I was not backing down on account of imperfect conditions. I had some warm clothes, and multiple people offered me more layers, but I didn’t want to try anything new on the day of a race. I also feared that if I wound up in the water, I would be glad not to have to deal with heavy clothing. My friends laughed when I expressed my fear of falling--I had raced my boat successfully several times this year, and everyone thought I was going to be just fine.

Poogies

Poogies

Dana Richardson & Lindsey O'Shea

Dana Richardson & Lindsey O'Shea

I was feeling alright, except that I arrived to start the Chattajack with a recent hip injury. But I felt like everyone arrived at least a little broken! I took some Naproxen before the race and hoped adrenaline would carry me through. The pain seared down my leg and up my spine as soon as I sat in the bucket. I knew I could ignore the pain, but I didn’t know how it would affect my stability.

The start wasn’t rough. I was on the very far side of river, the Coolidge side, and I was facing the wrong way when the gun went off, but that minute wasn’t going to make a big difference in my time. I was just lining up like Morgan House was aiming his tandem, and he taught me most of what I know about proper paddling.

Dana Richardson, Joe Vinson, Lindsey O'Shea, Morgan House, Todd Hyatt

Dana Richardson, Joe Vinson, Lindsey O'Shea, Morgan House, Todd Hyatt

The course takes racers around Moccasin Bend near mile 3, and that day the waves were coming from one direction, the wind from another, and water was reverberating from the riverbank back toward the channel. These were big waves, though I’ve handled worse.  I approached that curve anxiously, and I wasn’t surprised when my uneasiness led to a quick capsize.

I had been falling out more recently, and I had practiced remounting successfully. However, conditions that moment were not like anything I had attempted to simulate. Waves were pushing my boat upstream, and the current was pulling my body the other direction. The 4 liters of water I had mounted with bungees on the deck kept tipping the boat over, so that I was struggling even to keep my boat upright. The longer my boat was upside down, the more water it accumulated inside the hull.

A few people I knew passed me, seeing me obviously floundering out there in my very unique blue boat. I was embarrassed, frustrated, and despondent. I don’t think I would’ve stopped for someone in that situation, either. It’s a race. Survival of the fittest. I was obviously not fit for this. I saw my hopes of finishing dissipate into the distance. All the miles of training, all the hours in the gym, all the driving up here to practice the course, all the sacrifices my family made to enable my sport--all was gone in a splash. I had spent all those rainy days miserably running on a treadmill, when I should’ve been practicing in the inclement weather. My heart sunk to the bottom of the river as I tried to position my boat and my body to attempt a remount.

While I was blundering about, muttering un-Puritanical expletives, some Squanto on a Stellar steed rode up next to me in a tiger-striped surfski and offered to help. He said he wasn’t having a good time, either, and when I whined, “I just want to turn around and go back!”, he said he would go with me. While he held my boat, I managed to remount on my second attempt. Seconds later, he fell into the river, and I held his boat while he climbed back on. We floated together for a couple minutes, and David introduced himself as a wave interpreter, river guide, and everyday hero. We floated side by side while this modern-day Squanto taught me how to catch eels and convert fish into fertilizer. We agreed to attempt navigating around Moccasin Bend once more, and, once we caught a brief break in the wind, we jumped back in the game.

David Dupree aka Squanto on a Steller

David Dupree aka Squanto on a Steller

I was so flummoxed by flailing that I couldn’t even remember where to put my hands on the shaft. I couldn’t think about any of my technique at all. My race number had fallen off my PFD. My GPS display stopped working, but it was still sending my coordinates to Blake, my husband, who had just sat down to breakfast with the rest of our sherpa crew.

Blake Gray & Lindsey O'Shea Gray

Blake Gray & Lindsey O'Shea Gray

When David and I started making progress again, there were no racers behind us. I had been stopped for 13 minutes. I knew my race time was going to be terrible, and I knew that I wouldn’t be proud of how I performed in this race. I figured a DNF was about the same as being the last boat to finish. Tears in my eyes, my camelbak hose trailing off my boat, snot pouring over my lips, hat disheveled on my head, I convinced myself that I was more proud of myself for remounting and restarting than I could be proud of myself for finishing strong. I fervently wanted to forfeit this foolishness, but I kept thinking about my coworker, Heather Billings, who had traveled from Atlanta to be the on-water medic for the racecourse. Her boat came within shouting distance a couple times, and I was comforted by her voice. She sent video to Blake when she saw me, telling him that I was looking strong, though I was feeling powerless.

I stopped at Suck Creek (around mile 12), where Blake was up on an embankment. He encouraged me to paddle over the boat ramp, so he could help me situate, but I couldn’t--if I met him at the ramp, I would have had him carry my boat out, and I would have been done for the day. David caught up with me at Suck Creek, and I was glad to see that he seemed to be faring like a Chattachamp.

Lindsey & Blake

Lindsey & Blake

There seemed to be quite a commotion at Suck Creek, and I couldn’t tell how many people were leaving the water or recharging. Turns out there was some of both. Chattajack had 492 racers depart from Ross’s Landing, 67 of whom did not finish the course. That’s still a much higher success rate than the Mayflower passengers experienced their first winter, when less than half of the colonists survived.

Like indigenous farmers immune to the elements, the chicken cheerleaders became many spirit animals to many of us who saw them on the course. These two guys were out all day, wearing chicken suits and Major League Soccer scarves, chanting “Atlanta! United!” with enthusiasm strong enough to resonate through the despair. The chicken peeps were also offering boiled eggs to the weary paddlers, and later I found out that David was one of the only racers who accepted their snack!

Near Pot Point, I encountered Heather Frogge cheering for racers while wearing a mermaid onesie and gliding through the mist like SUP-nymphs do. She offered me water, cornbread, Neoprene layers, and inspiring words of encouragement. I passed Blake and his bright pink umbrella shortly thereafter, and I smiled when I heard him cat-calling at me from a distance.

Heather Frogge & Friend

Heather Frogge & Friend

The last half of the race went by in a hazy daze. I looked around at all the paddlers and thought, “How are they not miserable?! Why are they so crazy? Don’t they know we could die of scurvy?” The only happy paddlers I passed were a couple proners, who were chatting to one another about the belt buckle they were going to wear on their hats at the after party. I tried to holler at a couple people “Looking good!” but my tongue and teeth and lips were so numb that my speech was completely garbled. I managed to say something logical to one paddler, and she said, “You too! Nice. . .device!” I assume she was referring to my kayak. None of us were making much sense at that point.

Before the race, I had hoped I would feel like Pocahontas, swinging around each bend of the river with my hair flowing behind me and a pet raccoon perched on my bow. In reality, I looked like a half-drowned river rat, unsure how sit upright or use a paddle effectively. My body never felt tired, but my mind was exhausted. The scenery that had looked absolutely gorge-balls a couple weeks before was bleak, and the cold was unrelenting. I couldn’t feel my fingers or my toes, and I eventually even became almost numb to the pain in my hip. I thought about Mitch Cohen, our paddle friend who passed away this year from pancreatic cancer. His battle was harder than anything I have ever faced. “Just keep paddling,” I knew he would’ve said. Stroke after stroke, I fought pity and pessimism, eventually forcing my mind into a meditative mode of counting every time my blade entered the water. I counted up to hundreds and hundreds of little Indians before starting at one again. I didn’t care about my finish time any more: I just wanted this Chattacrap to be over!

Lindsey on a Brighter Day

Lindsey on a Brighter Day

Finally, Hale’s Bar loomed into vision, a sweet-but-scorned sight. The haunted history of Hale’s Bar is fraught with tales of ghosts and gore. In 1775, having had to forfeit his tribal land for Hale’s Bar dam to be constructed, War Chief Dragging Canoe cursed the area, promising a “dark and bloody” scourge upon the land. The building that marks the final bend of the Chattajack has a vortex of its own, thriving on the souls of weather-weary paddlers. We sludged like creeping apparitions around the building. To combat the gloom, a fleet of fiery maidens on SUPs were cheering and herding paddlers toward the final stretch, seemingly delusional of our misery. I scowled at them and shook an imaginary fist at the settlers who pillaged the property of Dragging Canoe.

I limped across the finish line and crash-landed into Blake’s arms. David “Squanto” Dupree found me and interpreted that I was subsisting satisfactorily. Blake helped me heave my boat out of the water and hustled me into the floating cabin Joe Vinson graciously rented and stocked with a cornucopia of delights. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men sprung into action trying to put me back together. Rick Baker carried my boat and strapped it to my car. Dana Richardson served me the most delectable hot cocoa I’ve had in my life. Karen Vinson stuffed me into a warm shower.

Joe & Karen Vinson

Joe & Karen Vinson

I was still stunned and discombobulated walking back to the car, but I know Kata hugged me close, and Alain Ross, the other paddler from the village of Cumin, commended my effort.

Kata hugging Lindsey    Photo Credit Shawna Herring

Kata hugging Lindsey    Photo Credit Shawna Herring

At the pow-wow in the evening, paddlers and posse swapped war stories under the watchful eyes of a arachnid overlord. We all had a miserable experience on some level today; I didn’t think my struggle made me special. I was flattered when so many people, friends and strangers alike, approached me to ask what happened out there! They praised my bravery and fortitude. My frosty heart began to thaw as I was comforted by their compliments.

Myrlene Marsa, Pam Boteler, Lindsey O'Shea

Myrlene Marsa, Pam Boteler, Lindsey O'Shea

Lindsey & Julieta Gismondi

Lindsey & Julieta Gismondi

Though I still felt fairly forlorn when leaving Chattanooga, I remembered why I can’t abandon this insane sport: If you are just in it for the race, you will be disappointed. If you are just in it for the sport, you may have some temporary satisfaction. If you are in it for the people, you will be overwhelmed with affection and generosity. Renowned offshore-paddler Michele Eray phrased the sentiment better. At the ICF Canoe Ocean Racing World Championships in Hong Kong, Michele said, “As you get older, you realize it’s about the venue, the people. You want to see things, make friends . . .  it becomes more about that than the racing.”

A successful Chattajack takes a whole colony: from feathered friends, egging us on, to the kind passersby who transported hitchhikers bailing out along Racoon Mountain Rd, to the benevolent ambassadors who shared their dwellings with despondent drowners. We are people who need one another, on water and on land. Thanksgiving is a time when all paddling pilgrims: the Epics, the Fenns, the Thinks, and the Nelos can commune peacefully, swapping energy gels, hydration powder, and fry bread recipes. This year, I’m leaving my season behind and setting aside aspirations for future races, so that I can focus on enjoying the companionship gained from the people who make paddling worth the pain.

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World Champs--Crests and Troughs

Cory Hill     Photo credit:  Graham Daniel & 369Communications

Cory Hill     Photo credit:  Graham Daniel & 369Communications

If the ICF World Surfski Championship showed us anything, it’s that Surfski racing is enjoying a massive surge in popularity. This past weekend, paddlers and fans alike around the world were treated to top-notch racing watched via live Youtube stream.  Now that the dust has settled, we can all breathe our collective exhale and take stock of winners and losers from the event as we reload for 2019.

Crests:

Admirable Effort--HCKU 

Well organized and presented.

Well organized and presented.

  •  Hong Kong Canoe Union-- Even from afar it was clear that a great deal of effort and attention to detail was put forth toward coordinating this event. HKCU proved themselves highly capable of handling the big day with aplomb and should remain on the short list for future top-level endeavors.
  • Women-- The ladies have been stealing the spotlight lately.  Day one featured pancake-        flat conditions and demanded 100% redline racing and the dos X chromosomed ones delivered. The Women punched out a brilliant and highly stylistic performance more akin to marathon racing but entertaining nonetheless. Bonus for forty-five hard-chargers towing the line at the start.

Hayley Nixon

Hayley Nixon

  • ICF--Great coverage and support guys.  Hope you’ve been paying attention, because Surfski will be your future.

  • Live Feed--Riveting. Entertaining. The commentary was spot on.  Drone coverage, Chase boat, leaderboard, and tracking feature all made for the most enjoyable live Surfski coverage to date.   

Instructional videos aside, Lawler can commentate with the best of them. 

Instructional videos aside, Lawler can commentate with the best of them. 

  • Ivan Lawler-- Who knew?  The man has a talent for commentating. Hope to see Lawler return behind the microphone for future events.

  • Men--Consider someone unacquainted with the sport encountering the men’s race.  They would have been treated to an absolute showcase in every way. The blokes powered through the big conditions like a hot knife through butter.  With zero hesitation in their game, they crushed the headwinds and then turned and surfed runs back like some kind of heavenly dream.  Good show!

  • Cory Hill--No doubt about it, Cory Hill knows how to get the “W” when it counts.  Hill didn’t just win, he marked the fire hydrant. After dropping the field shortly after the start and holding off a late charge by the indomitable Hank Mcgregor, the Aussie looked unstoppable.  

  • Kenny Rice--Not much to say here other than the younger Rice brother has officially broken out and looks poised to be the next big thing.  Rice looked lean and hungry out there.  I’ll be placing my bet’s on him for all future headlining events from this point forward.

  • Hayley Nixon--Winning last year’s World Surfski Series was a step into the big leagues, but her win this past weekend vaulted the Durbanite to the next level. If Nixon previously enjoyed some modicum of underdog status on the main stage, it’s all but gone now.  She will henceforth be a marked paddler, and deservedly so, she’s obviously put the work in and has earned her spot as best in the world.      

Burn made a statement

Burn made a statement

  • Michele Burn--Always a top-contender, but it’s official now.  Nice show.

  • South Africa and Australia--Still the undisputed leaders of the Surfski world.  

  • Event Photography and Video--  In a word, Wow!

South Africa and Australia remain at the top of the Surfski world.  From L-- Mackenzie Hynard, Kenny Rice and Valentine Henot (France).

South Africa and Australia remain at the top of the Surfski world.  From L-- Mackenzie Hynard, Kenny Rice and Valentine Henot (France).

Troughs:

Almost Perfect

Almost Perfect

  • Live Feed--Oh so close to the as polished as you could ask for from a non-mainstream sport.

  • Live Feed Part Deaux  (Women’s Edition)-- Right at the finish?  Really?

All said and done, not much to pick at.  The event was a step forward in almost every way and gave us all something to cheer about. 

 

Thousand Yard Stare

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In many ways, the Chattajack has become the de facto marathon national championship racing event on the calendar. If you haven’t booked your entry, you may want to consider having a run.  The double blade paddlers have increasingly been showing up, now it’s time to push for more elites at the top level.  I suspect 2018 will see this occur.  Erik Borgnes has thrown down the gauntlet and will likely result in a call to arms for the nations best to show up and challenge his mark.

So what is it about this event that makes it unique?  A few things:  

  • Distance-- Longer races are readily available, but 31+ miles seems to be a sweet spot.  It’s just long enough to push the boundaries of endurance and just short enough to require sustained shorter 10k distance speed. So in a word--relentless.

  • Timing--Coming at the end of a long season is a great way to end your sporting year and segway into a break.  It’s like that final cataclysmic climax that defines an action movie.

  • Conditions--Placing itself right on the cusp of a big shift in the weather, the Chattajack conditions are always the wildcard.  And without a doubt, it plays a major role.  At last count, half of all editions have been plagued by meteorologic adversity.  But this additional dynamic really just adds to the intrigue. It creates an anticipation like any good build up to a climax. It’s a necessary setup for the script.    

  • Buzz--You can’t argue with buzz.  Call it je ne sais quoi or whatever you like, but it’s here in spades and it raises stocks through the roof.  

  • Inland--The fact is that paddlesports, be it: SUP, OC, Surfski, etc are often seen as synonymous with ocean conditions, but the reality is that many paddlers are not from the coast.  The ocean requires a special skill set that can only be refined by repeatedly being on the ocean. An inland challenge such as the Chattajack is a race that coastal and inland paddlers can do alike.  It levels the playing field where otherwise coastal paddlers would have home-field advantage as well as referee bias.

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This year marks the first time I’ve been on the sidelines instead of participating in the Chattajack race. Being on the dry side for a change was eye-opening.  Generally watching a long kayak race is about as exciting as watching snail ballet, but this was different.  The “race” is clearly not just about who finishes first, but rather, who can overcome a war of attrition.  The Cjack is more of a question than an answer, and the question is: “what are you made of”?  Whether you were a top-contender or out on your first dance down the gorge it asks the same question, just in a different way.  I stood at the finishing sprint hollering and heckling racers and friends trying to elicit a smile or a laugh without success.  They all shared the same facial expression.  At the risk of trivializing war, they all looked like they had just returned from an intense psychically draining front for days on end, where their focus had been razor honed and stretched far beyond the limits of what they assumed was capable.  Without exception, every single competitor came in with a thousand-yard stare on gaunt, pallid faces.  I helped a young strapping college lad lift his uber light boat because he could not lift his half (someone else had the front half)--which probably weighed no more than 10 lbs.  I witnessed tears, frustration, exaltation, exhaustion, and a host of other displays that ultimately define the very core of who we are as humans.  It was like seeing every competitor, friend or stranger strip away every facade of who they were externally and expose themselves for what they are on the inside. No superficiality. Every outside layer removed to expose their most intimate core. What they are made of…

Newcomer at the start. Veteran by the finish--Lee Droppelman

Newcomer at the start. Veteran by the finish--Lee Droppelman

 

In this way, the race is nothing more than a catalyst.  The real show is watching paddlers pass by or finish in their most raw state.  In a way, this is art in it’s truest form. I have gratitude to have been both a competitor and then later, a spectator.  I think it gave me the gift of understanding the language.  To be able to interpret in some way what each individual was experiencing.  

 

To all those who completed the event regardless of your time, you’re all veterans now,  You’ve all seen “action” and deserve a certain amount of respect.  

Congratulations.

 

First Timers

First Timers

and even the best have the "stare" at the finish

and even the best have the "stare" at the finish

Chattajack--Who Ya Got?

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All signs point to an epic race this Saturday here at the Tennessee River Gorge. The 2017 edition of the Chattajack has a last minute entry that will undoubtedly make an impact--weather.  Colder temperatures, rain and wind are forecast for race day and will likely create difficulties in what is essentially already a taxing war of attrition.

So given the conditions, who will be the top contenders on Saturday?

Borgnes Hunting His Third Win

Borgnes Hunting His Third Win

Male Surfski:  

  • Erik Borgnes--Two-time winner and holder of the fastest overall time.  Borgnes is the man to beat with all eyes on him for the win.

  • Eric Mims--Top regional paddler and also a two-time Cjack winner. Excellent in big water.

  • Terry Smith--Chattanooga native- flatwater and Wildwater paddler with international experience.

  • Scott Cummins--Top Regional paddler with long history in the sport.

  • Cory Hall--Chattanooga native and multisport elite.

  • Barrett Phifer--Fast Paddler from the panhandle

Mims

Mims

The real battles will likely take place between first and third place.   Eric Mims and Erik Borgnes will likely be the two vying for the top spot.  Although Borgnes bested Mim’s in their previous meeting, Mims cannot be counted out.  This will be a down to the wire affair that will likely be decided in the final miles.  

Terry Smith Hammers Out The Finish

Terry Smith Hammers Out The Finish

Third place will be where the next highly contested action will take place.  Terry Smith and Scott Cummins will be contenders for the third position.   Both of these guys are from the old school.  They’ve honed their tactics and know how to show up ready for race day.  Smith is primarily a shorter distance specialist but can adapt to long distance if he’s put his work in. Cummins has a great long game and is astute tactically. He has a good read and will be waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.

Several others are capable of stepping up for the steal.  The conditions may play into opportunities for them on game day.

 

Kata Dismukes in familiar territory.

Kata Dismukes in familiar territory.

Female Surfski:

  • Kata Dismukes--undisputed four-time winner.  She has made the Chattjack hers and has not lost here yet.  Background in K1 from Hungary.  Jumped on a ski a few years back and has been tearing up all over the Southeast ever since.

  • Pam Boteler--decorated domestic sprint canoe paddler, Boteler will be taking part in her first Chattajack this year.  Pam is an incredibly powerful paddler and will pose a formidable threat to usurp the dynasty. Lest we forget Pam has Vegan superpowers. See her extensive palmares here: http://www.surfskinews.com/second-blog/2015/11/15/pam-boteler

  • Lindsey O’Shea-- Beloved Georgia paddler O’Shea is always near or at the front of any race she enters. But this year, the kitten’s claws are out. Lindsey has found a craft that has fit her like hand-in-glove, and she has shown an immediate improvement.  She’s put the miles in and is ready play spoiler in Tennessee this weekend.

Heir Apparent?

Heir Apparent?

Another highly competitive and entertaining set of competitors.  The ladies will be moving fast for sure this year.  Like the men, several others are ready to spoil and picking between these three is anyone’s guess.  For that reason we all win as these ladies are sure to put on a highly competitive show.

O'Shea on new whip.

O'Shea on new whip.

Men’s Kayak:

For the first time ever Men’s Kayak participants have surpassed surfski, making the competition fierce.  Add conditions and wind and we’re bound to see times commensurate with the surfski crowd.  Many in this year’s lot will be sporting faster boats as well.  True SS20 boats will showing up such as the Think Zen and the Epic V8 Pro.  The lines will get blurry.  

Capel

Capel

Names to watch out for:  

  • Phil Capel--Long-Time paddler and previous year winner will likely be paddling a very fast and light Westside EFT.  Capel is always a threat.

  • Richard Carter--One of the fastest masters in the region Carter will be a top pick for the win.

  • Todd Hyatt--Always a top regional finisher.  Leads the standings in the Southeast Series. On the podium last year.

  • Tom Popp--Chattanooga native who has participated in EVERY Chattajack thus far.  Always on the podium.

  • Jerry Gillissen--Michigan paddler just off the podium last year.

  • Mark Poole--another Southeast series stalwart.  If he’s been training, he’ll be near the top.

O'Shea Smiles While The Boys Look For Wash

O'Shea Smiles While The Boys Look For Wash

Female Kayak:

Largest female list ever!  Love seeing the women turning things up.  Kayak category is often the “farm leagues” for surfski, which essentially means that seeing higher numbers here likely indicates bigger numbers in the surfski division down the road. Very competitive field here as well.  It’s gonna be interesting. Top Picks:

  • Myrlene Marsa--Course record holder and always near the front of the race.  Myrlene will be trying her hands at the new Think Zen.  Should be a  tough combination to beat.

  • Camille Richards--Punching in with some solid results over near the Gulf side of things Richards is a clear threat for overall.

  • Kimberly Schulte--Last year’s winner has been busy this year.  She’ll be strong and ready to retain her crown come race day.

  • Haley Popp--former winner with the additional third place last year, Haley will be game-on Saturday.

  • Nancy Packard--Nancy has an indomitable will and is always out there putting in the work.  She’s relatively new to the game, but brings lots of steely determination to the fray.

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Sub 4 Hour Mark Broken?

Will the elusive 4 hour mark be broken?  In singles, I don’t think so. Conditions will likely slow the action down enough to make getting near the four hour mark hard enough.  One potential possibility will be if the flow of the river is up.  As of right now it is not, however, overnight a cold snap will follow the front that will be moving through.  This may encourage TVA to release more water through the Chickamauga Dam, subsequently increasing flow. For those unfamiliar with the challenge of going under 4 hours, the Tennessee River is a very slow flowing, large river.  Although the website states the race distance is 31 miles, most have found their final numbers to be well above 32 miles.  Add all this together and you have a difficult task if you want to go sub-4.  For perspective: the only person to do it so far was Sean Rice in his build-up to Molokai last year.  Sean finished with a time of 3:50 and some change--unofficial of course.     

 

Doubles however, will be a different story. This year we have a few doubles competitors that will provide a clear and present threat to clearing 4 hours and in their case--conditions be damned!

Humberston

Humberston

The two teams of Bruce Poacher and Nate Humberston and Morgan House and Michael Herrin are poised to be the first non-aliens to crack through.  

This is going to be an interesting race.  Check back for finishing results tomorrow to see how events play out.

 

So who ya got?



 

 

 

 



 

Chattajack---Hales Bar Haunting: Maria Chattin-Carter

When it finally comes into view after hours and hours of strained paddling, it's reason for absolute euphoria.   Grizzled paddlers will invariably feel the compulsion to grin through the pain when the spectre of the old derelict Hales Bar Dam reveals itself---signifying the final stretch of the arduous 31 + mile Chattajack race.

But the dam's history goes deep,  and when not appearing in it's alter-ego state as an angelic symbol of completion to wearied Chattajackers, it lives on in the ominous role as a haunted landmark.  Drawing visitors, paranormal investigators and even television.

Chattanooga Ghost Tour guide Maria Chattin-Carter gives a brief overview of the origins of the purported Hales Bar Hauntings. 

 

Chief  Dragging Canoe was once a great war chief of the Cherokee Indians, a mighty role model for the younger braves. His Indian forces fought many battles and kept the white settlers away for a great number of years.

In spite of his attempts to resist the encroachment of outsiders, his people agreed to a treaty in 1775, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, which surrendered land to the white settlers. Dragging Canoe was furious.  He refused to accept the treaty and spoke a curse on the ground he had fought for. 

Years later in 1905, the building of Hales Bar Dam began on that same land the mighty War Chief cursed. One reason they started this project was to tame whirlpools along the river that threatened anyone's life who got too close. The Indians believed whirlpools were souls in the water reaching up to pull more down, perhaps they didn't want to be tamed.

Men lost their lives during the building of the dam. Some even fell into the cement mixer and were built into the walls of the dam.  The Tennessee Valley Authority bought Hales Bar in the late 1930's, spending several years trying unsuccessfully to fix leaks that plagued the dam from the beginning of construction.  The dam was eventually shut down when it was discovered that the foundation was flawed and would never be water tight.

In the 1960s the dam broke and flooded the land surrounding it. The water flooded local cemeteries, disturbing many graves including a number of children who perished during the Spanish flu epidemic. Part of the dam still stands under water today with a small whirlpool to remind us of those lost souls. The land is said not to be worth much because it has been sinking for years. The limestone it stands on has been shattered and resulted in caves throughout the foundation.

Some theorize that these occurrences are due to Dragging Canoe's curse. He was a warrior in life, and after death still wages war on the men who took his land.

He's not the only one that is hanging onto Hales Bar. Many people have heard women and children's voices, maybe a whisper in their ears. Strange shadows have been seen moving about the dam, including a man dressed from the 1940s. Several guests have been touched lightly, with some claiming to have been scratched and even strangled. Visitors have left gifts for the spirits in areas that are said to be haunted by children. Most of the gifts disappear from one visit to the next. 

Hales Bar has been the site of numerous "Ghost Hunter" paranormal investigations including television portrayals.

To book a Ghost Tour:

http://chattanoogaghosttours.com/tours/

 

Un-Sandbagging The Divisions

sandbag1.png

 

A recent exchange on social media centered on whether the Epic V8 Pro should be designated as a high performance “surfski” or as the more stable “kayak” at the upcoming Chattajack race.  Among other issues, the discussion included the fact that the V8 Pro had been previously listed at a width of 19.9, which has since been amended to reflect 20 inches.

 

At one time, racing any form of kayak or ski in the States was a lightly contested affair.  Piling everyone together in like-boats was the best way to go about arranging the categories.

Times-they-are-a-changing.  Participation is increasing and more and more races are showing up on the calendar in the same region on the same weekend. Events are actually starting to sell out.  Even the smaller races are pulling in better numbers than just a few years ago.

Late to the party, but the Americans are coming..

Late to the party, but the Americans are coming..

 

The Chattajack race is getting extremely competitive and racers are looking for any advantage they can summon--which is creating the setting for much ado.

The American system of boat classification needs a reboot. First of all, there is no universally agreed upon form of assessment:

  • The Southeast uses the Sound Rowers system.
  • The Northeast uses the same system with the addition of the SS20 class.
  • The Gulf uses the K1 designation with the most categories of all with six.
  • Others have opted to simplify with only two categories, which apparently is the most confusing of all for many.

Why not throw out the entire system of measuring boats and adopt an entirely new method?

You’ll get no argument from me that in paddlesport, hull dimensions play a large role in speed, but it’s really not that simple when you account for stability, conditions and experience.

sandbag3.png

 

So why couch divisions on the dimensions of the boat?

For a sport that is as dependent on advanced technique as surfski, perhaps another form of classification might be more appropriate.  Not only is stroke technique an advanced process, but stability, wave riding, boat management, handling adverse conditions, general experience and tactics all play a major role for a paddler.

.

Have a look at running.  Everyone knows how.  Just go to any playground for your evidence.  Wanna get better at it? Do it more.  But learning how to put one foot in front of the other is probably not going to require a technique seminar from the current World Champion.  Oh sure, there may be a few secrets that will enhance your game a bit, but at the end of the day, your primary method of improving will be repetition and lots of it.

 

Not the case with paddling--not by a longshot.  Just put your average endurance or sprint athlete from another discipline on an elite K1 or Surfski, add a little bounce to the water, grab a bag of popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show.  

 

Like many other technically demanding sports and activities, experience and skill are a far better method for determining race categories than equipment.  Who cares what kind of boat you decide to run on any given day? This is a multi-faceted skillset activity and whether your craft is an inch wider or narrower really won’t change your placing much.  In fact, wasn’t it Greg Barton who won the Blackburn Challenge on a Sea Kayak?  

He'd beat most of us paddling a wash bucket.

He'd beat most of us paddling a wash bucket.

 

I don’t subscribe to the notion that everyone deserves a participation medal, but when you line yourself up on race day it may be a bit more competitive when you’re not facing a former Olympian, World Champion or national level paddler when you just graduated to your first intermediate boat.

sandbag4.jpg

 

Worse yet are the guys that are at or near the top of the game who have been there for years that decide to “drop back” to the stable boat categories to poach hardware. In some circles, this is known as “sandbagging” and is an offense punishable by upgrade.

I’m not suggesting that an array of categories be created, perhaps a sport and expert dual system.  

It’d be worth it just to put an end to the eternal struggle of measuring hulls...

That's A Wrap

My social media feed goes a bit bananas after Chattajack.  I think there’s a bit of decompressing needed after such an ordeal. Thirty-one (+) miles has a way of doing that to you.  It’s sure not to leave you the way it found you.

 

Nevertheless, the sheer volume of Chattajack traffic is impressive and makes for interesting reading.  As such, I personally would like to see a Chattajack category added for best hand blistering  ( I had eight on one hand).  

Kata Dismukes with a strong entry in the best blistering category

 

But for me, it signifies the unofficial end of the year for racing; the final stop on the pub crawl and a time to reflect on lessons learned, good times, bad times and plans for the future.

 

It also marks one year since Surfski News debuted.

 

Surfski News was created for only one reason; to help promote the sport and lifestyle. Although the ski is without question gaining momentum here in the States, it still has a long way to go before achieving true commercial status.

Not quite there yet...

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, but having more people to share the love with does seem like  a good idea.

Sean Rice Displays Masterful Bowling Technique

 

The sport is rife with altruistic good stewards who keep it buoyant. It’s easy to get an audience with some of the best paddlers in the world.  You’ll almost always find them to be friendly, approachable and willing to engage helpfully. Fellow competitors are ready to lend a hand, even helping rivals.  Beer and good times flow freely. Traveling out of town? You’ll always have a place to stay and a table to sit at. Traveling to the ocean for your first downwinder? You’ll have no shortage of more experienced paddlers ready to take you out and have your back.

 

And that’s what makes the tribe special.

 

So with this in mind, Thank you to all of those that have helped push things along. Since starting this website I quickly discovered how amazingly time consuming it can be.  In fairness, I was warned before I got started, but I really had no idea how much would go into the process. This will become even more complicated as I have taken on another project and will be compromised further.

 

The idea was to have the site open to anyone.  Any paddler can post whatever they like: product reviews, race reports, blurbs on good/bad days---anything.

 

So to those that have helped by either agreeing to allow photos and media to be posted,  submitting written material or even just helping to promote---Thank You!

They say it’s always five o’clock somewhere.  In this case, it’s actually warmer somewhere. A place where paddlers are starting to come out of hibernation rather than preparing to enter.  

The air down there

Hopefully, the Southern Hemisphere will give us some good fodder in our colder days to build up for the return of summer stateside.  

Until then, see you at the races in 2017!

Chattajack---Hales Bar Haunting: Maria Chattin-Carter

When it finally comes into view after hours and hours of strained paddling, it's reason for absolute euphoria.   Grizzled paddlers will invariably feel the compulsion to grin through the pain when the spectre of the old derelict Hales Bar Dam reveals itself---signifying the final stretch of the arduous 31 + mile Chattajack race.

But the dam's history goes deep,  and when not appearing in it's alter-ego state as an angelic symbol of completion to wearied Chattajackers, it lives on in the ominous role as a haunted landmark.  Drawing visitors, paranormal investigators and even television.

Chattanooga Ghost Tour guide Maria Chattin-Carter gives a brief overview of the origins of the purported Hales Bar Hauntings. 

 

Chief  Dragging Canoe was once a great war chief of the Cherokee Indians, a mighty role model for the younger braves. His Indian forces fought many battles and kept the white settlers away for a great number of years.

In spite of his attempts to resist the encroachment of outsiders, his people agreed to a treaty in 1775, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, which surrendered land to the white settlers. Dragging Canoe was furious.  He refused to accept the treaty and spoke a curse on the ground he had fought for. 

Years later in 1905, the building of Hales Bar Dam began on that same land the mighty War Chief cursed. One reason they started this project was to tame whirlpools along the river that threatened anyone's life who got too close. The Indians believed whirlpools were souls in the water reaching up to pull more down, perhaps they didn't want to be tamed.

Men lost their lives during the building of the dam. Some even fell into the cement mixer and were built into the walls of the dam.  The Tennessee Valley Authority bought Hales Bar in the late 1930's, spending several years trying unsuccessfully to fix leaks that plagued the dam from the beginning of construction.  The dam was eventually shut down when it was discovered that the foundation was flawed and would never be water tight.

In the 1960s the dam broke and flooded the land surrounding it. The water flooded local cemeteries, disturbing many graves including a number of children who perished during the Spanish flu epidemic. Part of the dam still stands under water today with a small whirlpool to remind us of those lost souls. The land is said not to be worth much because it has been sinking for years. The limestone it stands on has been shattered and resulted in caves throughout the foundation.

Some theorize that these occurrences are due to Dragging Canoe's curse. He was a warrior in life, and after death still wages war on the men who took his land.

He's not the only one that is hanging onto Hales Bar. Many people have heard women and children's voices, maybe a whisper in their ears. Strange shadows have been seen moving about the dam, including a man dressed from the 1940s. Several guests have been touched lightly, with some claiming to have been scratched and even strangled. Visitors have left gifts for the spirits in areas that are said to be haunted by children. Most of the gifts disappear from one visit to the next. 

Hales Bar has been the site of numerous "Ghost Hunter" paranormal investigations including television portrayals.

To book a Ghost Tour:

http://chattanoogaghosttours.com/tours/